Bob Schwartz

Tag: prayer

Nine Prayers: For Those We Like, Love or Suffer When We Think Of

Thomas Merton’s final book, Contemplative Prayer, was published in 1969, a year after his accidental death. In 1995, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh added an introduction. He wrote about his admiration for Merton and about distinctions between Christian and Buddhist prayer:

I first met Thomas Merton in 1966. It is hard to describe his face in words, to write down exactly what he was like. He was filled with human warmth. Conversation with him was so easy. When we talked, I told him a few things, and he immediately understood the things I didn’t tell him as well. He was open to everything, constantly asking questions and listening deeply. I told him about my life as a Buddhist novice in Vietnam, and he wanted to know more and more.

Our approach to prayer in Buddhism is a little different from that of Christianity. We practice silent meditation, and we try to practice mindfulness in everything we do, to awaken to what is going on inside us and all around us in each moment. The Buddha taught: “If you are standing on one shore and want to cross over to the other shore, you have to use a boat or swim across. You cannot just pray, ‘Oh, other shore, please come over here for me to step across!’” To a Buddhist, praying without also practicing is not real prayer.

At the end of the Introduction, he offers a comprehensive set of nine prayers—prayers beyond any sectarian tradition, and prayers that include “the one we suffer when we think of.”


Nine Prayers
Thich Nhat Hanh
From Introduction to Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

1.
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
2.
May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
May he/she be free from injury. May he/she live in safety.
May they be free from injury. May they live in safety.
3.
May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May he/she be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May they be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
4.
May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May he/she learn to look at him/herself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May they learn to look at themselves with the eyes of understanding and love.
5.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May he/she be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in him/herself.
May they be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in themselves.
6.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
May he/she learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in him/herself.
May they learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in themselves.
7.
May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May he/she know how to nourish the seeds of joy in him/herself every day.
May they know how to nourish the seeds of joy in themselves every day.
8.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May he/she be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May they be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
9.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May he/she be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May they be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

He/she: First the person we like, then the person we love, then the person who is neutral to us, and finally the person we suffer when we think of.

They: The group, the people, the nation, or the species we like, then the one we love, then the one that is neutral to us, and finally the one we suffer when we think of.

Selichot and Angels

 

Selichot

Do Jews pray to angels? Do all of us need all the help we can get?

The Jewish Days of Awe begin soon, starting with Rosh Hashanah on the evening of October 2, ending with Yom Kippur on the evening of October 11.

It is a time of teshuvah, often translated as “repentance”, but more precisely “turning”—that is, turning away from ourselves and our ways and to God and godly ways. To start the process of reflection, on a Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah a special set of preparatory prayers begin to be recited, known as Selichot. This year, Selichot begins tonight, on the night of Saturday, September 24.

The conventional cast of characters in the soulful dialogue of teshuvah and the Days of Awe are yourself, the people and world around you, and God. But Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis, in the fascinating Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism, adds an unexpected player:

Machnisei Rachamim (Conveyors of Compassion)

This is a prayer petitioning the angels to intervene with God:

Conveyers of compassions, obtain our mercy before the Master of compassion,
Makers of prayer, make our prayer heard before the Hearer of prayer.
Makers of wailing, make our wail heard, before the Hearer of wailing.
Conveyers of tears, convey our tears before the King who yields to tears.
Strive to raise up supplication, raise up supplication and plea,
Before the King, high and exalted. The King, high and exalted.

This prayer is only recited at Selichot, a penitential service recited prior to the coming of Rosh Hashanah.

This prayer is anomalous in that the rule that Jews should pray only to God, and not to intermediaries, extends back to Talmudic times: “If troubles come upon a person, do not entreat the angel Michael or the angel Gabriel. Rather, entreat Me alone and I will help you immediately” (J. Ber. 9:1). Maimonides makes this normative, “It is only fitting to pray to God and it is not fitting to pray to any other.”

The Maharal of Prague was sufficiently troubled by the appearance of this prayer that he amended the wording (Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha’Avodah no.12), an innovation that did not catch on. In modern times, no less an ultra-Orthodox authority than the Hatam Sofer wrote that at Selichot he personally skips over this prayer (Orach Chaim no. 166), a shocking confession from the leader of a community that insists ALL of the tradition is sanctified and obligatory. The prayer has been entirely edited out of Selichot liturgy in the modernist Reform movement.

And yet at least one Midrash exists that endorses the idea of angels as intermediaries of our prayers (S of S R. 2:7). And many Jews worldwide recite the words barchuni l’shalom … (“bless me with peace”), when they sing the popular Shabbat hymn, Shalom Aleichem. This prayer is found only in the Ashkenazi (northern European) tradition, suggesting it was written when Jews were surrounded by a Christian culture that emphasized the use of divine intermediaries (saints) and even had services in honor of specific angels (Michaelmas).

Praying for Everybody. Even Trump.

I ran into a neighbor this morning, someone who goes to morning prayers every day.

Me: How was davening (prayer) today?

Him: Good. I prayed for everybody. Even Trump.

Me: Thank you. That’s the Yiddishe (Jewish) way.

And so it is.

Practices

Practices

Our practices grow ragged
From disuse
Or irregularity.
Don’t fret.
There they are
Patient for our return.
Once a day
Once a year
Once in a lifetime.
Always ready and waiting.