In the wake of a polarizing divorce, my first child and only son, Adam, then in his twenties, had disappeared from my life for more than eleven years. Every attempt I had made to contact him had failed. My friends and family provided support and advice, but one editorial client, the author Judith Orloff, M.D., offered the most radical suggestion of all. “There is something you can do,” she said. “You can pray – it works.”
At that time I had been working for about six years as a book editor for the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. I was also a published poet and had previously worked as a freelance journalist, contributing regularly to the Los Angeles Times, among other newspapers and magazines. But this was not the kind of writing assignment I was used to. What sort of prayer could I possibly compose that would be neither too selfish nor too weak? How could I ever find words strong and loving enough to heal the painful rift between us?
Then one day, as I was browsing in Sam Johnson’s Book Shop around the corner from my house, I noticed a slim, well-worn volume tucked between larger tomes in the Judaica section. The spine was mysteriously blank. Out of curiosity, I plucked it off the shelf and discovered Hours of Devotion: A Book of Prayers and Meditations for Use of the Daughters of Israel, During Public Service and at Home, for All the Conditions of Woman’s Life, translated by M. Mayer "from the German Stunden der Andacht" (New York, 1866). The author’s name was notably absent.
As I scanned the table of contents – skimming past the morning and evening prayers, prayers for each day of the week, for the Sabbath, the New Moon, and the Jewish holidays – I was captivated by the many prayers written especially for women. There were personal prayers for a bride, for a woman about to give birth, for mothers with grown children, for widows. In addition were special prayers that could be used by men as well as women and by people of any faith – for travel, for patience and strength, for healing, for thanksgiving, and for loss.
Then I saw the title “Prayer for a Mother Whose Child Is Abroad.” I was stunned to discover that someone had actually written a prayer for a woman whose child was absent from her life, a woman like me. As I began to read the heartfelt pleas of a mother asking God to watch over her child when she could not, to “lead him safely over every rock and thorn in his path,” to “grant him strength and calm” – I felt, at last, that someone understood both my pain and my hope. The last lines contained the message I had been seeking:
O Parent of All, hear my fervent prayer
And bring my child back to me
At the right time, full of joy and the vigor of life,
To be the pride and delight of my heart,
A blessing to all, and pleasing in your sight,
My God and Sovereign. Amen.