Praying for Serenity
I learned to embrace the prayers we recited at Al-Anon meetings, until I started to feel left out as a Jew
It’s not for lack of trying. Abraham Joshua Twerski, the famed Hasidic rabbi and psychiatrist who founded Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, has penned numerous texts on how the myth that Jews don’t imbibe (save for the occasional glass of Manischewitz) has resulted in a dearth of addiction treatment resources for the Jewish community. Of the hundreds of meetings in L.A., there are two or three that meet on Jewish soil, but for the most part, if you’re in desperate need of a 12-step fix, you’re headed for a house of worship with a parking space reserved for its priest or pastor. I’ve yet to meet a single rabbi (Conservative, Orthodox, or otherwise) who’s dissuaded me from going to an Al-Anon meeting because it’s being held at, say, Calvary Presbyterian Church.
So, I felt comfortable as a Jew, going to churches and reciting the serenity prayer at meetings. Until one day, I went to a meeting that wrapped up with a different prayer.
It was a women’s meeting, and pretty much everybody in it either had a gray bob and gardened in her spare time or looked like a walking window display from Talbot’s. When this group of women stood, bowed their heads, and began to pray, they recited the Lord’s Prayer. I stared down at the floor, trying my best to look inconspicuous, as the words “Our Father Who Art in Heaven” reverberated around us, bouncing off the church basement’s dark-brick walls.
You don’t have to say anything in Al-Anon; you could sit there in silence the entire time knitting a scarf or eating a bag of chips and nobody would bat an eyelash. I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer, so I couldn’t say it even if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to say it because unlike the more ambiguous serenity prayer, this was most definitely a Christian prayer. What would the Chabad rabbi from rehab have done, I wondered? He probably would have suggested that I say a different prayer: So, halfway through the Lord’s Prayer, I whispered the serenity prayer, quietly, to myself, so that nobody else could hear. But I didn’t feel serene—I felt separate.
Months later, I found myself at another meeting where the same thing happened. The meeting itself was powerful and full of wisdom, but when it ended, as I stood there holding the hands of those next to me, the Lord’s Prayer was recited in a collective low-pitched voice, and a sudden tidal wave of guilt washed over me.
Was it un-Jewish of me to stand in these rooms? Was I committing some sort of sacrilege by being a Jew in a room full of people reciting this Christian prayer? Was I praying in a church? Or was I praying … in a church? What if God saw me?
I also felt cheated. It wasn’t just that they were saying the Lord’s Prayer. It was that they weren’t saying the serenity prayer, which had come to mean so much to me as part of my recovery. For me, the meeting felt incomplete. The main thrust of Al-Anon was that it wasn’t based on any one particular religion. How was I supposed to get in touch with my Higher Power if we were reciting a Christian prayer that I didn’t know because I’m Jewish? Couldn’t we just stick to the non-denominational stuff so everybody felt included?
I spent the next few months bombarding people in meetings, approaching my husband’s AA buddies, determined to find an answer. What I got was a slew of unsatisfying responses, ranging from “The word ‘Lord’ is up for interpretation” (no, it’s not) to “It’s left over from when the meetings used to be more Christian-based” (so then why not just take it out?) to “Why don’t you just stick to meetings where they don’t say the Lord’s Prayer?”
And while that wasn’t exactly the point, it was practical—if not obvious—advice, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since. At some point, a bit of recovery slipped in, and like it says in the serenity prayer, I was able to accept the things that I could not change. I came to understand that, as much as I sometimes want it be, Al-Anon isn’t magic, and not every meeting is a big pink cloud. Not everything said in the meetings will appeal to everybody, not every prayer makes sense, and there’s no perfect way to work the program. In Al-Anon, it’s all about progress, not perfection. Which in a way, is a lot like Judaism.
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