Faxes to God by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons

2022 November 1

Faxes to God

Ana Levy-Lyons

October 23, 2022

First Unitarian, Brooklyn

Part 1:

In the year 70, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The Romans pillaged it and burned it and by the end, all that was left was the western facing wall, standing by itself. This wall, called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall has become known as a holy site – a special place where God especially receives prayers. And so every year thousands of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and curious tourists visit the Wailing Wall and pour out their hearts. Sometimes they speak their prayers out loud, sometimes they wail, and sometimes they write their prayer on a little scrap of paper, fold it up, and stick it between the stones of the wall.

But what if you want to deposit a prayer in the wall but you live on the other side of the planet and can’t get to Jerusalem? Well, in the 1980’s the Israeli telephone company came up with a solution: they created a dedicated fax line where you could fax your prayer from anywhere in the world and an employee would deliver it to the Wall. The New York Times reported, “God has a fax number in Jerusalem.” The wonderful little book Faxes and Email to God is a compilation of some of these prayers faxed by people ranging in age from 3 to 93:

  • From Rebecca, age 8: “Dear God, My grandpa has been gone since I was 3. How’s he doing?”
  • From Serena, age 4: “Dear God, When are you coming down?”
  • From Johnny: “Dear God, Please give me the strength to take care of my wife.”
  • From Estelle: “Dear God, Many years ago I placed a note in the Wailing Wall asking that my daughter not marry before she gained the judgment to find the right man. Decades have gone by and my daughter is still single. So what I want to ask is whether I could please take back my original request?”
  • From Rita: “Dear God, My mother recently admitted to placing a message in the Wailing Wall twenty years ago asking that I not marry until I achieved the wisdom to find the right man. I wish she had never made this wish. But if it is not too late, please find me the right man, and give me the good judgment to spend the rest of my life with him.”

What’s our reaction when we hear these? It’s cute when it’s kids but kind of naïve and simplistic when it’s adults? The prayers I just read from the Wailing Wall reflect a very straightforward belief in a personal God – a God who is in heaven with our loved ones, a God who may “come down” at some point, a God who can directly answer us and make things happen here on earth.

Some Unitarian Universalists feel a connection to a personal God like this and might pray as a conversation with that God. But others believe this is something we should grow out of. We bristle at “magical thinking.” Many think of God more abstractly – or not at all. After all, Unitarians are the people who believe in one God at most.

But we do pray here at First U, or at least we use the word “prayer,” and we have a few opportunities to pray during the service – a prayer after the sermon, a silent prayer, a pastoral prayer, lighting candles, and certainly singing and listening to music. I actually think of the whole service as a form of prayer. But what is prayer? Why do we do it? How do we do it? If we’re gonna pray, don’t we have to know to what or to whom we’re praying? And if we don’t know who’s on the other end of the fax line, should we even bother? I mean, it might just be the guy who works the late shift at the phone company and that’s as far as it goes.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I think, yes, we should bother. Because the truth is, nobody knows what’s on the other end of the line. We’re talking about the greatest mystery there is – the source of the big bang, the foundation of our own consciousness, the origin of love. We’re talking about something ineffable that is the light in a baby’s eyes, the warmth of a held hand. We’re talking about an early part of ourselves that we don’t fully understand but that makes our heart race when we glimpse it from time to time. None of it makes rational sense.

But it doesn’t have to make rational sense. As much as some of us may hate this, we live in a world that is primarily non-rational. Once your basic needs for food and safety are met, life is actually about all the other stuff — the dimensions of the inexplicable, energetic, creative, emotional, intuitive. These are the things which actually, I believe, make up the majority of our experience of this world, for good and for bad.

We sense with a different sense that we exist in the light of something much greater than ourselves. Whether we nickname it “God,” whether we think of it as our deeper Self or Higher Power, whether we imagine it as the natural world or the whole that is greater than the sum of all the parts, whether it’s the ocean of which we are a drop, whether it’s the power of love, whether it’s within or beyond, we yearn to commune with it. That communion is prayer.

At least, that’s what I’m doing when I pray. I know that I live in the presence of a source of unlimited energy, creativity, and love. The more I intentionally open myself to that source, the more I invoke it and tend to my relationship with it, the more it flows through me and out into my life. I call it God, as well as other names for God, but naming is just a way to focus attention. You don’t have to name it at all.

But to cry out to it in some form is, I believe, a fundamentally human need and the most natural thing in the world. We embodied creatures have an instinct to, at times, set aside the rational, step out of the mundane, and cry out in a different register. No one knows for sure who’s on the other end of the line, but we cry out anyway. And sometimes the primordial prayer, the deepest prayer, is simply the yearning to know that we’re not alone in an empty universe.

  • From Jonathan, age 9 ½: “Dear God, I have been wondering if you are real or not. Please tell me. Love, Jonathan.”

Like that.

Hymn: Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life

Part 2:

We modern humans have trouble making space and time for the spiritual dimension of our lives. We’re so conditioned in this culture to only do things where we know that there’s going to be a payoff and where we know what that payoff is going to be. We run a cost-benefit analysis and only if it looks like we’ll end up in the black, do we do it. Prayer isn’t like that. It isn’t efficient. It doesn’t follow the rules of adulthood. We can’t know in advance where it’s going to take us. We can’t know what we’ll “get out of it.”

When we’re in what I’ll call our small mind – our day-to-day ego and ordinary, practical self, we assume that everything is a zero-sum game. If we spend a half hour praying in the morning, we lose a half hour for something else. Whether it’s time, energy, or even love, we think that it’s all finite and if you “use up” some of it over here, you’ll have less to spend over there. But through prayer we evoke the deepest, most elemental parts of ourselves. We step into our great mind. We step into the holy waters of the larger reality where it’s not a zero-sum game. Quite the opposite: love is unlimited, time is nonlinear, and energy is infinite. It gives the lie to how we all normally operate. And when we bring some of that great mind into our small mind life, when we scoop some of that water and carry it back with us, watch out world!

This is why Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi who marched in Selma with Dr. King famously said, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”

In other words, when prayer is doing its job, it’s infusing us with a visionary power – the great mind that does not accept the normal rules of society. This can revolutionize our families and it can revolutionize our communities. It can shift our lives in those non-rational ways that we could never prove or anticipate.

But if you want to invite in that kind of transformation, you have to intentionally open up the channel. Don’t get hung up on intellectual questions of – is there a personal God or it is just the life force of the universe? (The answer is yes, by the way.) In my experience, if you want God or Source or whatever you call it to change your life – if you want it to relate to you as a conscious being, try relating to it as a conscious being. Dismiss the voice that says it’s too childish. Send a damn fax if you have to. Some amazing things start to happen when we let ourselves cry out.

Do not think that you have to be polite in prayer or do it any particular way. Nothing is too big; nothing is too mundane. You don’t have to be respectful or grateful. You just have to be yourself. Prayer can be the place of greatest authenticity where we learn our own truth even as we speak it. The Source of Life can take our anger and our disappointment and our grief. From the time of the psalms and even earlier, humans have been pouring out our rage over how unjust life can be. Lamentation is a real and holy expression. Sometimes we all need a good cry and it helps to have a direction to cry in.

  • From Vivien: “Dear God: I’m really confused. Why isn’t life getting any better? Why does everyone I know seem to be depressed and tired all the time? Why couldn’t you have made things a little bit easier on all of us down here? Why disease? Why hate? Why rape and murder and lying and mosquitoes and rotten fruit and floods and famine and DO YOU REALLY LOVE US? Why is your concept of love so different from ours? Why did you create us? And if you can’t answer these questions, if I can never know the answers, then why did you make me capable of asking them?”

Imagine if a thousand years from now, this sanctuary is no longer standing, except for one wall – the western wall here. And our descendants come on pilgrimage and they write their prayers on little papers or send them by whatever technology they have in a thousand years – directly through their brain teleportal systems. And they place them or zap them in the cracks of the stone, yearning to connect with something ancient. I image their prayers might not be so different from ours.

I imagine they will still be yearning for love and still searching for meaning, just like us. They will still be in awe of how beautiful this world can be sometimes and still heartbroken over how cruel it can be, just like us. They will call out from their brokenness and grief and rage against God, just like us. And, sometimes they will send tears of gratitude for the gifts of new life, new love, and senseless joy, just like us.


We’re going to try a little prayer experiment now. Instead of me articulating a prayer on behalf of the community, I’m going to give us a series of prompts to start us off and invite everyone to fill in the prayers that are real for you. Simultaneously. Just say the first thing or things that pop into your head. So I might say, “I’m grateful for…” and you might repeat the starter and say, “I’m grateful for my health as I’ve just recovered from Covid, I’m grateful for my loving dog, and I’m grateful for this beautiful fall.” You can whisper it in your own heart, but I think it would be really beautiful if everyone prayed out loud and we had a whole cacophony of prayers rising, and filling our sanctuary. Let’s try it:

I’m grateful for…

Why does it have to be that…

I love…

It hurts so much that…

Help me trust myself so that I can…

Give me strength so that I can…

Let love flow through me so that I can…

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