Jewish Journal

There’s a Prayer for That

by Susan Esther Barnes

December 18, 2013 | 12:30 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

It’s said we Jews have a prayer for everything. In a sense, it’s true. Traditional Jewish prayer books have prayers for a wide variety of things, from the abstract, like the wish for peace, to the more concrete, such as gratitude for the miraculous way in which our bodies work.

Perhaps in part because of the “there are no atheists in a foxhole” assertion, we often think of prayer as being petitionary. However, in many prayers we are not asking for anything. There are prayers of gratitude, as well as prayers intended to bring us closer to God, or intended to help us learn more about ourselves.

Although we are always welcome to invent our own prayers, for some of us, it can be hard to come up with the requisite words. Often, it is difficult to articulate our innermost thoughts and feelings. And although we have traditional prayer books at our disposal, sometimes the language in them can feel archaic and stilted.

In addition, modernity has brought us new situations and a new understanding of certain human conditions that call for their own, new prayers. So, although a general prayer for healing may be helpful, we may yearn for something more pertinent to the specific dilemma in which we find ourselves.

Into this tradition comes “Mishkan R’fua: Where Healing Resides,” which includes prayers for many situations which clergy, chaplins, volunteers, and others who visit the sick may encounter.

For instance, there are prayers for ending life support, for someone entering dementia, for before and after a transplant, and for chemotherapy. There are also prayers of healing for situations that may not include illness, such as gender transition or incarceration.

This is truly a book of healing for the modern world. Even if we can’t have a prayer at our fingertips for absolutely everything, this book hits many of the highlights of life cycle events for which we have not had prayers in the past.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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