Sunday, March 23, 2008

the meaning of prayer

rabbi jonathan romain writes in the times:

"While the English word “pray” comes from the Latin precare, meaning to address, to implore - talking to someone, God - the Hebrew word for prayer comes from a term meaning “to judge oneself”. So rather than just looking outwards, Jewish prayer is also focused inwards, and prayer is a matter of self-examination; not only asking God for this or that, but checking up on ourselves in God's presence, whether we are behaving properly and heading in the right direction. It is an important distinction, because it means there is much less expectation of God answering our prayers, and appearing to fail if expectations are not realised. Instead we are asking ourselves to live up to ethical values, and it is then we who succeed or fail, depending on how committed or strong-willed we are.""

the hebrew root p-l-l means to sort, or to put into order. our word for to pray is l'hit-pa-lel. this is the reflexive of that root, i.e., to sort one's self out. isn't that an incredible meaning?! so often in the english-speaking world, we get stuck with the xian interpretation of religious words, without even realising it. we are not imploring. it's not about asking god to do magic, and then getting pissed off when it doesn't work. (ok, that sounds like an awful put-down, and i know many xians who do not see it as that. am not talking about them, am talking about myself) it is about finding the strength to do the best we can ourselves, and the faith to cope when things do not work out as we would have wished. thanks, jonathan, for reminding me :-)

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