A Prayer for the Ages

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV)

The Shema is the most important prayer in Judaism and still remains a centerpiece of both morning and evening prayers in the Jewish tradition.

Shema, Israel. Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.
Ve’ahavta et Adonai eloeikah, b’khol levavkah,
Uve’khol naphshekah, uve’khol m’odekah.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Love the LORD with all of your heart and all of your soul
And all of your might.

I recently returned from a biblical study trip through Israel where our group recited the Shema, both in Hebrew and English, every morning. After many years of practice, the prayer flows off my tongue, but my heart is still understanding its richness.

After we recited the Shema, God kept bringing my attention back to the words, Hear, O Israel. Shema: to hear, to listen. What does he want me to hear? To listen to? Now if I was one to dance like no one was watching, this would be a good time to do so. In God’s goodness, he used the Shema to remind me that he loves to be in relationship with me. He wants me to hear him… to listen to him… to be with him. The richness of this ancient prayer for me right now is to choose to slow down and to hear.

There are four levels of Shema. The first level is physical when sound waves enter the ears and the brain decodes it into words. We ignore lots of noise every day, but when something is important, we then move into the next level of Shema, which is understanding. Understanding involves asking questions and being attentive. Understanding takes time and may feel uncomfortable because we start to realize some kind of action will be required of us.

Once we gain understanding, the third level of Shema will move and enlighten us. In our world today, this might occur when we jump into conversations on social media, we choose to share our opinion, or we give time and money to social injustice. We experience compassion and empathy, yet we can easily drift back into complacency.

The fourth level of Shema is where the rubber meets the road; it’s the point at which you are changed because of what you hear. This is where love in action takes root and enables us to authentically love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and might. We may not be able to attain this level of Shema all the time, but when we do, it’s like hitting the sweet spot.

Jesus exemplified a life centered around Shema. He heard the Father’s voice, he understood what was asked of him, he was moved with compassion, and it compelled him to the cross—for you and for me.

Consider praying the Shema once a day for two weeks and experience the fullness of hearing.

Tracy Hanson
November 8, 2018
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