I know I should be writing about Pesach, or Matzah fatigue, or the beautiful Song of Songs which we will read this Shabbat, the final day of the festival. But instead I want to focus on a matter which has been in my thoughts for many weeks now.
For two years exactly every Wednesday night at 10.30pm we have held a short service over the phone. We initially called it a service of healing and it always contains at its heart a prayer for all those who are ill and those who are caring for and looking after them. Around it are short passages from the liturgy, mostly asking for God’s protection and for the restoration and deepening of our spirit. We always conclude with the Shema. Later we broadened the description to say that these are prayers for all of us at the end of a wearing, wearying day. Usually they are led by Leslie Lyndon and I, who sit together in my study with the phone on loudspeaker in front of us. But many people, including Rabbis Lee Wax and Amanda Golby have also taken them, and on those occasions when I’ve been on my own, I’ve had the help of each of my children, who sing incomparably better than I do. We’ve even phoned in together from mountains and riversides in the far north of Scotland.
On the whole it might be said that this service has, thank goodness, been a failure. Certainly any assessment of ratings would classify it in that manner. Mercifully perhaps, people have not felt the need to avail themselves of it. Occasionally that has been no one else on the line, almost always one or two persons, a few times more, – though people do not give their names and it isn’t possible to tell who’s there.
Sometimes I’ve thought of giving up, but just then someone says to me how much they valued phoning in to share those prayers at a time when they were stressed, or very worried about a member of their family. The short service had revived their spirits. At such moments one feels that it’s all deeply worthwhile. One wants simply to be there too, to be there just in case; just in case someone should come home exhausted from sitting in the hospital all day to a house which is too empty, and might value the company of a fellow voice in prayer.
Thus in a strange way this brief service, never more than ten minutes long, has become very important to me, and, I’m sure, to Leslie. There’s a strange and compelling kind of companionship in reaching out over the phone into the darkness beyond the window.
But more than that, this has become a special time for us to think about people who are ill, or carers, or struggling, both in our community and beyond. We always leave a silence after asking God to send healing, and I always fill it with names, sometimes just one or two to focus on, sometimes several. These feel like moments of compassion, moments of love, moments which belong to the heart.
I’ve wondered, too, and maybe people will send me their responses, whether it would be right to offer the opportunity for people to send the names of those in their thoughts, for whom they are worried and for whom they are caring, and if possible phone in for those few minutes, so that we might in this manner strengthen together the compassion which is the heart of community.
For such connections make a difference; they form a deep and vibrant bond with life itself, through which God’s spirit flows to sustain and strengthen us and purify and heal us.