I first met Rabbi Yehoshua during a Shabbat dinner at his house in Jerusalem. I was there on a peace making pilgrimage and was fortunate enough to join him and his wife in his home for a short Torah study with matzo ball soup, challah bread and Hummus. So. Much. Hummus.
When we started the study, I think one of his first questions was something like, "why would God create man especially if He knew man would fall?". He's not a very good salesman, and I instantly loved him for it. Evangelical Christians are great at defining and defending our faith, which brings many benefits including clarity. However, for someone like me who needed desperately to grapple with the hard questions without being a fix-it project, his questions were refreshing, they were honest and big and everything I was pondering myself. A few months later I sent him an email with a few questions about theology, we set up a phone call later that night to discuss and by the end of it he had offered to skype me weekly to do Torah study. He said we could "learn from each other”, I'm happy to give guidance and share my wisdom, whatever I can do to help a Rabbi out ya know?
In our first meeting before we studied the first Torah portion, Rabbi Yehoshua said to me that, I couldn’t understand my faith from the other side of the river (people keep saying this to me). Participation in faith is crucial, as St. Augustine said, “I believe in order to understand”, which is either totally genius, or the height of illogical and wishful thinking. It’s an odd thing to do but I’m hoping that from a place of belief, and with the experience of faith, that clarity will find me along the way and that I'll make peace with the questions that are meant to remain unanswered.
Thus I began...
For the last few years I have had a hard time praying. I didn’t understand the point or the effectiveness of prayer. Sometimes I would pray to thank God for things, pray for other people going through difficult experiences, and every once in a while for really big things I was requesting, like healing my dad of cancer. When my dad went into remission we gave God the credit for the chemo working and the truth is he beat the odds, he shouldn’t have survived and he did. But when my friend Lori’s dad died no one blamed God, he still got credit for grieving in the sadness with us and 'darn this fallen world'. Theoretically I believe God can heal, "prayer changes things" as they say, but more often than not life stays hard and situations don't change, so I just need to set that aside for now.
So if healing isn't the main goal, then it is said that through prayer God fixes our emotional ailments, our past pain, and through it intimacy is formed from a two way conversation that varies quite dramatically on how he speaks back, or in my case stays silent. None of this was really making sense, so I just stopped praying save for a few distinct moments. My prayers were short and concise and I was extremely present, never wordy, taking in my humble placement, undeserving of requitement, and before this God of the universe I would make a request to a confusing being. Take it or leave it.
I’m trying to move out of such cynicism, so part of my time with Rabbi Yehoshua will include praying three times daily with a Jewish prayer book, and I’m hoping it guides me. If someone just left me alone in a room with God think I might just sit there, ask questions, contemplate God's existence and prayer's effectiveness, and then note my confusion with a side of melancholy...which I’m thinking isn’t all that productive. After just a few short days I’m realizing that praying three times a day has made me think about God more often, if nothing else it has helped me to zoom out of my day-to-day life and remember that it’s bigger. It makes me say things of God and his good character that I don’t quite understand but choose to claim. Mostly though, it reminds me of who I am and who He is and that there’s a monumental difference between the two.
I have to say so far it’s been a relief, when I can’t remember who God is and my mind is spinning with confusion, these prayers guide me to Him. They guide me to a state of mind and like a gravitational pull to the center of all things, my soul finds a way to worship. Then I humble myself and respect my small position and my limited understanding and pray, in faith, in nothing but faith.
Maybe prayer changes things, but I think the point is that it changes us. It peels back the callouses so that we might feel again the sandy winds of life, and perhaps when we become aware again, we'll notice God in its movement.