Another way to pray
Sir: There’s an old story that is worth repeating. The villagers went to the house of a holy man when danger threatened and asked him to pray for them. The holy man would go to a special place in the forest. He would light a fire and offer a certain prayer. His prayer was answered and the village would be safe.
The holy man’s son took his place eventually and the villagers begged him to pray for them when their community was in danger. He too went to the special place in the forest and prayed Master of the Universe. I know the prayer but I cannot light the fire and his prayer, too, was answered.
The grandson of the holy man was, in turn, approached by the villagers who asked him to pray for them. He went into the forest and prayed I don’t know how to light the fire. I don’t know the words of the prayer but I am in the special place and this should be enough. His prayer was answered too.
Finally, the time came when the great grandson of the holy man was asked to pray to God for the protection of the village. Sitting in his favorite chair, resting his head in his hands he spoke to God I don’t know where the special place is in the forest. I cannot light the fire. I don’t even know the prayer. I only know the story and this will be sufficient and it was sufficient.
The prayers of the character Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” can bear a close inspection. This poor, humble, illiterate man offered all the prayers traditional to his faith. He also conversed with God on every level of his existence. In times of joy, sorrow, perplexity, confusion, fear. He argued with God and questioned Him. He questioned God’s judgments, actions and motives. Tevye’s prayer “If I Were a Rich Man” was offered with song and dance.
To emulate Tevye’s relationship with God requires a lot of faith and trust and not everyone would have the confidence to do so. A mixture of the fourth holy man’s approach and Tevye’s uninhibited dialogs might be the answer.
Ritual prayer can become stifling, meaningless experiences, for both parties in this form of communication.
From Simon Abah