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    The problem of prayer

    Jews are in a high state of busy-ness. The new year is imminent. We think over all that has happened in the last twelve months. We hope this year will bring us life, calm, peace and faith. The Ashkenazim echo the Sephardim and say, “May the year begin with its blessings”.

    God is part of the action even for those who don’t even mention His name on other occasions. We don’t just mouth an exclamation, “O My God!” In their own way the words are a prayer, “O my God, be with us and hold us tight!” We have so much on our “O my God” list.

    But there is a “but”. What if God says “No”, or He says nothing? Maybe He is undecided?

    Presuming that He is patient and forbearing and isn’t really insulted if most of the year we leave Him to His own devices, what has He to say now when we inform Him that we are praying and expect an answer?

    The problem of prayer is many-sided:
    · Prayers for something, petitionary prayers, are not the only kind of prayers.

    · They should not seek material handouts but spiritual and ethical support.

    · They should say, “God, make us better people!”

    · They should say, “God, help us even when we don’t know what we really want!”

    · We should utter prayers of praise: “God, what a wondrous world You have made!”

    · And prayers of penitence: “God, we have wasted so many opportunities!”

    · Prayers of hope: “God, help us to make the future better!”

    · Prayers of probity: “God, share with us Your goodness, truth, love and mercy”.

    · Prayers of priority: “God, train us to put our souls before our silver and gold!”

    · Prayers about prayer: “God, teach us how to keep in touch with You!”

    My mother told me when I was a little boy that there was someone called God to whom I should speak every day. In time I realised that the “someone” should have an upper-case S but I also encountered non-personal notions of God as a Something rather than a Someone.

    I did try but found it difficult to speak to a Something. What was I to do – envisage a vague ideal and begin, “To whom it may concern”? Was I to think of God as a greater version of myself (what spiritual egotism!)? Was I to understand God as a force without consciousness and personality? It was becoming all too complicated.

    William Temple said that we cannot hope to define God, but we can certainly aver that He is a Someone, more (not less) than personality. When we pray we need not know precise details of His nature. The philosophers said, Lu yedativ heyitiv – “If I knew Him I would be Him”.

    What we can all do is to sense His Presence and say with Job, “My Redeemer liveth!”

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