(1907 – 1972)

left Quote

I pray because God, the Shekhinah, is an outcast.  I pray because God is in exile, because we all conspire to blur all signs of His presence in the present or in the past.  I pray because I refuse to despair, because extreme denials and defiance are refuted in the confrontation of my own presumption and the mystery all around me.  I pray because I am unable to pray.

And suddenly I am forced to do what I seem unable to do.  Even callousness to the mystery is not immortal.  There are moments when the clamour of all sirens dies, presumption is depleted, and even the bricks in the walls are waiting for a song.  The door is closed, the key is lost.  Yet the new sadness of my soul is about to open the door. 

Some souls are born with a scare, others are endowed with anaesthesia.  Satisfaction with the world is base and the ultimate callousness.  The remedy for absurdity is still to be revealed.  The irreconcilable opposite which agnonise human existence are the outcry, the prayer.  Every one of us is a cantor; every one of us is called to intone a song, to put into prayer the anguish of all.

God is in captivity in this world, the oblivion of our lives.  God is in search of man, in search of a home in the soul and deeds of man.  God is not at home in our world.  Our task is to hallow time, to enable Him to enter our moments, to be at home in our time, in what we do with time. 

Ultimately, prayer in Judaism is an act in the messianic drama.  We utter the words of the Kaddish: Magnified and sanctified be His great name in the world which He has created according to His will.  Our hope is to enact, to make real the magnification and sanctification of this name here and now. 

There is a pressing urgency to the work of justice and compassion.  As long as there is a shred of hatred in a human heart, as long as there is a vacuum without compassion anywhere in the world, there is an emergency. 

Why do people rage?  People rage and hurt and do not know how to regret, how to repent.  The problem is not that people have doubts but rather that people may not even care to doubt.  The charity we may do is terribly diminutive compared with what is required.  You and I have prayed, have craved to be able to make gentleness a certainty, and have so often failed.  But there are in the world so many eyes streaming with tears, hearts dumb with fears, that to be discouraged would be treason.

The predicament of prayer is twofold: not only do we not know how to pray; we do not even know what to pray for. 

We have lost the ability to be shocked. 

The malignity of our situation is increasing rapidly, the magnitude of evil is spreading furiously, surpassing our ability to be shocked.  The human soul is too limited to experience dismay in proportion to what has happened in Auschwitz, in Hiroshima. 

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 at our inability to be dismayed? 

right quotation


In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.