Saturday, September 19, 2009

Last Night's Silent Prayer

By Susan Esther Barnes

Last night was the evening of Rosh Hashanah. As I stood on the steps greeting my fellow congregants, I marveled at the number of faces I knew.

Once I was seated inside, I looked around the room. I remembered how, three years ago on this day, I sat in a room full of complete strangers, and felt so alone. I remembered how, two years ago on this day, I stood at the microphone in front of about 1,500 people and told them how alone I had felt, what I had done to change that, and how good it felt to no longer be alone. I thought about how good it felt this year to be among so many friendly faces, to be part of a community where I feel safe, where I feel loved, where I feel I belong.

In every service, there is a time for silent prayer. Sometimes I use the time to talk with God in words. Sometimes I use the time to talk with God in images or feelings. Sometimes I use the time just to listen. Last night, something completely new happened.

Last night, during the time for silent prayer, the only words I was capable of conjuring in my mind were, "Thank you." The words repeated in my head, over and over, as if of their own volition. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you." And each time the words repeated, a new image from the past year formed in my head. "Thank you," and I pictured a time when a woman held my hand. "Thank you," and I saw people bussing tables after a Sulchan Shabbat dinner. "Thank you," and I saw us gathered in a congregant's home one Friday night, singing together.

The words repeated and the images came, one after the other, all these experiences and all these people I did not have in my life three years ago, but who are now an integral part of my life. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," the words and the images came, one after the other, effortlessly and seemingly without end, until Fred began to sing "Osey shalom" and the moment passed.

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