Often my prayer is like the famous Thomas Merton prayer in which he says something like, “Dear God, I have no idea where I am going, or if what I am doing is pleasing to you, but I believe that my desire to please you, does please you.” I have always taken comfort in the fact that a monk as holy and spiritual as Thomas Merton felt lost some times in his relationship with God.
The other night I walked along a white sand beach, listening to the rise and fall of the purple waves, as the orange sun sank into the ocean. Meditating on the grand body of water put the daily realities of taxes, calendars and responsibilities in perspective. I know writers have made fun of those “spiritual but not religious” folks who see God in the sunsets, accusing them of being cliché, and I admit it is cliché, but man, there is a reason the cliché is there. There is something about walking into a sunset that reminds you of your mortality and the Presence of One bigger than your problems. Maybe for those who are “spiritual but not religious” a sunset is the closest they have ever felt to the Divine. I’m o.k. with that.
On this particular night of evening prayer, as I was talking to God, I realized that I was doing all of the talking. Like a bad date, I was not giving any time for my partner to join in the conversation.
I closed my eyes and listened, asking God to give me word. “Dear God, what do you want from me?” I asked. Eventually the word the came.
“Shema. Shema. Shema.” The waves seemed to whisper it. “She…ma…”
The Shema is the ancient prayer of the Jewish faith found in Deuteronomy 6. Like the constancy of the waves, this prayer should be a constant in our rising and in our resting.
Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
V’shinan’tam l’vanekha v’dibar’ta bam
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them
b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha
when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Uk’shar’tam l’ot al yadekha v’hayu l’totafot bein einekha.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
Ukh’tav’tam al m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Someone once said, “Sometimes the earnest seeker looking for God is closer to the kingdom than all the scribes put together.”
Dear God, what do you want from me?
Hear Me! Let’s just start there. Be quiet. Listen.
You are blessed – Have you forgotten?
Command. I have given you commandments – laws to give you parameters, not because I’m a stick in the mud, but because I want you to live.
Love. If you put your love for me before all other things and people, then your love for them will be in balance. Love me above all and you will love all as you should.
Teach. You don’t learn this by osmosis. Teach by example. Teach by listening to your children as I listen to you.
Sit and Walk. Lie Down and Rise. You’re busy. You have a rhythm in your day. I am with you in that rhythm. In everything you do, I am with you. Are you with me?
Bind. I’ve got you. You are hemmed in. I have my hand upon you. There is nowhere you can go that I am not with you. I’m with you to hell and back. You can’t cut me loose.
Write. Put a sticky note on the door. Don’t forget to look at it as you head out for the day. As you grab your lunch and your umbrella, remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age.