I’ll be honest. I’m not the best pray-er in town. I do take time daily to talk to G-d. I try to keep it real—heavy on the thanks, a little lighter on the “gimmie-gimmie.” But more often than I’d like, my mind wanders like a vagrant, and, G-d knows, I get a little sloppy.
I envy those people who live in the prayer pocket. You’ve seen them at the Kotel or in ashrams in India or stretching a hand out for a dollar on the Blvd. Those ancient men and women who look like they were carved out of the very stones they stand by—weathered by sun and sadness, glassy eyed, with ankles that swell from bearing the weight of the whole world; Rabbis, yogis and beggars alike… It seems, to me at least, that every sound that leaves their lips matters and that it comes from some hard-won, deep, and wholly connected place.
I have to work my buns off for that kind of sincerity and connection, wrangling my thoughts and emotions in like a dusty cowboy rounding up a rowdy herd.
So, when I can make an honest connection of mind, heart, and soul, it’s a big deal for me.
Last month, my mom was in town visiting with a friend, and we decided to stop off by Mama Rachel for a word with The Big Guy. Rachel’s Tomb has always felt like a coming home, and prayer there comes easier and more natural to me than almost anywhere else.
On this particular day, I was nailing it!
I dove head first into the wilds of my soul, laid it all out before my Creator, and began the blissful and harrowing process of “letting go.”
I had real tears and everything.
One might even go so far as to call it “sobbing.”
It was a catharsis long overdue. And I was groovin’.
Mid-prayer-groove, something to my left started to pull at my focus. The woman next to me was pray-whispering—enunciating each word carefully and deliberately … and loud. I paused for a few thick moments to deeply consider how to phrase “Can you please pray quieter?” in the nicest, holiest way possible.
After some thought, I decided to just kick back and let her be. Maybe I could even lean-in and catch a contact high from her well-enunciated energy. I heard her say the names of each of her children and, after each name, ask for some specific strength or character trait to flourish within them. It was intensely personal and registered in my open heart as a honey-sweet-dart to G-d’s bull’s-eye.
I totally caught her drift and bumped up my prayer- slam a few notches, taking time to acknowledge each of my peeps, rolling out each sweet name like I was laying out a diamond on display.
When I finished praying, I stepped back from my space and took a look around me. Turns out, loud-whispering-amazing-enunciating-Mommy had a microphone pack strapped to her back, and there was a production crew from the New York Times filming her.
Ten points for me for zipping it!
Turns out, this woman’s name is Tzippy. Tzippy is thirty-eight, and she has seven kids. She lost her mother to breast cancer when she was five years old—her aunt, too. Just a few years ago, she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene (a genetic mutation associated with breast cancer). She recently completed elective surgeries that removed her ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix—and had a double mastectomy.
The New York Times was running a story about her journey through this complex, bold, and courageous process.
Aside from the obvious “silence is golden” lesson here, praying next to Tzippy provided some big takeaways for me.
One could argue that I had every right to shush her—after all, we were praying in a public place, I was there first, there is etiquette involved … bla, bla, bla. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would have been for me and her if I would have asked her to “tell her cancer story a little quieter please?” And on film, no less?
I would have hated myself and I would have created haters.
Who the heck am I to assume that my spiritual process is more valuable or urgent than the lady next to me? How often do I unwittingly bulldoze someone’s story because mine is so “Pick me! Pick me!” I don’t want to be just about me all the time. I want to create enough space in my life to learn and grow from other people’s stories.
And anyway, ultimately, prayer is about inviting G-d more deeply into our lives. When I put my own agenda before another of His creations, no matter how “holy” I’ve dressed that agenda up to be … well, let’s be honest, that’s not prayer, that’s G-d interrupted.
Sometimes the best way to connect to something bigger than ourselves is to simply sit tight and shut up.