NO ATHEISTS IN A FOXHOLE

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CHAPTER THREE

Prayer, the Process

AS IT HAS BEEN POINTED OUT many times before, the root of the word tefillah, the Hebrew word for prayer, is pallel, which means to judge, to differentiate, to clarify. Thus a court of law is called pelilim. Therefore, the process of prayer is a process of judgment, and anyone who takes prayer seriously knows this to be true.

When one stands before a mortal king to make a request, or even a person of high authority, they automatically feel scrutinized, both by the authority and by their own self. The authority may question, "Have you been a good citizen," while the person himself questions, "Have I been a good citizen?"

Since prayer expects an answer, and the answer depends upon the relationship between the one praying and the one to whom he prays, automatically the relationship is drawn into question by both, and evaluated.

But though you can fool a mortal king into seeing obedience that may not actually be there, you canít fool God the same way. Therefore, the self-evaluation is a real one, with real consequences, and anyone not interested in growing will not be interested in praying in any serious way.
(This is because prayer makes people confront themselves, which means facing up to personality deficiencies, which they may not want to do. Therefore, such people turn prayer into perfunctory exercises that do not last enough time to become a meaningful experience.)

Prayer is an occasion to meet your self. When one stands in prayer, one stands not only before God, but before oneís own self as well. In a very really sense, prayer is a "mirror" we look into, one that does not lie. It somehow is able to reveal an inner self that we donít always notice in daily life. (In Genesis 48:11, the word pilalti is used to mean "contemplated". Rashi explains that the word is an expression for "thinking".)

For this reason, prayer becomes sincere only when the inner self matches the outer self, and prayer itself becomes a medium for this to happen by way of the evaluation process. This state of being results in kavana, or intention, which opens up a person to long for God. It is this longing, this desire to feel Godís presence that results in a sense of spiritual context, and harmony.

The danger of a society that does not understand the importance of real prayer is that it does not give people a chance to meet their true selves. Prayer keeps egotism in check, (Another source of the word tefillah is the word tofel, which means secondary. When one makes oneís self secondary to God, the result is humility and a sense of awe, both of which are crucial for fitting into the spiritual context of creation.) and without it, selfishness and insensitivity to others canít help but grow. The result is disharmony, manifested by the high level of insecurity of individuals and society as a whole.

Prayer, therefore, is much more than meditation; it is the vehicle to stay down-to-earth, yet in touch with heaven, the way it was meant to be.

There is also another level of evaluation taking place.

I tried to ask for another child. For almost a year I had been doing so. But today had been a particularly rough day with the children. My neighbor was having an even tougher time with her children. As I tried to say the words, a little voice inside of me said, "Can you handle another one so soon?" But how do you stop asking for children, so I just added the words, "...if you think another child is a good idea, God."
"I want, I want, I want." Children scream these words all the time, and adults say them in a softer tone. We donít always evaluate the worthiness of the things our hearts desire, and instead we pursue them as if theyíre indispensable. And yet, when we listen to other people read out their shopping lists of "must-haves", we think to ourselves, "For what?"

We question the desires of others, and often advise them to drop a request. "It wouldnít be good for you..." we tell other people - but not ourselves.

Objectivity is very difficult to develop and maintain. You have to literally get outside of yourself to gain it, which, for most people is too difficult to do. This is so especially when a person believes he or she is already objective. Prayer, when used properly, plays a vital role in maintaining objectivity.

When a person hears himself say the words of a request, the thought has to occur, "Who makes that kind of request?" If the request we are making is sensible and made with good reason, then we evaluate ourselves as being sensible and reasonable.

For the longest time I wanted the sports car. I thought, why not ask God for it? So, in the midst of my next prayer, I set out to ask for the car of my dreams, and found myself unable to make the request. I thought to myself, "There are millions of people starving who pray just for a piece of bread; sick people who pray for cures; depressed people who pray for a happy moment, and Iím going to pray for a sports car? I felt embarrassed before myself. Praying put things into perspective for me.
Thus prayer helps us also to evaluate our goals and our dreams, something we donít automatically do during the normal course of day-to-day life, no matter how smart we are. And once we come to terms with our goals through prayer, we are able to utter them with conviction.

It is this process of self-evaluation and goal analyzation that raises a personís spiritual consciousness. Consequently, the person becomes more in touch with the purpose of creation, and a sense of purpose within the scheme of creation. This results in a sense of being connected to creation, and more importantly, to its Creator.

Ultimately, when one is able to relate to and use prayer on this level, then their very being becomes an expression of their prayer, as the following story illustrates.

There was once a poor man who tried hard to support his family through honest means. But times were tough, and work was not steady. The man dreamed of the day that his family would no longer have to go hungry and live in disgrace.

One day, while walking the streets looking for whatever little work he could find just to buy some stale bread, the man saw something that made him stop in his tracks. On the wall was a royal proclamation, like none he had ever seem before:

The King wishes to announce that anyone making a request from him before sundown on his birthday, the 11th day of January, shall have his request instantly fulfilled.
Was it a joke? Was this someoneís idea of a cruel joke? Or was this gesture by the king, an act of mercy on his downtrodden subjects.

Without hesitation, the man informed his family that he would make the three-day journey with the hope that he would find the solution to his familyís misfortunes. Taking a few provisions, which would mean his wife and children would certainly go hungry in his absence, he headed off for the kingís palace.

Sometimes he received a lift with a passing chariot, and other times he had to go by foot; but the man kept going with the hope that all of his struggling would be worth it. It did not dawn on him once that maybe he might not make it in time, or that the king, for some reason, might refuse to see him.

Three days passed, two of them without food, and the man, exhausted from his journey, felt despair. The sun was setting on the third day, and he couldnít yet see... see... THE PALACE! There it was, the kingís palace, just over the hill, with the sun about to go down.

To have come this far and not make it in time? The man ran off with energy he never knew he had, and after another half of a mile, stumbled in front of two guards guarding the door.

"Halt! Who goes there?" barked one officer.

Catching his breath, the man whispered, "Me... I have come to make a request of the king, before ..."

"You? A request from the king? We canít let you in. Weíd lose our heads if we let someone like you come into the royal palace!"

"But you have to..." the man pleaded, and he told the two guards his story, about all that he had gone through.

Finally, the officers said, "All right. Weíll look the other way while you sneak in, but donít tell..."

"Oh thank you, oh thank you..." the poor man said as he made his way into the palace.

Eventually, he found the royal chamber where the king was sitting and, over a hundred people stood in line waiting to make a request from the king. The man looked at the people as he joined the line, and thought he would die just waiting. But he didnít dare step out of line or say anything.

After what seemed like days, the man came to the front of the line. "What should he ask for?" the man wondered. "How should he ask for it? he finally wondered. With all the running he had barely thought about these questions.

As he stood there, he suddenly noticed the nobles of the court whispering and snickering, and he knew it had to do with him. The king himself looked somewhat impatient, as he stood there speechless. And then, just before he could get the words out, a voice boomed,

"STOP!"

"Stop? Stop? I have come all this way and they tell me to stop? I cannot live if they make me stop. I cannot go home to my family if I canít make this request and get it fulfilled. If they will not let me speak, then I wish to die right here, now," the man thought as a wave of despair overcame him.

"Do not make a request," the king continued.

The whole court was in a commotion. The king had refused no one the entire day. "Was he angry at this wretched beggar for daring to enter the royal court dressed in rags? What would the king do with this vagabond?" they wondered out loud to each other.

And then the king said, "From looking at you, I know exactly what you need. Guards!" The king yelled out. "Take this man and bathe him, and feed him right away. Be sure that he rests in one of the most comfortable beds that we have in the palace. And when he has been fed, and has rested well, send him home in a royal chariot. Provide him with enough money for one year, and to start himself in business."

The man dropped in relief before the king, as if in a dream, and the air was filled with excited murmuring over the kingís latest act of generosity.

The same is true of each individual. Everyday that we pray, we make requests from God in the form of one prayer or another. But ultimately, we are our prayer; the way we behave makes a statement about where we are holding, and what we need to grow further.

If we fool ourselves about who we are and what we need to accomplish, then we wonít see how God answers our prayers. But if we are true to ourselves, and above all, true to God, then we will become our own prayers, and understand how God has answered us, as He does.

Summary:

The Hebrew word for prayer alludes to the fact that prayer is a time of self-evaluation, and goal analyzation. As such, it has a humbling effect because it provides perspective, objectivity, and awe, three key elements that make it possible to feel Godís Presence, and our spiritual context. When this is achieved, then harmony is experienced and growth is guaranteed.

© by Mercava Productions

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