prayers for the dead.

THAT'S a morose, ominous-sounding title for a flippant little blog, isn't it? 

I'm writing about prayers for the dead for a couple of reasons:

1) it was pointed out to me that there is a different common prayer that Jews and Christians share, and it's not really that valley of the shadow of death one.


2) I think this may be connected to the show DIG (on USA!), and even though Jason Isaacs expressly told me (and 36,000 others of his followers) NOT to get online and ruin it for themselves, I think Jason Isaacs ought to be aware that I am not like many of his 36,000 other Twitter devotees...for one, as long as no one gets hurt? I think rules are kinda sorta meant to be broken. And so if you're going to make demands like that, just know: you're sticking it into my head to quietly have  a look anyway--because why are you being so sneaky? And what are you trying to hide anyway? What are you so eager for us NOT to find out?

But also, research! And religion, while I pretty much shirk it, does fascinate me--I think it's the spirituality of it; its ritualistic nature (I am HUGE believer in the power of rituals) and ability to provide peace and comfort to those who really need it. (On the flip side: it also makes Protestants and Catholics blow each other up, it creates groups like Al Qaeda, and it makes people do things like blow up abortion clinics and tell AIDS-stricken Africans that God still abhors condom use. And it makes sweet grandmas who wouldn't hurt a fly sit in houses of God on Sunday mornings hating people who don't believe in or pray to Jesus Christ...it's for those reasons I've gotten to the point I just like to cherry pick and choose my own methods of how I devote myself to the Ohm, the All That Is and Ever Was.)

So anyway. Here's some background on prayers for the dead...because I bet (I BET) DIG (on USA.) has something to do with this. And the reason I think that is because, as I was researching prayers for the dead stuff, I kept coming upon a phrase about God protecting (whoever died) under His wings, shielding the dead, protecting them from harm, in the safety of His wings. And that was in the show--Psalm 17:8..."Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings..." which kind of (now that I've researched dead people stuff) sounds like a prayer for the dead. 

Okay. You ready? Here we go--prayers for the dead! (listen to happy music while you read):

In Judaism, there are two common prayers for the dead--the Mourner's Kaddish and the Yizkor. 

Let's talk about the Yikzkor first, because it's important but not in any way like the Kaddish. The Yizkor is a special memorial prayer, recited four times per year. In Hebrew, Yizkor means "remember." The word "remember" is both the first word of the Yizkor prayer but also its overriding theme. It's the prayer that is said to remember departed loved ones, but also to connect the living and the dead, to elevate the departed to Heaven, and to perform good deeds in their honor. The souls of living gain merit by performing private acts of good deeds (mitzvahs) on behalf of the dead, who can no longer do this (for obvious reasons). It's a blessing for both living and dead, as well as a way for the living to implore God not to forget about our dead loved ones, and the Yizkor can be recited for anyone, not just family members. 

You need to know this, because in Judaism, performing quiet mitzvahs, or good deeds or religious commandments, on behalf of those you've loved and lost gets you and your lost loved ones in good with God. It's connected to the Kaddish in that, the Kaddish is all about exalting the name of the Lord. Which is important to do, particularly for your dead ones.

The Mourner's Kaddish has been said on behalf of the dead for centuries and centuries and centuries and centuries; it is the only Aramaic prayer said within a Hebrew service, and one interesting thing about the Kaddish is that it isn't really a prayer TO God--it's a prayer FOR God. And also, it's a prayer for God and for God's people; it's about our human condition, really. It's probably the single most important, emotional, connecting prayer Jews can pray, and it goes like this (this is the English version):
Exalted and hallowed be God's great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel -- speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God's great name to all eternity.
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

(Source: reformjudaism.org)

The Mourner's Kaddish praises God, and expresses a desire to create God's Kingdom on Earth. There's really no mention of death in it, actually. It comes from Ezekial 38:23..."I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the Lord."

The word "kaddish" means sanctification. Sons are required to say it for 11 months after a parent dies (the Yahrtzeit) and it's customary in Israel for all Jews to say it on the Tenth day of Tevet (Tevet is the 4th month of the year and the 10th month of the Hebrew calendar; it usually happens in December or January [the Gregorian calendar], and the 10th day of Tevet is a fasting observance in Judaism that commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar). 

The Kaddish is said in unison, and the thing about the Kaddish is that it doesn't mention death, specifically, but it's become customary to say it for mourners, because it's a way for children to show respect for parents long after they've died...and it's an expression of acceptance for God's judgments, righteousness, and decisions right at a time when (if you're going to get all bitter and angry at God for taking that which you loved most in the world from you) you may be tempted to reject God. It's also a way to sanctify the name of God, by saying it out loud in public, which (of course, like the Yizkor) increasing merit on behalf of dead loved ones. 

The beginning of the Kaddish is the single-most important part of it; it's the heart and soul of the prayer--God's name is being praised (sanctified). What's really fascinating about the Kaddish is its connection to the Holocaust--that's 6,000,000 lost souls we all need to pray for, forever and ever. There's a lot (I mean A LOT) on the internet that connects the Kaddish to the Holocaust, and I simply don't have time to wade through it all. But, in a really pathetic summary of something huge and horrible and important: during the Holocaust, victims KNEW what was coming--they understood their fate--and so they'd often say the Kaddish for themselves, so that instead of getting angry at God for the situation in which they found themselves, they'd say the Kaddish as a way to accept God's will and greatness; their souls were already with God. It's really too much to go into here beyond that (and also Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank are involved, so that would take us completely off track), but just know: this colored my prayer for the dead research into some very somber colors. (Please don't ever ever do something like this again, Humanity, please please do not.) (And also: I'd really really REALLY like to offer a politically-charged commentary here about the horrific inappropriateness of ANYONE today even attempting to use the Holocaust as a means in which to justify their current political views or disagreements with whichever state or government they are in opposition to--but it would get me totally off track and mess up what I'm trying to do here. Just know: if you do that? That's fucked up, and STOP IT.)

In addition, if you're very very interested to learn more about this, I got a lot of my information from various different Internet websites (including trusty old Wikipedia), but this published paper on the Mourner's Kaddish by some very scholarly smart person named Jennifer Schwartzberg:  GO HERE if you're interested in more.

One other prayer that is even more important than the Kaddish is the Schma, or Shema Yisrael. Shema means, literally "to hear, to listen" also "to do." Shema is also Aramaic for "the Divine Name," and is the Hebrew equivalent of "ha-Shem," which is sometimes used as a substitute for "Adonai," which is Hebrew for "God." 

The Shema isn't a prayer for the dead, but it is the single most important prayer (well, actually a confession, or a sort of declaration) in all of Judaism. It's said twice per day, as part of a mitzvah (good deed, or in this case a commandment). It goes: Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad which means: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE." 

And there's a second line that goes: Baruch shem k'vodo l'olam which means: "Blessed be the name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever." It is said every single day, 7 days a week. The first line is the MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT JUDAISM. (In all of Christianity, the most important line is John 3:16--"For God so loved the world, He gave His only son..." But also in Christianity, we do say the Shema to a certain extent, mostly by reading it sometimes as Scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy, specifically Chapter 6, verse 4.) 

The second line is usually said quietly or silently inside your head. On Yom Kippur, however, it's said out loud, 3 times, because you want to exalt the name of God, and be as loud as all the angels. And then the Shofar is blown to announce: eatin' time! (it ends the fast.)

(By the way: Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, is THE most important holiday in all of Judaism--even Jews who observe or practice no other Jewish customs will often take off a day of work, fast, and/or attend synagogue. It's the day Jews atone for all their sins and trespasses against others in the last year.)

(there's a reason I'm telling you about the Shema--I'll get to it in a second). 

So prayers for the dead figure big into Jewish services. In Christianity (and I'll just speak for the Presbyterians and Methodists, both Calvinistic branches that are closely related and I know a lot about because that's who I'm descended from--except, as Tom Skerrit's Presbyterian preacher dad pointed out in one of my favorite movies A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: Methodists are Baptists who can read), we don't really say prayers for the dead. 

Actually, some Christian branches still do--it was a common practice in early Christianity, and I think the Catholics still practice it to some extent to get their lost loved ones out of purgatory. Eastern Orthodox Christians still pray on behalf of their dead, but not necessarily to sanctify God's name or elevate their lost loved ones to higher celestial, supernatural states of being--they do it because it's the right thing to do.

However! (I'm getting to my point) you know what prayer Christians all over pray, no matter their branch? The Lord's Prayer:

Our Father, which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy will be done, 
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us  our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from Evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom,
The Power, and the Glory forever.

Dear Mom, I recited that from memory--you'll be so proud. (And I also still remember, by heart, the Doxology: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost...as it was in the Beginning, is now and ever shall be...praise He all men, Amen...Amen.) (AND I remember the tune.) (The things we drill into our kids' brains on behalf of the Spirit World.)

Go back and read the Mourner's Kaddish, then go back and read The Lord's Prayer. And pay attention to the last line of the Shema. Pretty close, I think. That Jesus of Nazareth! He certainly knew what he was doing, connecting two major world religions before one of them he wasn't even a member of hadn't even been created yet. Bet he did that on purpose--or SOMEBODY DID. (If only he or they had known what one of the religions was going to do to the other one thousands of years later.)

Seriously--there are scholars out there who believe Jesus was familiar with the Kaddish; he'd certainly have been familiar with the Shema...the Shema is an ancient, ancient thing to say--it was first said on Abraham's death bed, when his sons stood before him and promised him they'd only ever worship the one and only God. 

And if you translate the first half of Jesus' The Lord's Prayer (which was in Aramaic, since that's the language that Jesus spoke...and the Kaddish itself is in Aramaic, and the only non-Hebrew prayer chanted in Jewish services), it's nearly identical to the Kaddish. In addition to that, there's something called the Mishnah, which is basically the written down version of the oral Torah and the first major work of Rabbinical literature--it is older than old, in other words. In the Mishnah, God is sometimes referred to as "Our Father in Heaven," and this reference to God our Father...our Father who art in Heaven, etc, can also be found in some texts that pre-date the Mishnah (according to some scholars). In addition to that, you can find the essence of all Judaism in the Mishnah, and in 3 different areas of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41). Basically, they say: you will accept the Kingdom of Heaven, God's rule, and You. Will. LIKE. It. In addition to all of THAT, there are subtle references to God's Ten Commandments in those sections of the Old Testament and the Mishnah, and so the Shema is also an opportunity to let God know: We're still obeying your rules, Lord.

It's really hard to prove all those connections, but I think they're there.

In Presbyterian services, we say The Lord's Prayer every time. It's also said during our funerals--I think they said it at my dad's (although I was in such grief and shock still, maybe we didn't...but I seem to remember saying it). There's also no real mention of death, but it exalts the name of God out loud, and it's all about how great and powerful and magnificent God is...a comfort to those who are mourning. It is said in unison, at ALL our services as well as special services (like funerals and Easter services and Christmas services etc and so forth), and it's really just a way for Christians to brag about how freaking awesome God truly is. Which I suspect is a huuuuge ego boost for the LORD.

The reason I think this is all connected to DIG (on USA) is because Peter is in mourning. I still can't connect ALL the pieces, and also I think there are several more that need to be connected to solve the mystery behind DIG. But I will tell you that the earliest version of the Kaddish dates back to the time of the Second Temple; there's a conspiracy between a Jewish faction and a Christian faction to bring about one ancient scary ass prophecy in the show DIG (and off of the show DIG, too), and also there's an FBI man in DIG'S Israel who's in mourning like nooobody's business running around trying to stop it all, trying to save us so he can save himself (maybe?). 

Essentially, this show is about crazies trying to eff the world up, but it's also about one human being who is struggling through the Darkness of the valley of the shadow of Death. It's about someone who's looking for respite; who needs some shelter under God's wings. And people in the show get killed off a lot. Let's all say The Mourner's Kaddish and The Lord's Prayer, together.

At least, that's what I think. But then, I'm a chick. We do like to read a lot into things. And we don't follow directions by famous actors who've got roles as wizards on their CVs. Ever.

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