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Praying While Flat on Your Back

 

Rabbi Shapiro wrote these words for a congregational e-mail on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.

 

Seven years ago I had surgery. It was brain surgery that in the end went very well.

Before the surgery, however, I had no idea what to expect. So I found myself listening very carefully to a congregant describe her own approach toward the several surgeries she had experienced. Around one month before my surgery, she told me how she always asked the surgeon to give her a moment for prayer before beginning the operation.

A prayer before surgery! I hadn’t got that far in my mental preparations. I hadn’t thought about the reality of the surgery, but as soon as I heard the idea, I decided I ought to do something similar. I needed a prayer or prayers for the hospital.

As you might expect, I do know a thing or two about prayers. I certainly knew where to look for prayers, and it wasn’t long before I found quite a few texts that seemed right as I anticipated the hour or several minutes before surgery. I carefully chose my favorites. I photocopied the material and I brought it to the hospital.

Only one problem: You don’t take booklets into the operating room. You undress before surgery. You put all your everyday possessions into a bag. You put on the flimsy hospital gown and get on the stretcher. The nurse then takes you down the hallway, flat on your back staring up at the fluorescent lights. So much for the poems I had chosen. All you’ve got when surgery approaches is you, your heart and soul. You are as naked as you can be.

So what did I do that morning outside the operating room? These seven years later, as far as I can recall, one sentence from the prayerbook sprang into my mind. The fancy poems I had prepared were gone. I only had what must have been buried deep inside before I ever left home.

So I sang. I sang to myself the words of this prayer: “Elohai, neshama she-na-ta bee tehora hee…O God, the soul you have given me is a pure one.”

I hummed the melody. I closed my eyes. I sang the words maybe ten times or twenty. I focused. I chanted the words again.

That’s what I had that morning. That’s how I prayed on my back in the halls of the hospital.

“O God, the soul you have given me is a pure one.”

It’s still one of my favorite texts. Still, a prayer that warms my soul deep inside every time I see it.

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