Excerpted from Talking to God by Naomi Levy. Copyright © 2002 by Naomi Levy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
NAOMI LEVY, author of the national bestseller To Begin Again and Talking to God, is the founder and leader of NASHUVA, the Jewish spiritual outreach movement. Named one of the 50 top rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, she was in the first class of women to enter the Conservative rabbinical seminary. Naomi has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show and NPR. She lives in Venice, California, with her husband, Rob Eshman, and their children, Adi and Noa.
A Conversation with Naomi Levy
author of TALKING TO GOD
Q: What’s the difference between talking to God and praying to God?
A: There are many people who feel intimidated by the word prayer. They assume that prayer is something formal that is done only in a house of worship. Often people will say, “I don’t know how to pray” but anyone can talk to God. Talking to God is simple—we all have the ability to communicate with God from our souls in our own words.
Q: What inspired you to write and share this very personal book?
A: I first started writing my own prayers when I became pregnant with my son. Pregnancy is such a wondrous experience and there was so much I needed to say to God, but there were so few prayers about this miraculous journey. So I began writing prayer after prayer and I suppose I have never stopped talking to God. As a rabbi, people constantly say to me, “Rabbi, please pray for me or for my loved one.” Of course I do pray for people all the time, but I want to show people that they can have an intimate and personal relationship with God all by themselves. In Talking to God, I want people to see that prayer doesn’t have to be something formal or intimidating. Prayer happens whenever we reach out to God.
Q: The prayers you write in Talking to God are so life affirming and hopeful. Does this book logically follow your book about overcoming tragedy, To Begin Again?
A: To Begin Again is an attempt to describe a path back to life and joy and faith in the wake of difficult times. In Talking to God I am attempting to describe a path that can lend us joy, meaning and stability throughout all our days: the mundane days and the monumental ones too. The path I offer is a running dialogue with God.
Q: Does prayer have a special place during times of national tragedy and war?
A: It certainly does. Prayer can help revive our hope, recover our strength. It reminds us that we are not alone, that God hears our cries, that we can triumph in the face of whatever may come.
Q: Are the prayers you’ve written informed or inspired by personal experience?
A: Some of the prayers grew out of my own life experiences, many grew out of my encounters with others who came to me for counsel.
Q: What is the difference between prayers and blessings?
A: We speak prayers to God, we speak blessings to other people. I included several blessings in Talking to God because I think we all have the power to bestow blessings upon those we love. Sometimes we assume that only members of the clergy can bless people, but every single one of us can offer a blessing. In Talking to God I offer blessings for parents to bestow upon their children, for grandparents to bestow upon grandchildren and also blessings for children to bestow upon their parents. I offer a blessing for loved ones to bestow upon someone in need of healing. There is a blessing for co-workers to recite for a colleague who is about to retire, and a marriage blessing for parents to recite when a child marries.
Q: How does prayer help you?
A: Daily prayer centers me, it reminds me that every single day is a gift from God and an opportunity to learn and grow. On bad days prayer gives me strength, hope and courage and the perspective to see that all things are temporary, even pain. When I feel burnt out, prayer renews my soul. When I am overjoyed, prayer is the way I thank God for my blessings. When I take myself too seriously, prayer gives me a sense of humor, when I am angry, prayer teaches me patience. When I am frightened, prayer calms me, when I feel alone, prayer helps me to see that God is near.
Q: How does prayer get God’s attention?
A: I think we always have God’s attention. I believe God is always with us, praying for us, rooting for us. I think prayer gets OUR attention. It teaches us to enter into a dialogue with God, to reach out beyond ourselves and see all the gifts that surround us. Prayer teaches us to notice all the miracles we so often ignore; it helps us realize all the potential that is lying dormant within us. Through prayer we can begin to hear the silent voice of our own souls. It doesn’t take long before we start to see things we never saw before, to feel things we never felt before. Have we suddenly gotten God’s attention? Or has God been there all along and we’ve suddenly become more attentive to God’s presence in our lives?
Q: Can prayer really help us in life situations like divorce, infertility, illness, addiction,
violence, failure, sorrow?
A: Prayer isn’t a form of magic. We shouldn’t expect to recite a prayer and then miraculously be saved from all of life’s pains. But prayer can offer us strength to face our pains, to fight for peace, to accept what we have been denying, to struggle for sobriety, to love again, trust again, try again, dream again. We can’t expect God to do the work for us. Prayer teaches us to muster our God-given strength and energy to heal our own lives and to help heal our world.
Q: Is it right to feel let down by God?
A: I think it’s natural to feel angry with God when things don’t go our way. Often people stop praying to God after a tragedy because they assume that God wasn’t listening to their prayers, or that God doesn’t care about them. But I think they are mistaken. I believe that God is pained by our pains and that God is beside us in times of sorrow offering us comfort and the strength to triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.
Q: Can prayer help us at work?
A: Prayer can help revive our passion, it can help us overcome burnout, and it can lead us to creativity and inspiration. Prayer can infuse our days with meaning. Through prayer we can find the strength to seek out new positions, to change our life path or our career.
Q: Can prayer help us fall in love?
A: Prayer can help us get in touch with our souls, in can help us to see the beauty in people we might have overlooked. Prayer can help to open our eyes to new possibilities, and it can help calm our fears so that we don’t sabotage ourselves when meeting others.
Q: Can prayer heal a marriage?
A: Prayer can’t magically cure all marital troubles, but through prayer a couple can learn compromise, the power of forgiveness, gratitude for the gifts of love. Prayer can fill us with the strength to fight temptation, and the desire to rekindle romance. And prayer can help us to turn our ordinary days into extraordinary ones.
Q: Can prayer cure an illness?
A: Prayer can fill us with the courage to overcome our fears. Finding a sense of calm can be an enormous boost to our immune systems. Prayer can fill us with strength to face our pains, and with the stamina to fight for healing. When we feel alone, prayer can help remind us that God is beside us at all times. Prayer can fill us with hope as we face surgery and with gratitude for every tiny step along the path to recovery.
Q: I’ve never seen prayers for pregnancy and childbirth before. What’s the role of prayer during pregnancy?
A: A friend of mine who is a priest told me after he read my chapter of prayers for pregnancy and childbirth that he suddenly realized that so many of the formal prayers were written by men for men. Pregnancy is such a miraculous experience, you would expect there to be scores of pregnancy prayers. Why shouldn’t a woman address God at a time when God feels so near? In Talking to God, I offer prayers for the ability to conceive, prayers during pregnancy, prayers for strength during labor, and prayers of gratitude at the miracle of childbirth. Pregnancy
prepares our bodies for receiving a child. During pregnancy we prepare our homes for receiving a child. But through prayer we learn to prepare our hearts and souls for receiving and welcoming our child into this wondrous world.
Q: Can prayer make us better parents?
A: Prayer can help to teach us patience, it can help us find the right words of wisdom to offer our children, it can teach us to have a sense of humor when we take ourselves too seriously, and to offer discipline without rage. Prayer can help us to embrace our children as they are and to love them unconditionally. Prayer can teach us gratitude for every single day with our children.
Q: What kind of impact can prayer have on joyous occasions?
A: Prayer can turn joyous occasions into meaningful occasions. A prayer for a new home can turn a piece of property into a sacred space. A birthday prayer can teach us to grow not only in years but also in goodness and wisdom. A new year’s prayer can remind us to take stock of our lives and strive to live up to all the gifts hidden inside us. A prayer for the Thanksgiving feast can help to remind us of all the blessings we usually take for granted.
Q: How can prayer help us to become better people?
A: Prayer doesn’t end when it leaves our lips. That’s just where prayer begins. Prayer opens our eyes to seeing what we have ignored, it opens our hearts to those less fortunate, it opens our ears to the cries of the suffering, and it opens our arms to lend strength to the weak and the weary. Prayer forces us to look inward and face our own faults. And prayer forces us to look outward and face the imperfect world we have been given. God has filled us with unimaginable potential. Prayer ends when it ignites us to act-to do all that is in our power to bring goodness and tolerance and peace and healing to this world.
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From the Hardcover edition.