Why and when do we pray? — “Then She Found Me”
Posted on May 13, 2008 at 9:00 am
Oscar-winner Helen Hunt returns to the screen in the upcoming “Then She Found Me,” adapted from the book by Elinor Lipman. Hunt not only stars — she co-wrote and directed the film, which is about a teacher who tries to cope with the immature husband who abandons her (Matthew Broderick), the sensitive single father of one of her students who cares about her (Colin Firth), the sudden appearance of her biological mother (Bette Midler) after the death of her adoptive parents, and overpowering desire to have a baby.
Hunt’s character, April, is an observant Jew, like her adoptive parents. Her biological mother, Bernice, is not observant in any religion. At the doctor’s office, about to undergo artificial insemination, Bernice suggests that April pray. April refuses. And then, almost unheard of in a Hollywood film (and not in the book, either), the two of them have a private discussion of the meaning and importance of prayer. Do we pray when we feel closest to and most trusting of God or when we feel most lost and bereft? One reason April cannot bring herself to pray at this moment is that it will require her to think about just how much it means to her and to think about the role the connection that God plays in her life. She does not want to think about either. She does not want to give up the notion that this thing she is doing is human — and therefore controllable, not divine. We see for the first time how sensitive Bernice can be and how much she cares about April, how well she understands how much April needs to be more honest with herself about what is going on.
April does pray. But I wonder if the prayer she says is the one a real-life observant Jew would say in those circumstances. I guessed she would say Mishaberach, a prayer of healing, or Shehekianu, a prayer of gratitude and being in the moment. Instead, she says the oldest and holiest of prayers, the Shema. Perhaps the screenwriters use that prayer because it is the most widely recognized. Or perhaps, in her moment of greatest hope and anguish, April would reach back to the first prayer she learned, the one that reminds us that God is One.