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Meaning and Practices of Prayer

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The Caldwell Methodist Church in Caldwell hosted the Peace Islands Institute (PII) on its first Abraham's Table of the New Year on January 10, 2012. The theme was "The Meaning and Practices of Prayer from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Perspectives". We thank the PII volunteers for the wonderful food they prepared and convey a big thanks to Rev. Jeff Markay for making this beautiful event possible.

Speakers:

The Rev. Mara Joy Norden, Chaplain at Craine's Mill in West Caldwell.

Karen Frank,Congregational Nurse at Agudath Israel,also certified in spiritual direction.

Dr. Levent Koç, Executive Director of the Peace Islands Institute(formerly known as the Interfaith Dialogue Center)

(All disscussed the topic from they're own perspectives.)

 

Rev. Mara Joy Norden

Christian prayer, like prayer in all traditions, has many aspects. We can talk about the Lord’s prayer, rosary prayer, complementary prayer, desperate prayers when people don’t know what to do. There are many kinds. Questions one can ask include: the mechanics of Christian prayer, what happens when we pray, why some are answered and why are some just left in total silence, why are they clouded in deep mystery. Sometimes, that mystery is what leads to wonder and curiosity, and makes us want to go deeper; and sometimes it leads to despair.

She talked about her own experience with prayer. Intercessory prayer is when we ask God to do something for ourselves or other people. Rev. Norden talked about her son when he was 2 months old. He became desperately ill. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong at the Hackensack Medical Center. It started out with dehydration and advanced. They finally found out that a part of his intestine had died. She talked about her prayer life during that time; she would pray for her son, for his health. She prayed so they can be shielded from pain, prayed for strength for herself and her husband. When the prayer was not answered there was despair. The inner voice of prayer became silenced except for the occasional cry for help. In her very most alone times, she was never alone through prayer. The Holy Trinity, the Apostle Paul talked exactly about her experience.

Karen Frank

"There’s a certain tension between 2 kinds of conflicting notions in Jewish prayer; one is the idea of “Kava”, the structure in prayer. We have many such fixed structures in Jewish prayer, we have laws that tell us when we should pray 3 times a day, how we should pray, the structure of the service, what we should wear, the words to say, the prayer book and even how many people should be present to pray with. These laws keep us on the path, it keeps us on the path that connects us to the past and tradition. It helps us speak to God, and we need this structure to inform our prayer. The Other concept is “Kavanah”, intention, inner devotion, voice of our heart. This concept seems at odds with the first, how do we bring these two competing notions on the building of a personal spiritual life? To have Kava structure, one must study the language of prayer (Hebrew) and the text (the liturgies). There is academic rigor required to have Kava , but without Kavanah, prayer maybe merely an empty ritual."

Karen Frank told a story about a Rabbi who was leading prayers on the holiest day of the year “Yom Kippur”. She said:

"It is the structure that keeps us engaged to prayer, our set times bring us to prayer. The words are prescribed there in the book, sometimes those words feel empty, our challenge is to make them live for us."

She read a quote:

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a contemporary Jewish scholar wrote “how grateful I am to God that there is a duty to worship a law to remind my distort mind that it is time to think of God; time to disregard my ego at least for a moment. It is such happiness to belong to a order of divine will. I am not always in the mood to pray, I do not always have the strength and the vision to say a word in the presence of God, but when I am weak it is the law that gives me strength, when my vision is dim it is duty that gives me insight.”

She ended by saying “Kava is like the wine cup, Kavanah is like the wine, and without the kava (the wine) we would have wine all over our shoes.”

Dr. Koç

Dr. Koç started off by reminding that God is also called 'Ma'bud' in Islam. It means the one that is worshipped. The worshipper is called 'abd'. Abd means slave or servant. We “abds” are prescribed to worship the Ma'bud. God does not need our prayers but we need the prayers prescribed. Like a doctor prescribes medicine to the sick, but he himself does not need to take medicine, All-knowing God prescribes prayers to us because we need them. We eat several times a day because we get hungry; we drink water several times a day because we get thirsty. Similarly, we get hungry spiritually during the day and we need to turn our faces and hearts to God through prayers.

God wants his servants to establish a continuous relationship with himself through our prayers. Prayers are bridges between God and us.

Also, the meaning of prayer is very wide in Islam. We prefer to distinguish between prayers and supplications. Major prayers of Islam are listed in the pillars of Islam: Salah (5 daily prayers), fasting, pilgrimage (hajj) and zakah (compulsory charity).

As we have limited time, I will talk very briefly the ‘Salah” and then conclude with two more aspect of prayers.

Salah is the pillar of the religion, it is the most important type of prayer and it is the prayer when Muslims reach the peak of their servanthood to God. Salah is the food of our souls. We sleep, eat, etc. everyday as these needs recur. Similarly, our souls get hungry during the day and we feed them by offering our prayers (Salah) to God five times a day. These periodic prayers are necessary to have healthy souls; souls that are close God Almighty.

Like we work to earn our lives, we get bonuses for our success at work, God is promising paradise in return for our prayers and servanthood. Praying five times a day takes about 1 hour in total. God has gifted us 24 hours. We have not paid anything for that and He wants us to return just one hour out of 24 hours.

We can also talk about compulsory prayers and extra or voluntary prayers. Compulsory ones are commanded by God and practiced by our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When I pray five times a day, I am doing the compulsory one. When I pray more, these are extra ones. When I fast in Ramadan, this is compulsory fasting. When I fast outside of Ramadan, this is extra. Each every Muslim must practice compulsory prayers. By offering compulsory prayers, we show and servanthood and obedience to God. Extra prayers get us closer and closer to God.

Finally, we may talk about positive and negative prayers or worship. All the prayers I have mentioned may be considered positive prayer. However, we Muslims are expected to show our sincere faith under every condition. When we have a traffic accident, God forbid, we suffer damage, both physically and financially. If are patient and do not question God, we are earning good deeds and this is exactly a negative prayer. Our Prophet says, “True patience is when the trouble hits you”. If we are able to be faithful to God when, for example, we are terribly sick, or a friend or a relative dies, we are pleasing God with our patience and accepting “the bad” from God like we accept “the good” from God. Negative prayer is important part of our servanthood to God and sometimes more valuable than positive prayers.

Father Anthony Randazzo wrapped up saying how wonderful it was to be in a gathering where Jews, Christians and Muslims can find common ground in prayer. He lifted up the Indian traditional greeting of "Namaste", which translates to "I greet the Divine who is within you." When we can do that with others, regardless of our backgrounds and traditions, then all of life becomes a prayer of gratitude.

Pictures from the event:

The Rev. Mara Joy Norden, Chaplain at Craine's Mill in West Caldwell.

Karen Frank,Congregational Nurse at Agudath Israel

Dr. Levent Koç, Executive Director of the Peace Islands Institute