Second Order Prayers

We often pray, wish, plan for outside events to change for the better. I was taught by my teacher, of blessed memory, Gerald Epstein, MD, so often mentioned on this page and in my thoughts as we come to his yarzheit (anniversary of death in Judaism) next week that our prayers should be “second order” prayers. Meaning that instead of prayer for things or events, we pray to have the strength, insight, creativity etc. to make those things happen.

To be sure, in the Hebraic tradition, there have been sages who have emphasized that we should pray for others that they should have all their material needs met according to what they are accustomed to, but for us, we should pray for our spiritual welfare.

Yesterday, I felt a great deal of sadness for a man I know and as I started to pray for him that he have the strength and insight to come through the challenges that he faces, it had reminded me that though I have people in my prayers all the time, I had not expanded that with “second order” prayers.

That prayers work is beyond question in my opinion. Those who regularly pray especially as part of community are healthier. And the remarkable studies on what the literature uses as intercessory prayer (IP) as the terminology, show numerous studies that even when people don’t know they are being prayed for, they get better.

The benefits of this for yourself are given a beautiful metaphor in ancient Hebraic teachings. It says that when you pray for another a channel from God is opened for that person but since you opened it, you become a channel for that light to be then given to that person. That, of course, means that you are receiving more Godly light into your life as a result of these prayers for others.

In our ever pessimistic world, we often resign ourselves to the fact that nothing will help given the immense problems we all face both in our lives and in our society. We are commanded in Western traditions not to ever give up hope. Classic Jewish tradition says that even if your enemies sword is upon your throat, you must never give up hope. Maybe now is exactly when we need to think “second order” thoughts and prayers that we and those around us should be strong enough, resilient enough, creative enough to make the changes required to improve our world for all of us. Start small and local and expand your vision outward. You can make a difference, it’s proven scientifically, if you need that proof. The remarkable thing is that in doing so, you end up helping yourself. And that is exactly where the seed of hope can find fertile soil. Nothing good happens in this world until a positive thought or intention finds a place in your mind to grow and reach outward. It can be a prayer that starts it all.

Photo by Carlos Cuesta