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Facing the Challenge of Prayer

07/24/2013 02:53:25 PM

Jul24

Facing The Challenge of Prayer Rainbow Reporter, February 2008

"Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods." 
Abraham Joshua Heschel, “On Prayer,” Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity

In his essay “On Prayer” Heschel challenges us over and over again to take prayer seriously.  He argues that prayer is an essential part of life that demands intense kavanah – intentionality.  The essay is meant to be an agitation to our souls. He warns us against sitting too comfortably in the familiarity of tradition. He warns us that prayer is not simply about fulfilling an emotional need. He demands that we find a way to pray that changes our relationship with the world and God.

For most of us, most of the time, Heschel’s challenge to pray is somewhere between impossibly daunting and utterly intimidating. For many of us an experience of prayer that merely connects with tradition or succeeds in fulfilling an emotional or psychological need would be a great accomplishment. Often it is a great task to get beyond the logistics of Hebrew and melody. Often we are struggling with self-consciousness. Few of us enter prayer with certainty about why we pray or where our prayer is directed. Even for those of us who have had experiences in prayer that were indeed revolutionary moments of the soul we know that these experiences are often far apart and elusive.

And yet prayer is central to the life of the synagogue. Every single week time is set aside at Bnai Keshet for prayer. We set aside more time for prayer as a community than we do for study, gemilut hasadim – acts of kindness or tikkun olam – repairing the world. Even though we are a relatively heady congregation, when we come together for a service, it is prayer that dominates our time together. It is remarkable that we spend so much time together engaged in prayer and have so little idea how to pray.

(I strongly encourage you to read the essay “On Prayer” referenced above.)

Shalom,
Elliott

 

Sat, May 25 2019 20 Iyar 5779