With thanks to Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, aka Ima on (and off) the Bima. I wrote this as a guest blogger on her site, which you can find at http://imabima.blogspot.com. She is an astounding writer; I hope that you visit her site (and her SupermanSam site) often!
I am reminded of the midrash of King David and the origins of the Adonai S'fatai, which is the prayer we say at the beginning of the Amidah. David, the rabbis tell us, had sent a man to his certain death, all for the sake of satisfying his own selfish desires. The man, Uriah, was a general in David’s army, and David sent him to the front, knowing that it was certain death. But he really wanted Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. And he was king, so he gave the orders. On the night before the battle, he had a sudden attack of conscience, and so sent Uriah a note, telling him to return home. But Uriah was an honorable man, and he would not be dissuaded by David’s sudden change of heart. He was killed in battle, along with most of his troops. David got word of Uriah's death just before evening prayers.
What was he to do? He knew that he would have to talk to God, to ask forgiveness. But-- and here's the hard part-- David's fear: what if God said no? What if God refused? David ran into the fields, running from himself, from his fear, from God, until he could run no farther. How could he ask God for forgiveness, when he couldn't forgive himself? He stopped, just as the setting sun hit the horizon, staining the sky with the colors of royalty: crimson and gold and deep purple, and he cried out, in his fear and longing "Adonai s'fatai tiftach ufid yagid t'hilatecha..."
God, open my lips, that I may declare your praise...
And with that prayer-- filled to its very edges with pain and humility and hope and despair, David was forgiven.
Well sure, the voices in my head whisper, God can forgive David. Let's face it: he's, well, David. His very name means "beloved." And me? Not even close. All bets are off.
It is my greatest longing, my unrequited quest-- to be redeemed. To be forgiven. To dance in the palm of God's hand. To believe, if even for an instant, that though I may not be David, though I may not be Beloved, I may find a small piece of that forgiveness, and that that may be enough.
I have spent a lifetime yearning for redemption. I have spent an eternity of lifetimes searching for God. I have declared my disbelief in God even as I feared that God didn't believe in me. I have shouted my rage and demanded answers and whispered my praise. And the thing I come back to, again and again, like a gift of impossible and breathless wonder--
It is not what I pray that matters. It is that I pray.
For all my yearning, for all my longing, what I don't ever realize is that I am redeemed. I have not been abandoned by God. Neither have I been forgotten. David had it right in his psalms: we cry out to God and so we are healed. He didn't tell us "God only hears the pretty words. Therefore, speak only of love and praise, for only then will you be heard." No, it's pretty clear: we find healing and redemption because we cry out in our anger and our fear.
There was a time when I stood in prayer and my knees began to buckle from the weight of my sorrow, when I was filled with an ocean of pain and loss, when I wanted to curse God-- when I did curse God-- there were hands that reached out to hold me steady, and strong arms to carry me through to firm ground. When I demanded of God, to God-- where the hell are You? I was answered: here. No farther than the nearest heartbeat, in the still small voices of all those around me, who showed me, again and again, that I was not alone. Even in my pain, even in my doubt and despair, I was not alone.
In my faith, in my prayer, what I find, again and again-- what I am given, again and again, is grace. What I get is strength and courage to face what life has placed in front of me in that moment...even if that thing is the death of my beloved brother. My faith is not a guarantee that I will never know fear, or that only good and happy things will happen. My faith, my prayer allows me to put one foot in front of the other and know that I will be carried through. And in that exact moment, the moment I take that step, I am enough and I am redeemed. And in that moment, I dance in the palm of God's hand.