How much the faith community has to offer our divided and increasingly hostile world. Silence and solitude have been devoured by technology—the Church can be a place of stillness. Partisanship and hatred of the other have eroded our humanity—the Church can be a place of embrace through Christ’s transcendent work.
Perhaps no one lived this message more vividly in modern history than Abraham Joshua Heschel. At the 1953 gathering of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, Rabbi Heschel reflected:
If “prayer is the expression of the sense of being at home in the universe,” then the Psalmist who exclaimed, “I am a stranger on the earth hide not your commandments from me,” was a person who grievously misunderstood the nature of prayer. Throughout many centuries of Jewish history, the true motivation for prayer was not, “The sense of being at home at the universe,” but the sense of not being at home in the universe.
We could not but experience anxiety and spiritual homelessness in the sight of much suffering and evil, in the countless examples of failure to live up to the will of God. That experience gained in intensity by the soul-stirring awareness that God himself was not at home in a universe where his will is defied, where his kingship is denied.
To pray, then, means to bring God back into the world, to establish his kingship, to let his glory prevail. This is why in the greatest moments of our lives, on the Days of Awe, we cry out of the depth of our disconcerted souls, a prayer for redemption.
Great is the power of prayer…. The problem is not how to revitalize prayer; the problem is how to revitalize ourselves. Let us begin to cultivate those thoughts and virtues without which our worship becomes, of necessity, a prayer for the dead—for ideas which are dead to our hearts.
We must not surrender to the power of platitudes. If our rational methods are deficient and too weak to plumb the depth of faith, let us go into stillness and wait for the age in which reason will learn to appreciate the spirit rather than accept standardized notions that stifle the mind and stultify the soul….
To Judaism, the purpose of prayer is not to satisfy an emotional need. Prayer is not a need, but an ontological necessity, an act that expresses the very essence of man. He who has never prayed is not fully human.