(1907 – 1972)
The universe would be an inferno without a God who cares. There is no echo within the world for the agony and cry of humanity. There is only God who hears.
Consider the disproportion of misery and compassion. The depth of anguish is an abyss, its intricacies are a veritable labyrinth, and our grasp of it may be compared to the grasps of a butterfly flying over the Grand Canyon. Callousness, the dreadful incompatibility of existence and response, is our outstanding failure. For the sin we have sinned in not knowing how much we sin, we cry for forgiveness. Dark is the world for me for all its cities and stars. If not for the certainty that God listens to our cry, who could stand so much misery, so much callousness?
The mystery and the grandeur of the concern of the infinite God for the finite person is the basic insight of biblical tradition. This mystery is enhanced by the aspect of immediacy. God is immediately concerned.
Prayer is more than a cry for the mercy of God. It is more than a spiritual improvisation. Prayer is a condensation of the soul. It is the whole soul in one moment, the quintessence of all our acts, the climax of all our thoughts. For prayer to live in us we have to live in prayer. In a sense, prayer is a part of a greater issue. It depends upon the total moral and spiritual situation of man, it depends upon a mind within which God is at home. Of course, there are lives which are at the bottom too barren to bring forth a thought in the presence of God. If all the thoughts and anxieties of such people do not contain enough spiritual substance to be distilled into prayer, an inner transformation is a matter of emergency.
The only way we can discuss prayer is on the basis of self-reflection, trying to describe what has happened to us in a rare and precious moment of prayer. The difficulty of self-reflection consists in the fact that what is given to us is only a recollection. You cannot, of course, analyse the act of prayer while praying. To worship God means to forget the self, an extremely difficult, though possible, act. What takes place in a moment of prayer may be described as a shift of the centre of living – from self-consciousness to self-surrender. This implies, I believe, an important indication of the nature of man. Prayer begins as an “it-He” relationship. I am not ready to accept the ancient concept of prayer as a dialogue. Who are we to enter a dialogue with God? The better metaphor would be to describe prayer as an act of immersion, comparable to the ancient Hebrew custom of immersing oneself completely in the waters as a way of self-purification to be done over and over again. Immersion in the waters! One feels surrounded, touched by the waters, drowned in the waters of mercy. In prayer the “I” becomes an “it.” This is the discovery: what is an “I” to me, first of all and essentially and “it” to God. If it is God's mercy that lends eternity to a speck of being which is usually described as a self, then prayer begins as a moment of living as an “it” in the presence of God. The closer to the presence of Him, the more obvious becomes the absurdity of the “I”. the “I” is dust and ashes. “I am dust and ashes,” says Abraham; then he goes on in dialogue to argue with the Lord about saving the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How does Moses at the burning bush respond to the call to go to the people of Israel and to bring them the message of redemption? “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children out of Egypt?” Only God says “I”. This is how the Ten Commandments begin: “I am the Lord.”
Prayer is a moment when humility is a reality. Humility is not a virtue. Humility is truth. Everything else is illusion. In other words it is not as an “I” that we approach God, but rather through the realisation that there is only one “I”. Now it is our being precious to Him that sets us apart from being merely an accidental by-product of the cosmic process. This is why in Jewish liturgy primacy is givens to prayer of praise. One must never begin with supplication. One begins with praise because praise is the prerequisite and essence of prayer. To praise means to make Him present, to make present not only His power and splendour but also His mercy. His mercy and His power are one.