Like all of you, I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet the last few months. I’ve been online for work – on zoom calls, doing research, attending webinars, providing tech support. I’ve been online for socialization – game nights with friends, video calls with my family, finding new apps to keep in touch. I’ve been online for shopping and entertainment – groceries, movies, reading. I don’t even want to calculate the number of hours I’ve spent online. Safe to say, if I did, it would be a lot.
Online and on various social media sites, it is easy to get wrapped up and sucked into the troubles of the world and I’ve noticed a particularly dark-humored method some have for dealing with all the troubles we’re experiencing. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a meme popping up all over the place unapologetically called “Apocalypse Bingo.” This two-panel graphic includes a screenshot of a scary, mean, or anger-inducing news article and an animated character with a quill and a notepad captioned “Another one for Apocalypse bingo.” Pandemic leading to innumerable deaths and economic instability – another one for apocalypse bingo. Murder hornets invading North America – another one for apocalypse bingo. Wildfires and epic floods – another one for apocalypse bingo. Trade wars – apocalypse bingo. Unemployment skyrocketing – apocalypse bingo. Racism, brutality, and rioting – bingo, bingo, bingo.
While the internet might not be the best place to get unbiased, fact-checked information, it is a great place to get a sense of the emotional upheaval the world is going through. Dark memes like Apocalypse Bingo don’t become popular because the internet is filled with uncaring, thick-skinned, anonymous jerks. They become popular because the truth about the state of our world and the state of our emotions is too scary to otherwise say out loud. The meme covers the fear, anxiety, confusion, panic, depression, mistrust, and chaos that we can’t bring ourselves to talk about. Seemingly every day something happens, and we feel ourselves sink a little deeper into this unspeakable state. With every check on our Apocalypse Bingo sheets, the words that we once relied on fail us a little bit more.
Our tradition is one filled with words – it tells us that the world was created with words as God spoke the world into being, our covenant with God was sealed with words and the “10 statements” (more colloquially know as the 10 commandments), without a sacred altar or Temple our relationship with God is based in words, in the prayers that we say when we rise up, when we lie down, and every moment in between. How, then, are we to pray when the world’s brokenness saps us of our words?
I believe this is a bit of how Moses felt at the illness of his sister, Miriam. This week in our Torah portion, Beha’alotcha, Moses’s siblings speak out against him, his influence on the community, and his “Cushite” wife. They complain to God, and God calls all three of them to the Tent of Meeting. God tells them that when God chooses a prophet to speak the divine will to humanity, God appears in visions. God then strikes Miriam with tzara’at and God’s presence visibly leaves the tent. At first, Moses has no response. In my mind’s midrash I imagine Moses staring at his ill sister and the empty tent, barely hearing the pleading of his brother, and in shock from the accusations brought against him. Everything that brought Moses to that moment leaves him at a such loss for words that the usually verbose man can only whisper a few syllables: “El na, r’fa na la,” “please God, please heal her.”
I think those five words are the most powerful prayer I’ve ever heard.
Moses’ prayer, heartfelt and honest, shows us that prayer doesn’t have to be lyrical, poetic, or epic. It doesn’t have to be edited over thousands of years of tradition or composed by the greatest artists in history. It doesn’t have to be grand. We don’t have to hear angels singing, or feel mountains shaking. Prayer doesn’t have to be anything so long as it’s genuine and connects us to each other, God, and ourselves.
Prayer can take surprising forms. Indeed, it can be verbal or musical. It can also be visual, artistic and interpretive. It can be movement in dance or action. It can be mathematic in pattern and consistency. It can be silent. It can be individual. It can be funny or sarcastic. It can be morose. It can be truly anything.
And yes, prayer can even be found on the internet.
When words fail us, when they don’t feel enough to communicate our depth of feeling and need, we have so many different ways to pray perhaps even through dark humor memes.
I read “Quarantine expected to continue for an unknown amount of time – another one for apocalypse bingo,” but I hear “Please God, I’m so lonely.”
“Police fire into protesting crowds – another one for apocalypse bingo,” is really “Please God, I don’t know where to find safety”
“COVID-19 death toll reaches 100,000 – another one for apocalypse bingo,” “Please God, please heal us.”
“Rabbi Rachel writes about memes in her shabbat message – another one for apocalypse bingo,” “Please God, gives us something better to talk about.”