Friday, September 23, 2005

Heschel on Prayer

As long as I’ve got my Heschel open, I’ll share some more with you. I began reading him a few years ago, and I still go back to him once in a while for some spiritual refreshment. His insights into the mystery of God are profound and his articulation is eloquent. Even though his works need the completion which only the revelation of Christ can bring, what I’ve been quoting from him can benefit the spiritual life of any Christian. The following passages on prayer are from Man’s Quest for God.

“How good it is to wrap oneself in prayer, spinning a deep softness of gratitude to God around all thoughts, enveloping oneself in the silken veil of song… [Prayer's] drive enables us to delve into what is beneath our beliefs and desires, and emerge with a renewed taste for the infinite simplicity of the good. On the globe of the microcosm, the flow of prayer is like the Gulf Stream, imparting warmth to all that is cold, melting all that is hard in our life. For even loyalties may freeze to indifference if detached from the stream which carries the strength to be loyal… Prayer revives and keeps alive the rare greatness of some past experience in which things glowed with meaning and blessing. It remains important, even when we ignore it for a while, like a candlestick set aside for the day. Night will come, and we shall again gather round its tiny flame…

“It is the spiritual power of the praying man that makes manifest what is dormant in the text [of the prayer]… The service of prayer, the worship of the heart, fulfills itself not in the employment of words as a human expression, but in the celebration of words as a holy reality… Praying means to take hold of a word, the end, so to speak, of a line that leads to God… But praying also means that the echo of the word falls like a plummet into the depth of the soul…

“Whose ear has ever heard how all the trees sing to God? Has our reason ever thought of calling upon the sun to praise the Lord? And yet, what the ear fails to perceive, what reason fails to conceive, our prayer makes clear to our souls. It is a higher truth, to be grasped by the spirit: ‘All Thy works praise Thee’ (Ps. 145:10). We are not alone in our acts of praise. Wherever there is life, there is silent worship. The world is always on the verge of becoming one in adoration. It is man who is the cantor of the universe, and in whose life the secret of cosmic prayer is disclosed.”

Makes you want to start praying right away, doesn’t it? I think we often need to acquire a more profound vision of prayer and of our relationship to God, lest we succumb to lassitude, boredom, or frustration. Merely “saying our prayers” in a routine or inattentive manner will not plunge us into the heart of the Mystery. We have to breathe prayer, be prayer, and let it flow through us like a river of life. It’s your turn now; be the cantor of the universe.