I grew up with stories of my grandfather’s service during World War II. The stories conveyed inspiration, humor and love all at once.
The dedication he felt to our country remains with me, and it explains the extraordinary tears I shed invoking a blessing at a deployment ceremony here in Chicago.
I had never been asked to give a blessing for departing troops, and I did not know a deployment ceremony even existed. It was a struggle.
What can I say to men and women who will not see their spouses, parents, children, boyfriends and girlfriends for 14 months? How can I bring comfort to their loved ones?
Does Prayer Work
These questions go to the heart of prayer. Do we pray for ourselves or others? Does God answer our prayers? Does prayer work even if we don’t hear God’s answer?
I believe prayer works, but not in the way we often think. An elevator works when it takes us up and down. Prayer works when it invests our lives with meaning and purpose, with comfort and understanding.
Prayer works when it brings out our most noble, empathetic and loving virtues.Prayer works when it changes us.
In Judaism the highest value is pikuach nefesh, the saving of a life. We are commanded to set aside all other tasks in order to save a life in need. That is what you are doing today. That is what you will do over the next 14 months. So let us pray:
Eternal God, we give you profound thanks for all those who serve our nation. Give them strength. Give them love. Bless them with your presence. Sharpen their skills. Make their judgments true.
Help them serve with wisdom, honor and integrity. May their faith be fostered and may they answer fear with courage. May your angels hold them and guide them, May your presence give them strength, hope and faith.
And bless their families, Oh God. Their mothers and fathers, spouses and children, loved ones: all who love them and will miss them. Bring them comfort and strength.
Let them know the blessing of their loved one’s service, the gifts they bring to the world, the courage with which they inspire us all. Let them be their strength, Oh God. Let them know you are near to them and to their loved ones, giving them your love and your grace.
And be present with our country’s leaders and officers, Oh God. Give them wise judgment, commitment and courage. Let them know of your love for them and guide them in protecting the freedom, liberty and justice we cherish.
We turn to You, Oh God, and in the words an ancient Jewish prayer we say, “May God grant strength unto our people, and may God bless all people with peace.” Amen
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