There’s this Jewish prayer I like very much called the Hashkiveinu.
Here’s the text of it:
Lie us down to peace, Adonai our God, and raise us up to life, our king (protector), and spread over us the shelter of your peace, and direct us with good advice before You, and save us for the sake of your name, and look out for us, and keep enemies, plagues swords, famines, and troubles from our midst, and remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us, and cradle us in the shadow of your wings, for You are God who guards us and saves us, for You are God. Our gracious and merciful king (protector). Guard our departure and our arrival to life and to peace, from now and ever more.
Isn’t it remarkable to contemplate being “raised up to life” before falling asleep?
Yes, there is the hope in being raised to “this same life” the following morning. But the prayer is also evocative of being raised to everlasting life. As sleep seems to be a death but actually leads to a new day, so death seems to be an end but leads to resurrection.
Photo: First or second century Jewish tomb at Emmaus in Israel
Three years ago, on October 27, 2018, a white supremacist committed the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States, killing eleven worshippers at a Shabbat morning service in Pittsburgh.
That weekend, I was attending a Shabbaton [program of Jewish learning over the Sabbath] in Thornhill. Since I was staying with an Orthodox family, I did not use my phone during Shabbat. And so, like many in the Jewish community, I found out about the shooting once Shabbat ended.
My heart sank. I read a few articles before heading upstairs and I wasn’t going to mention the news to my hosts until they had seen it for themselves.
That weekend, I had experienced what it is to be guarded by the oasis of time that Shabbat had been for all of us. I recalled Heschel’s words: “The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not for petitions.” How could we have avoided anxiety and petitions on that day had we not been observing Shabbat?
There is a marvellous little essay called “To Grow in Wisdom” in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence.
On this feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I thought I’d quickly scan the Internet to see what came up in connection with Ignatian spirituality and death.
I was pleased to find this 3-minute video in which a young man named Jurell Sison reflects on the death of his grandparents.
A friend of mine just sent me this article of his, “Cancer is back, so I have a request …”
In it, Charles Lewis discusses his ambivalence about writing and speaking publicly about his illness.
Of course, in reading a column about it, his decision is made clear and obvious.
The first reason he gives for being public about it is because he hopes that others will pray for him.
A second reason he discerns is that he does not want to go through the burden alone or for he and his wife to shoulder it privately.
A third reason, which I found particularly interesting comes up when Lewis concludes, “Besides, why hide it? Would not that be a form of pride?”
Here’s an anecdote:
It was the summer of 2018 when I crashed an Aramaic summer camp for Maronite children living in northern Israel. I got to have a blast singing songs and playing games with the children who are growing up navigating a complex identity with an extremely fraught history in a pretty volatile region.
One day during that camp, I decided to ask an 11-year-old girl named Marie who lives just a few kilometres away from the border with Lebanon, “Who do you think is in greatest need of our prayers?”
The preteen immediately answered, “The kids of Florida.”
“Florida?” I repeated curiously.
“Yes,” she told me. “Because of the school shootings there.”
I was quite struck by this answer to the extent that I still remember it.
It is interesting to consider this perspective on danger.
After all, I am sure that, were I interviewing 11-year-olds in Florida about who most needs our prayers that someone there would have told me, “The kids of the Middle East.”
Around New Year’s 2015, my grandfather had been hospitalized and was in quite severe pain. I visited him in the hospital during the holidays but had left the city by the time his birthday came around a couple weeks later on January 17th. I just came across the following letter that I wrote to him, which ended up being my last birthday card to him. When I had visited him at the beginning of the month, he told me that the pain was so bad that he wished he could die. This was obviously difficult to hear and so, in writing to him, I felt greatly responsible to give him some encouragement.
Here is what I wrote:
This evening a dear friend and I reunited in Toronto and spontaneously decided to attend Vespers at St. Moses & St. Katherine Coptic Orthodox Church.
The evening prayer and raising of incense was set to begin at 7:00 p.m.
Aside from the priest, two young men chanting liturgical responses, and one woman from the community, my friend and I were the only ones there.
Before beginning vespers, Fr. John Boutros came over to give us a brief explanation of the prayer.
“The purpose of vespers is start wondering now: where has my life gone? It’s a journey toward reconciliation in preparation for the liturgy the following day. Accordingly, people will usually go to confession after Vespers and during the Midnight Praises on the vigil of the Divine Liturgy. As the sun sets, you are invited to ponder: What am I doing? Where did the light go? Where did my life go?”
Fr. John also gave the analogy of working on a paper or a project into the late hours of the night saying, “When you’re working late at night, you can lose sense of the time. The purpose of these evening liturgies is partly to enter into the timelessness of eternity.”
This is the structure of Vespers in the Coptic Orthodox Church:
Lately I have been reading Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim. In his Introduction, Buber discusses how “the core of hasidic teachings is the concept of a life of fervour, of exalted joy” and that “The world in which you live, just as it is and not otherwise affords you that association with God, which will redeem you and whatever divine aspect of the world you have been entrusted with.”