Our Prayers

The idea of prayer is based upon the assumption of man’s ability to accost God, to lay our hopes, sorrows and wishes before Him.  But this assumption is not an awareness of a particular ability with which we are endowed.  We do not feel that we possess a magic power of speaking to the Infinite; we merely witness the wonder of prayer, the wonder of man addressing Himself to the Eternal.  Contact with Him is not our achievement.  It is a gift, coming down from on high like a meteor, rather than rising up like a rocket.  Before the words of prayer come to the lips, the mind must believe in God’s willingness to draw near to us, and in our ability to clear the path for His approach.  Such belief is the idea that leads us toward prayer. 

–Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man’s Quest for God.

If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that I respect, admire and often refer to Rabbi A.J. Heschel.  I consider him one of the most profound spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.  His thoughts are particularly compelling on the subject of prayer.

Too often, we think of prayer as something we initiate.  Rabbi Heschel suggests that, to the contrary, God continually invites us to partake in prayer with Him.  Sometimes we respond to that invitation; more often we do not.  As the Prayer Book observes, God remains “always more ready to hear than we to pray.”

We cannot list prayer as one of our achievements.  We answer the call to pray through grace; our prayer itself constitutes a gift from God.  We are not the Source of prayer, we merely respond to that Source.  Somehow, we have been given the audacity to address the Infinite.  We bring before the Eternal all our hopes and fears, our failures and our triumphs, our sorrows and our joys.

As Rabbi Heschel notes, our faith that God wants to share these things provides the conduit for prayer.  The bedrock of prayer lies in the bold presumption that the Almighty wants to draw us within Himself, to share in our lives so that we might share in His dreams for this world. Here, we encounter the great mystery of prayer.   In that single act of courage, we begin to clear a space for God’s entry into our lives.

God’s great peace on you and your house,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

13 responses to “Our Prayers

  1. just the reminder i needed. what a wonderful invitation to be in conversation with GOD.

  2. Beautiful, God affirming. Thank you for sharing the amazing and enlightened words of Abraham Joshua Heschel. with gratitude, Linda

    • Linda,

      You are most welcome. I am always delighted to share that good Rabbi and his insights. He’s such an important voice, and one the world needs very much today.

      God’s great peace,

      Br. James

  3. I’ve been reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. Author James Martin points out that our longing and desire to pray is God inviting us to connect with Him/Her/It/Them/Us. As you say above, “We are not the Source of prayer, we merely respond to that Source. ” To respond to this eternal conversation is our choice — if we will become quiet and still even for a moment, we will realize that God is always present and waiting, speaking to us in ways that do not always contain words. We forget that we are both the seekers and the sought.

    • Barbara,

      I’m unfamiliar with Fr. Martin’s work, but I just checked it out and it looks quite good. (Sigh) I’ll have to add it to my reading list. I love the notion that we are both the seekers (at our best) and the sough (at all times, in all places).

      God’s peace, my friend,

      Br. James

  4. barbaraduffield

    What should be intuitive – that God is initiating the prayer conversation – sadly was not. I am grateful for the perspective. What arrogance we humans can have, in assuming that the Lord of the Universe, the One who created each of us, depends on me to take the first step in prayer. And thanks be to Him that he doesn’t wait for me all too often. His nudge is what saves me from myself, more often than not!

    • My dear Barbara,

      It’s strange how those things which seem intuitive sometimes aren’t. I think God seeks us out constantly, and sometimes chases us down. C.S. Lewis once observed that he could not give advise on the subject of pursuing God, since it was always the other way around. “It was the other way round; He was the hunter (or so it seemed to me) and I was the deer… ‘” Reaching for the Invisible God.

      Pax et bonum,

      Br. James

  5. Reblogged this on Resting in His Grace and commented:
    A fascinating piece by our friend, Brother James… our Heavenly Father desires to hear from us! What could be more encouraging than that?

  6. The natural state of my heart is to think of prayer as just “another thing” on that laundry list of things that i must do in order to be righteous. Your post is a blessed reminder that if we are called to pray, then it is indeed something that is the best thing for us, and in fact is not a chore, but a grace and a blessing. Nor is it something that is necessary in order that God may hear our needs, for “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Mt. 6:8) If we are to petition Him at all, i believe that such a process is also a grace to us, that we may be constantly reminded of His sovereignty and our need for His provision.

    Thanks very much for the post!

    • Newly,

      You are most welcome. I think we all tend to view prayer as another item on our “to do” list, when in fact, it’s a response to a divine call to spend time with the Infinitely Loving God. Responding to that call is indeed a gift, a grace, rather than a chore. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

      God’s great peace,

      Br. James

  7. To live all of our life as a response to God…this is prayer…yes. Thank you for these words of grace.

    • CCrag,

      I think that’s precisely right, and perhaps what Paul had in mind when he spoke of praying without ceasing. You are most welcome, and I’m glad you found grace in them.

      God’s great peace,

      Br. James

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