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