The Western Wall, or “wailing wall” in the old city of Jerusalem, is the holiest place in the world where Jews come to pray. It’s all that remains of the Temple which stood there in the time of Jesus Christ. An 84 year old Rabbi prayed at the wall twice daily for more than seventy-two years, and when asked about prayer by a priest he is reported to have said, “Prayer is talking to the Wall.”
Early Christianity thought of prayer as, in the words of St John of Damascus, “raising the heart and mind to God, to adore him, to praise him, to thank him and to ask for what we need for salvation.” It is more about giving to God than getting from God. It takes precious chunks of time from our busy lives and gives it to God as a gift.
To maintain an active and purposeful prayer life is not easy. We live in a narcissistic culture, a world of the selfie, and it’s tempting to ask of prayer ‘what’s in it for me.’ Our world is fast moving. Everyone is in a hurry. Multi-tasking has become a way of life. Prayer gets reserved for emergencies.
Prayer is not primarily a means of getting what I want. It’s not about getting in touch with ourselves but getting in touch with God. Prayer looks beyond ourselves to the awesome mystery of God, the source of our existence.
Prayer is personal engagement with Someone who loves us, who is concerned and moved by our vulnerability and needs. It’s about openness to God’s will and listening for his voice. Our prayer is always personal, but always open to the needs of the wider world. “Give US this day…. Forgive US our trespasses….And lead US not….”
A feeling of inner peace may accompany prayer or flow from it. And again, it may not. Remember, like that old Rabbi, we’re talking to the wall when we pray! God hears our prayers and he knows what we ask for. But sometimes, like a wise parent, he says ‘No.’
When we pray we are not struggling to contact a distant God. God lives within us, closer to us than we are to ourselves.