I do a lot of praying these days. Not so much on the rowing. I seem to be a bit stuck. Sigh.
Don't get me wrong - I love the praying part. I get lost in the praying part. It's like finding a thread, maybe even that elusive blue thread, out of the corner of my eye, that one beautiful thread that allows you to dance along its very narrow edge - knowing that a single misstep that would cause you to fall, to be lost forever - but the joy of it, the grace of that dance is enough to carry you, with surety and ease, straight to God.
Like I said, I love that dance, and I get lost in it. But here's the thing: I don't just use that dance, that praying part, as a refuge, a safe haven in a restless, roiling sea of life, where chaos licks at a shore that is pocked and unstable, eroding faster than, well, sand in water. I use it to hide, to keep from rowing. I pretend, fingers in my ears and "la las" spilling from my lips, louder and louder to reach over the growing crash of waves that threaten to fill my tiny lifeboat and sink me, I pretend that praying is enough.
I forget, oh-so-conveniently, that I am responsible for rowing. You know the story, right? There once was a man, gentle and mindful and good, who was devoted to God. Prayed all the time. Practiced compassion and was righteous and kind. One day, while on a cruise, there was a horrible accident and this man ended up on a deserted island. The man, though, had the absolute strength of his faith, and knew, without a doubt, that God would save him. So he prayed. He prayed day and night, mostly echoing the tender, plaintive words of Moshe: Please God, save me. He felt a little uncomfortable, praying for his own redemption, but he knew that his wife and children and friends needed him, his employees needed him, and his clients and the community needed him. So he prayed.
On the second day, in the middle of his morning prayers, the man heard the distant drone of an airplane. Soon he saw it flying not far from his little island. So he prayed harder, "God, please save me!" The next day, as he prayed, he heard the sound of a chip's horn, sounding loudly, not too far off, but he refused to be distracted from his prayers. "God will save me, I know it!" Soon, he could only hear the sounds of his own prayers; the boat missed the island and continued its search for the man in other latitudes. On the third day, the man's prayers, softer now, as he was hungry and thirsty and nearing death, his prayers were interrupted by the thwap-thwap-thwap of a helicopter. The man, though, filled with the fire of his belief in the saving power of God, refused, again, to be distracted by the annoying noises around him, and he prayed all the more.
On the fourth day, the man found himself in heaven, standing before God - Creator of All Things, the Merciful Judge - and he scowled. Scowled! Oh, he was angry. "God!" he cried. "God - I have been your faithful servant, a good man. I've followed your commandments, provided for my family and my community, worked for peace, fought for justice. My faith was strong. And when I need You most, You ignored my most heartfelt pleas! Why didn't you save me?" His anger gave way to his pain.
God looked at the man with love and compassion. "But I sent you the plane, the boat, the helicopter..."
I sit in my boat, praying like mad, staring at the shore and willing it to come to me. I tell people that I am working to perfect the Telepathy App for 2014. They think I'm joking. I mostly am, but there is that small part of me, that little kid part of me - the kid with the pigtails and shiny maryjanes, who is sitting on the swings, motionless, staring at the playground full of kids, willing them - wanting them - to come near, to be next to, to care - that little kid is desperately praying: "You do it. I can't. Please."
There are times - days, months, eons that become concentrated into single instant - when I cannot act. I can only sit, watching life and the shore and the playground with utter longing. But I'm scared, and lonely and less than and vulnerable. I pray and pray and pray, but the oars absolutely defeat me.
In my posed and poised position, I wait for release. For change. For movement. I forget, in the midst of my prayer, that it really does begin with me. Pray with your feet. Doesn't have to be a huge and boundless leap into the great unknown. A step. A single step, no matter how small, that step moves me forward.
That is where faith lives. That is the beginning of redemption and the saving grace of God - a single step, from here to there.
This Elul, I pray. That's the easy part. But this Elul, I am reminded, that I am called to act. Through the fear and shame and guilt, and whatever else keeps me stuck and sitting alone on that swing, I must ACT. And in that action, no matter how infinitesimally small, that movement carries me closer to God and closer to you.
Pray to God, but row towards shore...
Stacey Zisook Robinson