Prayer Should Scare You A Little
Recently, as I was reading The Writing Life, Annie Dillard's essential book on writing, I was struck by a story she related about a famous rabbi, who approached prayer in a surprising way.
Dillard wrote that Rabbi Uri of Strelisk "took sorrowful peace of his household every morning because he was setting off to his prayers." In fact, he would often tell his family how to dispose of his manuscripts if praying should kill him.
I've thought about that story off and on for a few weeks now, and this morning I woke up with the need to reflect on it a bit.
Rabbi Uri recognized something about the nature of prayer that is both awesome and terrible at the same time. He viewed his time of prayer each day as an opportunity to approach God's presence, and to stand on holy ground. And in those moments he was acutely aware of his own frailty and finitude.
Rabbi Uri also knew that in the presence of God's awesome holiness he would become all-too-aware of his own shortcomings, and of the fact that he was decidedly not God. It was an act of complete surrender on his part to enter into it anyway, despite all of his own fear and trembling.
And yet, every day he chose to pray. Every day, he willingly stepped toward a God-encounter, desiring most of all to simply experience God, come what may. Rabbi Uri lived into the words found in the ancient book of Job:
Though [God] slay me, yet will I trust in [God].
I have to admit, I have never really approached my prayer life in the same way as Rabbi Uri. Maybe I should.
You might be thinking, "Uhhh, that seems pretty awful. You shouldn't feel afraid to pray to God." And you'd be right--it's not about fear, at least not that kind of fear.
What Rabbi Uri experienced was recognition--the kind of recognition that comes when you realize just how out of control you really are, and how conceding your need for control to God is your only move.
It's a scary thing to let go of your need to control your outcomes. It can feel like the ground is shifting beneath your feet, and you have no idea what will happen next.
In those moments you just might realize how impermanent everything you are desperately holding on to really is--even your own life.
But this is the beauty of prayer if we are willing to embrace it...
Our prayers can become a window into another world, a world saturated with Divine presence where even the ground we stand on hums with reverence. Our prayers can become a way where we can hear ourselves say the things we need to hear.
Our prayers can become an exercise in trusting in the love and goodness of a God who is also just and holy, completely other, beyond our comprehension, and yet still so close and personal.
May you enter into your prayers today with a sense of excitement and longing. And may you discover who you are to God as you enter God's presence. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.