Learning to Pray

Lately I have been reading Abraham Heschel's "I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology" in my own devotional time. His thoughts on prayer have disturbed and challenged me. I am often tempted, as most of us are, to approach prayer from a self-oriented, self-centered perspective. Our prayers are all about us, our needs, our wants, our concerns. In fact, unless we feel some strong sense of personal need, we are unlikely to pray at all. Rabbi Heschel helps me get myself out of the way so that I can connect with God, the whole point of prayer in the first place, and maybe, just maybe experience the wonder of His presence. So, I share with you some of Heschel's words, hoping they will speak to you as they have spoken to me: 

"We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel. In prayer we shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. God is the center toward which all forces tend. He is the source, and we are the flowing of His force, the ebb and flow of His tides.

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.

We do not refuse to pray; we abstain from it. We ring the hollow bell of selfishness rather than absorb the stillness that surrounds the world, hovering over all the restlessness and fear of life - the secret stillness that precedes our birth and succeeds our death. Futile self-indulgence brings us out of tune with the gentle song of nature's waiting, of mankind's striving for salvation.

Is not listening to the pulse of wonder worth silence and abstinence from self-asserting? Why do we not set apart an hour of living for devotion to God by surrender to stillness?

We dwell on the edge of mystery and ignore it, wasting our souls, risking our stake in God. We constantly pour our inner light away from Him, setting up the thick screen of self between Him and us, adding more shadows to the darkness that already hovers between Him and our wayward reason. Our mind has ceased to be sensitive to the wonder. . . .

Rushing through the ecstasies of ambition, we only awake when plunged into dread or grief. In darkness, then, we grope for solace, for meaning, for prayer."


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