Praying in private can be a soothing experience. This week’s clergy discuss how prayer can also help with anger and social isolation in divisive times.
Rabbi Marc A. Gruber
Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, Rockville Centre
In 2008, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. During the days following my surgery, I was weak and suffering from painful wounds. My system was not working normally. During the first days, I was waiting for the results of the pathology reports; anticipating the reports added more stress. I was too miserable and uncomfortable for visitors. Nevertheless, I drew strength from many of our congregants. I drew tremendous strength from the words of our liturgy. I brought a small pamphlet-style prayer book, “Gates of Healing,” with me to the hospital. This is the same book that I bring to congregants when I visit in hospitals. This book gave me strength. Every day, morning and evening, I offered prayers. I used the services in “Gates of Healing,” which are shorter versions of the regular service, and added some special prayers according to my spiritual and medical need. Some days, my focus was terrible, but because I pray regularly, I am familiar with the words and could pray even when I could not read anything else. As I prayed, I felt connected to others who pray these words. My connections to our worship community boosted my spirit and helped me lift the prayers from the text, even when I could not enjoy visitors. This would not have been the same if I were not part of a regular community of people who pray together. Being part of this community helped me break through the isolation of physical debility.
Regional imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, with mosques in Amityville, Queens and Brooklyn
Prayer is always preformed at two critical junctures in life situations. First is proactively, and the other is reactively. As the world moves further away from a divine calling and toward materialistic inclination, the latter method is the only form of prayer that is widely observed. At the news of gun violence, for example, prayer vigils are held across the nation to pray for those who have been victims of such atrocities. A great number of people will attend funeral services and various prayer services are held across the nation in churches, mosques and synagogues, all being filled to the brim only to be completely empty weeks later. What Islam encourages, is to pray proactively and reactively. Just as there is a weight in a reactive prayer in that it brings people closer and helps focus our sight ahead at a time when it is difficult to see, similarly, proactive prayer helps bring us together for pre-emptive measures that ensure social harmony. In Islam, Muslims stand in prayer five times a day, everyday, shoulder to shoulder with no distinction of rank, wealth or social status. An extremely wealthy man will stand alongside a disheveled individual as though they were two siblings of the same mother. The same two people will prostrate and place their foreheads on the floor and supplicate before their Lord in the most humbling posture ever conceived. This is because the very purpose of our creation is worship, and true worship is accomplished when we come together to emulate the very image of God that is seen through His attributes. It is our prayer that God helps bring mankind towards peace, love and harmony. When we pray together, we hope together.
The Rev. Vicky Eastland
Pastor, Brookville Reformed Church, Brookville
I believe that prayer is the most powerful gift God has given us. The fact that we can communicate with the creator of the universe who hears and responds to our prayers is a privilege that every human being has at their disposal. My individual prayer time has been a comfort to me, but it wasn’t until I experienced corporate prayer that I truly understood the transforming power that praying with others can provide. When we gather together and pray, God is truly in our midst. Matthew 18:20 says: “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” When we pray with others, we begin to experience true community, and barriers break down between us. There is a vulnerability in praying with others that makes it nearly impossible to hold a grudge against someone you are praying alongside. It is one thing to feel the support of those who say they are praying for you, it is something entirely different when people are gathered with you, offering their prayers to God on your behalf. The physical presence of others, and the actual hearing of their prayers is healing. When people come together to pray, they feel less isolated and alone in their struggles. Prayer not only brings people of the same faith together, but can even cross religious lines. When I pray with my Muslim and Jewish friends, my understanding and experience of God expands and societal barriers that are erected between religions erode.