October 18, 2018

The Freedom of Prayer and Religion

By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

I read an Op-Ed article by David Brooks this week in the New York Times where he quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. This peeked my curiosity immediately. The article spoke about the legions of people who are people of faith yet not fundamentalists. This got me thinking about prayer. I have said before that prayer in Judaism is reflective; it is about looking deep inside oneself and being a little better, one grain of sand, each day.

Prayer and Religion are not about how to make ourselves pure and rid ourselves of our inner and outer demons, in my experience. Rather Religion and Prayer are tools for us to be “radically amazed,” as Rabbi Heschel says, each and every day. Reading this article for the third time has awakened within me a different response to both Religion and Prayer.

Not only are neither dogmatic and static, they are the best, and for me, only way to Freedom! Freedom to be able to make moral choices that go beyond my impulses and desires. Freedom to be transparent and unafraid of being me. Freedom to have the knowledge and ability to deal with paradoxes, ambiguity, and uncertainty.

How do Prayer and Religion make this possible for me? Because both touch an inner wealth of knowledge—the knowledge that my demons, my enemies, both inner and outer, will not go away. They can be my teachers and friends, if I make them so. I can use my fears to be amazed at healing and redemption. I can use my inner demons to help me be in dialogue and truth within myself. I can use my outer demons to help me learn what I am not seeing, they keep me right sized and show me how to be vulnerable and not retreat to the safety of “being right” and/or being a victim. My failures teach me what I missed and how to improve “being human.”

Religion is the path to answer the question, as Rabbi Heschel asks, “What is life getting out of me?”  It gives me a framework that I adapt and adopt to ask and answer this question in all of the myriad ways I live life. Religion affords me ways to show up for my life and make a positive difference in the lives of others. It rids me of my narcissism and inauthenticity.

Prayer gives me the path to answer questions about my actions and thoughts and feelings about myself and others. Prayer forces me to confront my demons and my angels. It is the dialogue I have with myself and God. Does God exist? I don't know for sure and I have experienced God and Godliness each and every day whether I am aware of it or not. Prayer helps me realize this Truth.

Ultimately, for me, Prayer and Religion give me permission to err and redeem myself. They help me stay “Addicted to Redemption” because they both show me in totality and provide me with the wisdom, insight and fortitude to live better each day.