I hope this day is a prayerful day for you. I realized at one point that I did not always know what people meant if they talked about prayer. It was not so much that they did not know what they meant. No doubt, I was the problem. I became aware that I was not at all sure I knew what I meant by “prayer.”
I grew up in a church context. I watched people pray. I listened, but realize I really did not listen. I think I heard words, but paid no attention. There even were those times when I was supposed to pray. Now I know that no one had taught me anything about prayer. Then I only felt “put on the spot!”
I have now learned a little more about prayer. It is not easy. But maybe it is, and I have just made it too difficult. And then at one point I encountered the work of the wonderful Jewish theologian, Heschel. I have been guided and assisted by this 20th century spiritual titan. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, Quest for God, has inspired me and I like the sub-title: “studies in prayer and symbolism.”
The book opens with these accurate words. “There was never a time in which the need for self-expression was so much stressed. Yet there was never a time in which self-expression was so rarely achieved… The self is silent; words are dead, and prayer is a forgotten language.”
To learn to pray is learning again to speak. Heschel guides us. He says “to pray is to pull ourselves together, to pour our perception, volition, memory, thought, hope, feeling, dreams, all that is moving in us, into one force…Not the words we utter…but the way in which the devotion of the heart corresponds to what the words contain…is the pith of prayer.” This is very powerful language. I wish someone had told me about this kind of prayer. It is so much more than what you do verbally so you can eat!
I have heard about people who “pray their hearts out.” I think I have misread the meaning in that phrase. I always assumed it meant they tried very hard---worked hard---like the basketball player who “played his heart out.” That leaves the player exhausted. I am not sure the goal of prayer is exhaustion. I think it is probably something like connection…connection to God and, probably, to each other.
To “pray your heart out” is not that kind of athletic work. Indeed, it is the work of connecting. A prayer, which is only words, is not “connecting” prayer. The words---when effective---are signs or symbols of the connection of the human heart to the loving divine heart. Prayer is the means; connection is the result.
Finally, I like Heschel’s words when he says “prayer is an act which makes the heart audible to God.” With a stethoscope a physician can get a clear, audible reading on my beating heart. Maybe my prayer is a spiritual stethoscope, which links my heart to the ears of God.
Let this day be prayerful---full of prayer. It may be words. It surely is connection. I can do it. You too?