Last night was a little weird. I “heard” the words “Birkat Hagomel” repeatedly. I’ve been studying Jewish blessings and prayers, and I didn’t remember if that was the name of a prayer or some of the words in it. I wasn’t sure why those words were coming to me in the middle of the night. The words kept coming, and I got the impression that I needed to get up and say whatever prayer is associated with them. But the “voice” sounded different from what I’m used to, so I ignored it for a while. It has been a while since God has woken me up in the middle of the night. I’m out of practice.
It is really important for me to not be crazy with God. I’m bipolar. And I hear from God. Yup. I’ve tried to suppress this for a long time, but it isn’t going away. I’ve tested what I’ve “heard” and found that it always is true, so that is a good sign that what I’m hearing from is from God and not the voice of craziness. But it still scares me every time, because I know what going over the edge feels like.
It isn’t really a voice – I don’t hear words. It is as if they come into my head. So that is why I put parenthesis around “hear” and “voice” sometimes.
Last night I ignored the “voice”, thinking I’ll look up those words in the morning. I sat up for a bit, thinking about what I should do, and couldn’t find any paper in the dark to write down the words. I decided if it was important enough I’d remember it in the morning. I don’t want to get OCD about God. It is weird enough hearing from God in the middle of the night. It is weird enough hearing from God and having a mental health diagnosis. It has taken me years to reconcile those two truths.
I lay down, and it only got worse. I felt physically very bad. I had a sense of gloom. There was an ominous nature to it. I felt overwhelmed, trapped even. Was I having a heart attack? What is going on? I prayed some more. I decided to get up and figure things out. Sometimes my best clue as to what to do is whatever I feel compelled to do. It may sound strange, but I’ll pray and God will set my feet on the right path. I just have to wait until it is time.
I got up and went into my craft room. I got down my candle and lit it. I put down a pillow so I could kneel. I had the book I’ve been using to learn about Orthodox Judaism with me. It is “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” by Blu Greenberg. It has the prayers in Hebrew, then transliterated into the letters in English so I can sound it out, and then the translation in English. This is one more step than the siddur (prayerbook) that I have. It assumes I can sound out the Hebrew letters. I’m not there yet.
One reason I finally got up was that in the middle of all this I remembered that the “Birkat Hagomel” is a pretty serious prayer. It isn’t the words in a prayer, it is the name of a prayer. In the words of Blu Greenberg, it “is recited after having narrowly escaped danger, recovering from serious illness, or coming through safely after a long trip.” Remembering what prayer it was increased my feeling that I needed to get up and say it.
I didn’t know what I was being thankful for. I still don’t, really. But I knew I had to get up and say this prayer.
I had a feeling that I could just flip to it in the book and I’d find it. I thought that would be “testing” God, so I decided to look it up in the index. You know – if it really is a call from God, I’ll find it straight off. When I found what page it was on, I turned to it and smiled. I have two bookmarks in this book. One is where I’m reading. One just happens to be on the page for this prayer. God is always in charge.
The translation of the prayer is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who grants favors to the undeserving, Who has granted me all kindness.” I’ve also seen it translated as “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who metes out goodness to the undeserving and Who has dealt kindly with me.”
Before it on the page is the Shehecheyanu, which is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has granted us life and sustained us and brought us to this moment.” That seemed useful too, so I said it first.
I said the Birkat Hagomel three times, slowly, sounding out the transliteration. On the third time I tried to remember the transliteration while looking at the Hebrew letters. Also on the third time, my husband got up. I’m very self conscious about praying like this in front of anybody. It looks a little intense. It is a little intense. I don’t want to worry him. He came in just as I was finishing up and asked if everything was OK. I said it was, because I felt better. I no longer felt the crushing sense of dread that I felt before I decided to get up.
We went back into our bedroom and I thought about it for a little bit. I decided to tell him what was going on. We talked about it for a little, and I decided/felt that I needed to get up and go into the living room to sleep/pray. I’ve done this before. It isn’t that comfortable to sleep in the living room, so I can lie down and pray for a long time. Then when I’m done with praying, I’ll go to sleep.
My husband mentioned that he had been having a dream a little earlier that he felt he couldn’t wake from. He was trying to move or make noise to wake me up so that I could wake him up. This is what he does if he is having a nightmare. The interesting part is that he wasn’t having a nightmare. He just knew that he had to wake me up. This gives me the feeling that it was really important for me to get up.
I went to the living room and lay down on the futon to pray and then sleep. I didn’t know what I was going to pray about, but I just prayed. I felt the same way I feel when there is a big dangerous storm coming, and it is important to pray really hard. I don’t know what the storm is – all I knew is that I had that same feeling. Sometimes the “wind” that I hear isn’t the wind, but the winds of the Spirit.
I was reminded of the expectant feeling that the Israelites had when they were in Egypt, about to be delivered from slavery. They celebrated the first Passover in readiness, prepared to get up and run at a moment’s notice. Their preparations made it so that the Angel of Death passed over them and spared their first born. How many of us are willing to do something as crazy sounding as what they did? Paint a cross of blood over the door? Eat your meal while holding a weapon? That sounds kind of wild. But that is what God calls us to sometimes.
I felt that there is a big change happening. I felt that it was important to pray through it, like how a midwife helps a mother give birth by being there and supporting her. I’m not making the change happen. I’m watching it. I’m supporting it. I’m being conscious through it. I don’t know what the result is, but I know it is important.
It turns out that the Birkat Hagomel is also the prayer recited in the synagogue by the husband after his wife has successfully delivered a child.
I remembered a story of how a guy was compelled to get up and drive over to a friend’s house in the middle of the night. He felt he had to sit in his car and pray for his friend, but not go knock on the door. He kept thinking how odd this was, but he did it anyway. He drove home after his prayer was over. The next day he found out from his friend that he had had a terrible night and felt that he was like Jacob, wrestling with the Angel. In the middle of that time of trial, he started to feel better and stronger, and was able to finally go back to sleep. That was during the time that his friend, unbeknownst to him, was outside in his driveway praying for him.
It is this kind of story that encourages me to keep following this feeling. And it is the reason I’m sharing my story with you. I don’t know the resolution to this story yet. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t know what God needed me to pray for. But I know that it is important to heed that call.
May you be blessed through this time of change, and may you be found awake, with your lamps ready. (Matthew 25:1-13)