Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Thank you all for coming along for the journey exploring prayer in faith traditions beyond our own. We have much to learn from our neighbors; and I will continue to listen for interfaith inspiration and wisdom. I hope you will too.

For the short month of February what if we took on the alphabet of prayer? What if the pursuit of naming before God our deepest longings unfolded one letter at a time? Too kitschy? Maybe. But let’s try it. (For adjacent biblical inspiration, reread Psalm 119 to see an ancient alphabetical acrostic poem that follows each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.)

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

Amen: to start at the beginning is to start at the end so to speak. It is used at the end of prayers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and is found in several Semitic languages. The word “Amen” accompanies my own prayers instinctually, always there, ever-present. [1]

To me it sometimes feels as if the “amen” at the end of a prayer is akin to signing off. “Over and out God.” But if that were true it would imply, that when we’re not using words to speak to God, God is somehow cut off from us. We don’t ever say “goodbye” to God and hang up the proverbial phone. God’s nearness is omni-present. So what does “amen” mean?

The word “amen” punctuates what has been said. It comes from the Hebrew a-m-n. “The root is aleph-mem-nun, meaning to be firm, faithful, trustworthy, and credible… its derivatives are found in Genesis, (e.g. 18:13 umnanm, in truth, 42:20; veye’ am’ nu, and be verified; and 45:26 he’emin, believe.)” Ancient rabbinic codes suggest that using the word “amen” implies “the blessing just uttered is true, and I believe in it, and in addition may it be God’s will that it be actualized before our eyes.” We could just as easily say “may it be so” to end our prayers. Our “amen” adds both blessing and ascent to the words of hope and longing already spoken.

Praying the Alphabet:
I approach you in awe, Almighty One, as did my ancestors, alleluia always on my lips.
And so I ask “When I am adrift, anchor me.
When anxiety arises, attune my spirit to yours.
When I feel alone, accompany me again.
When the ache of life places me near the abyss, amplify your presence.
Awaken me.
Abide with me always.”

[1] From a 2019 article “AMEN AS RESPONSE AND INTRODUCTION” by Dr. Raymond Apple (emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and former president of the Australian and New Zealand orthodox rabbinate) in the Jewish Bible Quarterly.