Prayer: Service Of The Heart

Abraham's servant teaches us the power of spontaneous prayer, a concept that challenges our contemporary focus on consistency and conformity.

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Modern people are no less in need of pouring out their hearts than were our ancestors. We, too, are daily sent on missions which test our limits, which force us into territory we have not previously explored, and for which the stakes are very high indeed. Sustaining a marriage, cultivating a friendship, raising children, or pursuing a career all test us every day.

With as great an emotional burden as Abraham's servant faced, with no less a need to cry out (and to absorb the comfort of having been heard), we have nonetheless cut ourselves off from God's listening ear.

Are We Just Superstitious?

We worry that speaking to God is superstitious. We feel that God doesn't answer prayer. Or, that God doesn't hear prayer. Or that there is no God. Or that we simply dare not address God for fear of being hypocrites.

Part of the price we pay for living in our age is that we are plagued by the illness of consistency and weighted down by the power of conformity. Both would have us deny a need simply because we don't always feel it.

Our discomfort with spontaneous prayer does a disservice to our sacred tradition, to our deepest needs, and to our relationship with God.

Prayer is not philosophy--it need not justify itself at the bench of reason, consistency, or sophistication. Prayer, what the Talmud calls "the labor of the heart," is answerable to the heart alone.

Our discomfort with spontaneous prayer can lead us to the very first prayer we need: "Help me, Lord, to pray." Or, in the words preceding the Shabbat Amidah (the silent, standing prayer), "When I call upon the Lord, give glory to our God.  Open my mouth, Lord, and my lips will proclaim Your praise." If you are uncomfortable praying with words teach yourself to sit with silence. Let your awareness of your need become your prayer, let your awareness of God's love be your answer.

If you need to pray, if your sorrows or your joys move you to speak--from a simple "thank you" to an elaborate speech--then pray. If you rise from your prayers a more sensitive and aware person, then your prayer was worthwhile.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.