The Sweat & Grime of Prayer

“Rabbi, would you please lead us in a prayer?”

If I had a nickel for every time I am asked that question, I could seriously consider early retirement. However, if I had a nickel for every time I became choked up while leading that prayer, I might be able to buy a cup of coffee.

I participated in the “Big Dig” at the giving field on October 13th. After Shabbat morning worship & Torah study I spent the rest of a beautiful Sabbath day laboring to build one of the most important and long overdue projects in Beaumont. It was backbreaking work… And I rarely felt closer to God than I did at the end of that day.

Approximately 150 folks showed up at the empty lot across the street from St. Anne’s church, at the foot of the Maury Meyers bridge, and built 33 raised bed vegetable gardens, planted a variety of fruit trees (21 in all) and transformed “barren land” into a fruitful field.

We were completing our work on the last raised bed when The Giving Field coordinators – Sharon Begnaud and Mary Mahli – asked me if I would lead a prayer over the last garden bed to end our day. I was (we all were) hot, tired, grimy, sweaty and smelly; but we were also energized and peaceful. Everyone put down their tools and gathered from the four corners of The Giving Field to hold hands around this half finished dead.

In the middle of my prayer, I was overwhelmed with emotion; I had not paid much attention to “what this all meant” during the day. Hauling cinderblock after cinderblock and pushing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of composted topsoil has a way of providing distraction from deeper thoughts and feelings. My prayer was brief, the collective “amen” was powerful, and we all returned to work to finish what we had begun.

There is something powerful and authentic and real about serving God alongside others. We inspire one another. We affirm one another. We witness God’s presence in, for and because of one another. At the end of the day I was holding hands in a circle of tired, grimy, smiling people that built not only something that mattered; they we built something that will matter tomorrow and the day after that. We built a legacy; we built a piece of eternity… and witnessed the presence of God in exchange.

“Lo a-lecha ha-m’lachah lig-mor; v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibateil mi-menah”

“It is not incumbent upon us to complete the work; but neither

 are we free to desist from it.”

The Giving Field will not eradicate hunger in our world, in our nation, in our state, or even in the city of Beaumont; but it will feed hungry people, one hungry person at a time. That alone should inspire us and motivate us to do more.

For more information, check out: The Giving Field on Liberty Street on Facebook.