Heschel on Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

My commitment to Christian spirituality of a traditional cast does not preclude forays into other traditions, especially those within the Abrahamic family. The Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) combined academic rigor with a deep grounding in Kabbalah and Hasidism. A native of Warsaw, he attended an Orthodox yeshiva (religious school) and received Orthodox rabbinical ordination. He then studied at the University of Berlin and the Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums where he received both a doctorate and a Liberal (= Reform) ordination. He escaped the Holocaust (many of his relatives did not) and ended up at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Besides writing a number of books, he was active in civil rights and Jewish-Christian dialogue. He met with Thomas Merton several times.

Man's Quest for God contains a number of insights into prayer that are worth mulling over. I am grateful to Michael K Marsh, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, whose blog Interrupting the Silence has a recent post citing several quotes that I reproduce below. I've also included the site in my own blogroll.

Of all the things we do, prayer is the least expedient, the least worldly, the least practical. This is why prayer is an act of self-purification. This is why prayer is an ontological necessity.

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

In prayer we shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender.

Prayer is no panacea, no substitute for action. It is, rather, like a beam thrown from a flashlight before us into the darkness. It is in this light that we who grope, stumble, and climb, discover where we stand, what surrounds us, and what course we should choose. Prayer makes visible the right and reveals what is hampering and false...Sometimes prayer is more than a light before us; it is a light within us.

To avoid prayer constantly is to force a gap between man and God which can widen into an abyss.

The purpose of prayer is not the same as the purpose of speech. The purpose of speech is to inform; the purpose of prayer is to partake.

The privilege of praying is man's greatest distinction.

To live without prayer is to live without God, to live without a soul.

He who has never prayed is not fully human.

The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God.

This entry was posted on Friday, January 23, 2009 at Friday, January 23, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment