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Abraham Joshua Heschel

This is a menu of the topics on this page (click on any): Gaining Perspective    Advance and Decline    Prayer is . . .    Wide Horizons    The Eternal Drama    Why We Pray    What to Pray For    To Pray Is to Notice    Prayer: the Soul's Residence    There Is a Name   .

Gaining Perspective

Prayer is a perspective from which to behold, from which to respond to, the challenges we face. [Humans] in prayer do not seek to impose their will upon God; they seek to impose God's will and mercy upon themselves. Prayer is necessary to make us aware of our failures, backsliding, transgressions, sins.

Advance and Decline

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.

Prayer is . . .

Prayer clarifies our hope and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification.... It teaches us what to aspire to, implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish. Prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let God's will prevail in our affairs; it is the opening of a window to God in our will, an effort to make God the Lord of our soul. We submit our interests to God's concern, and seek to be allied with what is ultimately right.

Wide Horizons

The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era.

The Eternal Drama

To celebrate is to share in a greater joy, to participate in an eternal drama. In acts of consumption the intention is to please our own selves; in acts of celebration the intention is to extol God, the spirit, the source of blessing.

Why We Pray

The world is aflame with evil and atrocity; the scandal of perpetual desecration of the world cries to high heaven. And we, coming face to face with it, are either involved as callous participants or, at best, remain indifferent onlookers.... We pray because the disproportion of human misery and human compassion is so enormous. We pray because our grasp of the depth of suffering is comparable to the scope of perception of a butterfly flying over the Grand Canyon. We pray because of the experience of the dreadful incompatibility of how we live and what we sense.

What to Pray For

We do not know what to pray for. Should we not pray for the ability to be shocked at atrocities committed by man, for the capacity to be dismayed? Prayer should be an act of catharsis or purgation of emotions, as well as a process of self-clarification, of examining priorities, of elucidating responsibility.... Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

To Pray Is to Notice

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.

Prayer: the Soul's Residence

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home.

There Is a Name

A candle of the Lord is the soul of man, but the soul can become a holocaust, a fury, a rage. The only cure is to discover that, over and above the anonymous stillness in the world, there is a Name and a waiting. Many people suffer from a fear of the self. They do not feel at home in their own selves. The inner life is a place of dereliction, a no-man's-land, inconsolate, weird. The self has become a place from which to flee.

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