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When the Body Hurts, the Soul Still Longs to Sing

By Rabbi Nancy Flam

When we studied the Jewish morning blessings in an AIDS Spiritual Support Group, one man said, "OK, this is great, but what do I do if, because of my illness, I lose my sight? What do I do if I'm not ambulatory? What do I say if I can't move my bowels at will?"

All of the group members felt the weight of these questions; fashioning answers proved difficult. We agreed that there were a number of possibilities: to refrain from saying these blessings so as not to utter a bracha l'vatela, a prayer said in vain; to say the words in the hope of enjoying these blessings in the future; or to say the words and change the focus of meaning or application (the blessing about "opening one's eyes" might refer to finding insight or understanding, for instance). None of these answers felt spiritually satisfying; this man wanted something to say that would help connect him to God even though he might be ill and in pain.

"That blessing hasn't been written yet," we concluded.

A number of weeks later, at a Bay Area women's conference, I led a workshop on Jewish texts of healing. We studied the morning blessings; and I told the story of what had happened in the spiritual support group. And then I asked the more than sixty women assembled if they would write the as yet unwritten blessing. I asked them what words might help them connect to God at their times of illness, what words at such times might offer them the possibility of sensing God's presence. Their beautiful responses have provided us all with a much-needed resource.

  • Mother/Father God, God of the broken-hearted, God of the strong and the weak, God of the angry and the grieving: I stand before You today in pain, in doubt, in fear. Many blessings have you taken from me; I hesitate even to call out to You and yet I must, with every breath, try to speak Your praise, try to be mindful of being alive. O God, thank You for the gift of this breath. Hallelujah.
  • I awake in pain, misery, and utter confusion; but still I awake. My life is sacred. My life has purpose and my soul houses holy spirit. I pray for healing and to heal others. I gratefully acknowledge today with its infinite possibilities and opportunities. And let me say, Amen.
  • Thank you, God, for allowing me to imagine You, to see You, again today. Blessed are You, Source of all creation, who sustains me this day.
  • Please, HaShem, You are the One who heals people, Rofeh Cholim (Healer of the sick); please heal me, too. Give direction to the doctor. Give direction to me. Let me know what I can do to get better. Give me support and strength to do whatever I need to do to heal. I will be able to do Your mitzvot more fully and lead a complete life.
  • Blessed be God, who holds me to Her breast when I am broken and cradles me when my body and spirit ache.
  • Thank you God for giving me all the special, precious things in my life. Please grant me my health and my strength so I can continue to praise You and walk in Your footsteps.
  • Spirit of the Universe, Breath of Life in all forms, with thankfulness I am in Your presence, and You are in me, this body that is failing yet still lives. With you I greet this new day in praise for the wondrousness of all life. Amen.
  • The earth is here and I, yes, am. Amen.
  • Dear God, heal my spirit, salve my pain, help to make me whole again.

Used with the permission of the Jewish Healing Center, San Francisco, California.