How 6 Word Prayers Have Connected Me To God And Community
Can you pray with only six words? For the last three months, I’ve been doing so several times a week. This new practice began when my friend Alden Solovy, who lives in Israel and works professionally as a poet and liturgist, invited me to join a Facebook group of people writing, reading and commenting on each other’s Six word prayers. The idea was inspired by a popular project called “Six-Word Memoirs” started by the storytelling magazine Smith that’s taken off in popularity.
Alden describes how the six word storytelling format can be powerful when used for prayer: “The power and freedom of writing with only six words can also focus and enliven prayers,” he writes. “With so few words, the format eliminates the pressure to be poetic or deeply inspirational. Six-word prayers cut to the heart of our deepest desires, our highest yearnings and our most crushing griefs. Yet, there’s often an amazing contradiction: the results are often remarkably heartfelt, poetic and inspirational.”
He has begun to teach several workshops based on his experience moderating the site. These workshops on the connection to Jewish prayer, personal relationships with G-d and interpretation of the Jewish prayer book, known as the Siddur, use a method of study and dialogue that combines six word prayers with spiritual self-examination.
For me, the process came at a moment in my life when I was struggling to find a consistent way of praying. At age 46, my experience and practice of prayer has varied through different stages of my life: I grew up attending a Reform Jewish temple and loved the warm feeling of reading from our Hebrew Union prayerbook. As a congregation, we recited many of the prayers together in English and sang a few in Hebrew. Prayer wasn’t a regular part of our home life besides the ritual of lighting Shabbat candles most Friday nights.
I think that I was born as a spiritual seeker; as a child, several people referred to me as an “old soul” which I had no understanding of then. When I was ten years old, I got extremely sick and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. In the hospital, I learned to give myself insulin shots and learned about what to do if my blood sugar dropped too low. I was told in plain terms what living with Type 1 diabetes meant: my life depended on injecting insulin and keeping my blood sugar out of the too low and too high range.
It’s a big responsibility for any child who is diagnosed with Type 1 to integrate, even with great family and school support. I remember considering my mortality in the months after my diagnosis. I would marvel that my life was dependent on that syringe of insulin; I felt close to the mystery of life and death in a way that I hadn’t before. These aren’t thoughts that I shared with anyone out loud, but I felt they were received by a God whose presence I connected to in those quiet moments.
In my teen years and into my early twenties, I rebelled against many things, including my religion and rarely went to a Temple. But I did start writing poetry with serious devotion and went on to become a creative writing minor in college. In my practice of writing and re-writing poems, I discovered that quiet place of connection that I had when I used to have my conversations with God as a kid.
I returned to a more formal connection with my Jewish community–and in fact, went on to earn an MA in Jewish studies and work as a Jewish educator, teaching about prayer with everyone from young children and their parents, to rebellious high school students and adults who felt no spiritual connection in formal religion. I related to them all.
In my personal adult life, my prayer practice has taken many different forms, from periods of regularly attending worship services to being part of a spiritual direction group. I’ve kept gratitude journals, practiced mindfulness meditation using an app on my iphone and joined yoga classes when I made time.
When my two children were young, 3 and 1, my son was diagnosed with autism. I went through a period of loss, confusion and grief as I tried to understand that his life would look different from the one that I had imagined.
Praying daily with my children grounded me as I began the unknowns of each day. I would sing Jewish morning blessings and clap hands with my son as my daughter danced around us in her natural exuberance. Those were holy moments.
Through the last decade of my life, I’ve felt connected to God through the challenges and blessings of raising my children. In addition to living well with Type 1 diabetes for 36 years now, I am also a 9-year breast cancer survivor. I do not take the blessings of life for granted.
But there I was, last fall, when Alden’s invitation arrived, at a crossroads. My spiritual direction group that had met monthly for 7 years, recently dissolved. My son no longer liked going to Shabbat services and so I wasn’t able to go pray with my community as much as I had before. Instead of using the mindfulness meditation app on my phone, I was more drawn to scrolling through social media apps when I had ten minutes of down time.
I accepted his invitation with curiosity and some doubt: could I write a prayer in 6 words? If I could, would it be meaningful–to myself or anyone else?
I gave it a try and wrote: Welcoming all that life today brings
I thought about the six word prayer group through my day and later on wrote: May love go out to all
I read the other prayers that group members posted: petitions, blessings, expressions of gratitude. I got in the practice of opening the six-word prayer group up once or twice a day, reading what others wrote and letting what resonated wash over me.
I turned what I was feeling in any moment into a six word prayer:
May I remember your great compassion
Let me be with uncertainty
What was happening felt transformative–I was using the old muscles of my poetry-writing practice to capture, in a few words, my yearning or desire.
Heart: remember, daily, to listen deeply
You are with me in vulnerability
Through writing six-word prayers, I’ve felt a significant shift in my mindset, I give myself time to write prayers in a few minutes here or there, when walking my dog or waiting in a car pool line. I meditate on the prompts that Alden shares with us: thinking about light, love, holiness.
Angels, I forget you are present
Beloved, have I known you forever?
A choice to find daily holiness
I feel uplifted and connected when I write, both to the other members in the prayer group and to that quiet space of mystery, connection and warmth that I’ve always experienced as God. I encourage anyone who is open to the experience to give it a try!
“This Facebook group is perhaps the most gratifying thing I’ve created in my mission to promote the love of prayer,” Alden says. “The expressions of prayer on the page are beautiful, and the support and encouragement of one another that follows in the ‘comments’ is truly breathtaking. It has become a real prayer community.”
July 30, 2018
January 29, 2018