I have a little secret to tell you – lately, I can’t stop talking to God. You’re probably thinking, big deal, I talk to God all the time. Well, I talk to God out loud. Try it sometime. It’s not as easy as it sounds. And it’s even harder if you’re like me and not sure you believe in God.
Here’s how I got started. Last summer I went to my rabbi with a panoply of small problems in my life – problems surrounding the bigger question of how to help my ailing yet combative mother. I cried a little, which finally led to a torrent of tears.
Once my rabbi calmed me down, she asked if I had ever spoken to God from my heart. I ‘m on break from set prayer. I was choking on the thick supplications of my ancestors. The Hebrew letters on the page were too austere for me. The words were empty shells of faith. But I still go to synagogue regularly. I like the choreography, the pageantry – and the festive lunch.
“Do you speak out loud to God?” my rabbi continued. And by out loud she didn’t mean the internal monologue running through my head all day like tickertape. She meant out loud as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov – a Hasidic master who died in 1810 – talked extemporaneously to God as if “talking to a good friend.”
Rabbi Nachman was clear to point out that spontaneous prayers do not take the place of the prayer book; they supplement set prayer. To this day Breslover Hasidim follow their rabbi’s practice of hisboddidus, which loosely translated means “to make one be in solitude.”
Rabbi Nachman said the best place to engage in private, creative prayer was outdoors, among God’s creations. I have no doubt that Rabbi Nachman was right. But the most realistic place for me to grab a few moments with God is in my little capsule of a car with the steel-reinforced doors. Since I spend so much time in my car, I think it fits the criteria God laid out in Exodus 20:21: “In every place where I allow My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.”
The first time I spoke to God, I felt like a squirmy little kid. The sound of my voice jarred me. And I had no idea what to say. I couldn’t simply ask for things – what kind of relationship would that be? And then there was my own doubt lurking in the backseat preventing me from showering God with outright praise.
But after a few awkward conversations with the Lord, I was as giddy as a little kid talking to her new imaginary friend. Ultimately, the trouble with these conversations was that they were one-sided and I got tired of listening to the sound of my voice. One day I parked in a secluded space at my son’s school and brazenly asked God for a sign that He was listening.
A few hours later God did something very obvious. This is what happened:
I was preparing dinner from a recipe that got more complicated with each step. After a long day of school and sports that was still to be capped by a long night of homework, I took matters into my own hands and improvised. No Julia Child or Joan Nathan am I, so the results were not exactly appealing.
After taking a bite of chicken, I steeled myself for the worst. My 17 year-old daughter broke the silence. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy – follow the recipe.” “Please!” my son chimed in. My children were so charming and funny about my disastrous deviation that I could only laugh. Even my husband, who is always supportive, especially when my cooking goes awry, laughed. There we were, the four of us, sawing our way through pieces of battered chicken in every sense of the word and loving every minute of it.
Later that night I was inspired by Abraham Joshua Heschel’s theology. “You’re radically amazing, God,” I said to the Master of the Universe.
*I occasionally use the male pronoun for G-d for no other reason than readability and familiarity.