When Will My Prayers Finally Sprout?
Three weeks ago, deep in winter: I sit at my desk, intending to write. Finding no words, I finally force my fingers to start typing. What comes out disappoints.
I take a break to check my email. In my inbox waits my 13th rejection letter for a short story which won praise at both my writing groups six months ago. Will it ever sell?
I sigh and stare out the window at yet another downpour.
I felt upbeat while I ran this morning, but now I want to crawl into bed and hide from everything.
This winter has been unusually challenging for me. I’ve always been prone to blue moods and heavy limbs once autumn hits and the hours of daylight diminish, but this year other troubles piled on. I’ve been coping with exercise and hygge and appointments with my therapist. Sometimes I pray, hard, and sometimes I’m too overwhelmed to pray. It’s better when I pray, because the words in my prayer book lend me the strength to keep going.
In the Jewish prayer book, there are two perplexing passages in the middle of the prayer called “Amidah“: First, the text blesses God “Who causes the sprouting of salvation,” and then, a short while later, if it’s a weekday, we add, “You are the Source, our Master, Who causes the power of salvation to sprout.” The former blessing is just one of a list of praises in the second paragraph of the prayer; the latter blessing concludes the request for God to send the Messiah.
This image of “the sprouting of salvation,” appears in other Jewish texts, as well.
Asking for salvation in general, and the Messiah’s arrival in particular, makes perfect sense from the Jewish worldview, but the word “sprout,” matzme’ach in Hebrew, has always seemed out of place to me. Wouldn’t it make more sense for “the power of salvation” to arise, arrive, or increase?
Several years back, I heard an explanation for this expression, “the sprouting of salvation,” which really stuck with me. Every day, multiple times a day, an observant Jew asks God to send the Messiah. Yet, for millennia, God hasn’t sent him. It would be easy to give up praying, give up hoping.
A seed doesn’t grow the instant we plant it in the ground. It must be moistened by rain and warmed by the sun for days, weeks, or even months before its growth becomes apparent to a casual observer. Similarly, our prayers may germinate over days, weeks, months–even years–moistened by tears, warmed by love, before we can measure any outcome.
Patience is a difficult quality to cultivate. Alan Morinis writes, in Everyday Holiness, “We all tend to see ourselves as the prime actor in a drama that swirls around us. Some of us believe that all that heavy action is playing out according to a script we ourselves have written.” It’s tempting to think we know better what we need and when we need it than God does. Why should we be willing to wait? Because God–who is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent–knows the right time for our prayers to sprout.
While we wait to see our dreams manifest, we feel put-upon, forever aggravated–but we are making ourselves miserable by resisting the inevitable and inescapable timetable of God.
We’re heading towards the vernal equinox, and days are once again getting longer. I planted seeds in my garden late in the fall, before the rain and the sulking and the blue moods. Now they are starting to flourish: swiss chard and snap peas and California poppies and potatoes.
When I take a bite of swiss chard, I decide it’s worth the wait.
November 25, 2020
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