Johanna Shapiro, PhD
During the past seven months of quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, I go virtually nowhere other than to visit my doctors and my dentist. My only walking is around our neighborhood. At the end of the street (which is long and meandering), there is a dead-end that provides a vista of hills and a vast, uncluttered sky. When I reach this point, I’ve taken to raising my arms wide and uttering the following prayer: “Protect Your servants. Help your people. Save Your world.” (Since, over the course of history, the Lord’s servants have been a motley crew, I clarify that, at this point in time, I am referring to the essential workers and frontline doctors and nurses battling COVID-19). I say this 3 times, each time separated by a respectful pause (which is inevitably met with silence – but it might be a Divine Silence, which could be full of answers – who knows what anything really means these days?).
Then I turn around and go home. Usually I am able to indulge this practice in complete isolation because, although there are houses nearby, their inhabitants never emerge. Today, however, a middle-aged guy materialized, apropos of getting into his car. He stood gawking at me like I was a crazy woman (how he got that idea I have no idea). He seemed to want to just drive away, but was probably worried I might attack his house – or more likely, curse it. Anyway, he shouted out, “What are you doing there?” I replied, “Praying.” It took him a moment to process this – no church in sight (not even a synagogue!), no choir, no prayer books, and as far as either of us could tell, no God. In any event, after a quizzical inbreath, he nodded and said graciously, “Oh well then, that’s all right. Go right ahead.” I waved in a friendly manner, finished my final round of supplications, and walked home. Prayer never felt so neighborly (or maybe neighborliness never felt so prayerful. Who knows what anything really means these days?).
COMMENTARY Jayne Lewis PhD, Professor of English, UCI – “So honest–yes, where WAS God?–and so witty–yes, where WAS God? I am going to have to adapt the prayer itself into my own practice, and since reading of it have been thinking about what it means to declare–or really to identify–oneself as the servant of an unverifiable power. It goes far beyond faith, and turns on what, now that I think about it, is exemplified in your way of reading: the shape of response itself as service, tribute, evidence for others of what you yourself do not see. If God will not respond, then by God we will! So it’s so fitting that your prayer ritual would be shared in the context of an encounter that is also an impasse. An encounter with a (fellow) skeptic whose skepticism, allowed to reverberate and even to find a mirror in your inimitable and life-sustaining charism of irony, actually turned you from the madwoman in the cul-de-sac (or at the dead end) into a holy person. A stand-up holy person, but still.”