In speaking of prayer I often distinguish between a “life of prayer” and a “prayer life.” It seems much of our life today is compartmentalized depending on what we are doing, where we are, who we are with. So we can speak of our family life, our work life, our personal life. This fragmented attitude leads to a prayer life – just one more compartment – instead of a life of prayer. St. Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing”(1 Thes. 5:17) is, I believe, an exhortation to live a life of prayer.
I recently finished reading Man’s Quest for God by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century. His teaching on prayer transcends the divide between our respective traditions, Judiasm and Christianity, and makes prayer the essence of living. Here are some excerpts:
- 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.