Show me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my watchful foes.
When I first read this verse, I thought -- these days most of our "foes" are internal rather than external. These internal foes are things like fear, jealousy, greed, sloth, indifference, callousness. But as I look at the notes I jotted down yesterday (the actual Elul 23), with the MSNBC running as background noise in the other room, I have re-evaluated.
There really are real, flesh and blood, foes that people must face these days. In many places in the world today, ordinary people have to worry on a daily basis about real, flesh and blood armed foes. Earlier today I read a compelling piece on Rickshaw Diaries about the most recent suicide bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan. Last week, I read an extraordinary poem by Gautami Tripathy about a suicide bombing in India two weeks ago.
Gratefully, such terrorism is not an on-going experience in the U.S., but that does not mean that people here do not face external foes. These foes are more abstract and harder to grasp, like a meltdown in the housing market, waves of job layoffs, a crisis in the financial institutions, rising prices, unaffordable health care, and so forth. However, they are no less real, and no less threatening to us and our families, to our livelihood and security.
We can turn to the divine, to ask for help in finding our way amidst these dangers and foes. These external foes (like the internal ones mentioned above) will not be vanquished by prayer alone. Prayer, meditation, contemplation and other "level paths" of the divine help us gather the emotional and psychological resources that we need to take the actions that are needed to repair our troubled world (tikkun olam).
A phrase reverberates in my memory, one I came across it first in Gates of Prayer (the Reform prayer book) but it certainly has older roots: "Pray as if everything depends upon G-d, and act as if everything depends upon you."