Saying: As long as a person sees prayer as an option or a luxury rather than a necessity, that person will not be a person of prayer.
* * *
* * *
A woman said to the Sage, "Wow! What did you think of that man's prayer? Wasn't it wonderful?" Said the Sage, "Yes, quite wonderful, until he decided to open his mouth and say something."
* * *
The place of prayer and meditation in the life of the modern person is limited and hedged in by the multiplicity of details to which attention must be given as a normal part of daily experience. It is true that in some sense a person's whole life may be regarded as his or her prayer. Ordinarily, what one does is an expression of intent, and the intent is the focusing of desiring, and those desires are the prayers of the person's heart. But such explanations are far from satisfactory. There is no argument needed for the necessity of taking time out for being alone, for withdrawal, for being quiet without and still within. The sheer physical necessity is urgent because the body and the entire nervous system cry out for the healing waters of silence.
*Howard Thurman. Meditations of the Heart.
* * *
A cobbler visited Rabbi Isaac of Ger for advice. He said, "Tell me what to do about morning prayer. My customers are poor men who have only one pair of shoes. I pick up their shoes late in the evening and work on them most of the night. At daybreak, there is still work to be done; otherwise, the men will not have shoes before they go to work. What should I do about the morning prayer?"
"What have you been doing?" asked the rabbi.
"Sometimes, I hurry through the prayer quickly and get back to my work. I feel bad about it. Sometimes, I let the hour of prayer go by, and I feel a sense of loss. Once in a while, as I raise my hammer from the shoes, I can almost hear my heart sigh, 'What an unfortunate man I am! I am not able to make morning prayer.'"
Said the rabbi, "If I were God, I would value that sigh more than when you say the prayers."
* * *
1) What is prayer? Is it words? Is it sometimes spoken and sometimes not? Can resting attentively, quietly be prayer?
2) Could it be our most heartfelt, genuine prayers are those we never pray?
3) What might one mean by saying, "Prayerfulness is prayer, while without prayerfulness, prayers are not prayer"? Can one say a prayer and not pray the prayer?
4) What does Thurman's "healing waters of silence" mean to you? Have you ever felt the healing efficacy of silence?
5) In the Christian Scriptures, Ephesians 6.18, we read, "Pray in the spirit [Greek, pneuma; spirit, or Spirit] always." How might this verse relate to the story of the cobbler's sigh? To you?
6) Does one have to direct a prayer to a higher being, such as God, to pray?
* * *
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.
*Quote from Thurman adapted with gender inclusive langauge.