Prayer

“Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone. If you have never had any distractions you don’t know how to pray. For the secret of prayer is a hunger for God and for the vision of God, a hunger that lies far deeper than the level of language or affection.”    Thomas Merton

Prayer gives us hope.  Whereas meditation unfolds the wings contained deep within the heart, prayers unlocks the cocoon to inspire flight.  We silently listen and quietly observe through meditation.  Prayer helps us find lasting value and soulful embrace

It is our belief that prayer is the manner with which we each speak to God.  It is a means to have dialogue with that which we consider having greater power and influence over our lives.  While meditation is how we can clear our minds and open our hearts to the inner voice dwelling deep within, prayer holds the participants ability to will his spirit in a way that speaks to the forces of life we call God.  It is through the direction of this personal free will that we undertake and make the effort to pray. 

 Many of those throughout history have undertaken efforts to pray only to be dismayed at the lack of response, affect, or change in life circumstances.  They are told that when prayer is left unanswered it is not due to a lack of the confirmation that God or a greater power exists, but that circumstances within the individuals life need to be altered such as sin or karma.  Therefore, we propose that response to prayer is not of great importance in the immediate moment of prayer.  It is first significant that we find the courage to begin prayer.

We look at prayer as the other half of a coin containing meditation on the flip side.  The victory held and contained in prayer as well as meditation can be found in the effort to implement; that is the effort of directing ones free will toward answers to life’s questions outside of the realm of the laws and science of this world.  Just as we can not measure the depth of ones love, we can not measure the importance or value of prayer.  The farmer does not understand the workings of the seed and its DNA structure.  He only relies upon his faith in understanding that through the planting of the seed, he can sustain the physical lives of himself and his loved ones.

             “There is a voice that doesn’t use words.”   Rumi

It is in the faith the farmer has in a single seed, that we encourage the practice of prayer just as that of meditation.  The farmer understands that the seed will not bear fruit in a single day.  It is through the continual efforts which the farmer directs in the sustaining of the plant’s growth in which fruit is rewarded.  It is with this faith of things unknown that the farmer relies.

We each need to refrain from looking for immediate results or responses to our efforts in prayer.  In this attempt for immediate results we are truly deaf to the language of the heart, the dialogue of the soul.  We must understand that we cannot only listen with our ears.  We need to hear and trust in the silent words of faith.   We need to have the faith of the farmer to rely on his daily and consistent efforts.  It is through consistency of practice we must rely. 

Thus through the continued efforts to express our will through prayer do we find the unfolding of the great majesty of life.  There is far more available to us in this world than meets the eye.  Take the time to sit quietly and discover the beauty and magic within.  To do this, we must first quiet the mind and open the heart.  Listen to the voice of the heart. It speaks in a very different language, a language that cannot be heard with the ears, but only with the heart.  This is the language of God.  God listens to our hearts and that which emanates from it.  With an open heart we become like the farmer with his seeds.  The mystery of life then travels from our heart and into our prayer.  Our prayers then take flight and our journey  through life now just begins.  We discover that we have never been alone.  We discover that we have always been loved.  We become aware of the beauty and magic of God and how our spirit has always been one with His Spirit. If we would only be persistent in letting go and finding the trust held in hope. Silently listen and quietly observe the lasting value waiting deep within the wings of the heart.  Hope then fulfills its unspoken promise through God’s loving embrace.

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” 

– Max Lucado  .


 

The Prayer of Faith

 

The Prayer of Faith

James 5:13-16

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

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Overcoming Religious Prejudice by Fr. Jamal Khader

Department of Religious Studies

Overcoming religious prejudices through education

by: Fr. Jamal Khader *

BETHLEHEM – A Christian professor teaches about Jesus Christ, the Church, and the Holy Trinity at a Catholic university. It may seem normal to do so, except that 75 percent of the students are Muslim. This is a required course at Bethlehem University, and the course titled “religious cultural studies” is co-taught by a Christian professor and a Muslim one.

Christians and Muslims live side by side in Palestine. A significant part of a Palestinian’s identity is shaped by his or her community of faith. Most of what Muslims know about Christianity is what their religion teaches them, which is different in many respects to what Christianity says about itself; and most of what Christians know about Islam is what they are taught at schools and what members of their community say about their Muslim neighbours. Some tend to see Islam as a threat, at least a demographic one, and they presume that Islam includes an anti-Christian component. Hence, students often enter the gates of Bethlehem University with misunderstandings and prejudices about the religion of the other.

When they join the university, these students, both Christians and Muslims, embark on a new experience. They study together, they live under the same conditions, they face the same problems-both in the University and outside-and sometimes they ask each other questions about their faiths, often without receiving satisfactory answers. Joint religious studies provide an opportunity for students to understand the position of the other and begin to respect the differences.

The Christian part of the course, which I teach, has three major components: the Bible, the main Christian doctrines, and contemporary issues. The students ask a lot of questions. Discussion topics include: women’s dress codes and other gender issues, the Crusades, the relationship between faith and culture, violence, and mutual misunderstanding. 

There is a tendency for people to view their religion as the only legitimate one. Some students join our course with fixed ideas about their own beliefs and the way they see the other; with these students, we try to engage in a dialogue-a difficult, yet necessary one. In some cases, the outcome can be limited. To see positive things about the other’s religion takes a lot of courage. So when a student makes a positive discovery about a religion that is not his or her own, it demonstrates an openness and shift in attitude. When I ask my students, for example, to tell me what they like in the Gospel (which they read in the first week), some find it difficult to answer. So I rephrase my question: what do you find in the Gospel that will make you a better Muslim? This allows them to feel more relaxed and seek out elements of the Gospel that they like.

Real progress is made when we realise that the divide on a given issue can cross religious differences and Christians and Muslims may find themselves on the same side of a discussion.

At Bethlehem University, students have a right to celebrate their own faith publically. Muslims decorate the gardens of the university on the first day of Ramadan, and when Christmas approaches, the main hall of the university is filled with students, both Muslim and Christian, celebrating the birth of Christ. On Fridays, classes stop for the “prayer hour”, so Muslims go to a hall to pray, and Christians to the chapel to celebrate the mass, before returning to the classrooms. 

In our course we intended to teach about Judaism as well, but due to the difficulties of employing a Jewish teacher (Jewish Israelis are not allowed by Israel to go to the Palestinian Territories), the teaching of Judaism is limited to the Hebrew Bible and history as it is told in the Old Testament-from Adam to the Maccabees. Although, the section on Judaism is limited, we feel that the course tries to promote the common values of all three religions and that the students learn to appreciate Judaism as the first monotheistic religion, or as the Muslim students put it: the first heavenly religion. A more in depth course on Judaism is offered to students in the department of Religious Studies and to students of tourism.

The four years spent at Bethlehem University mark the students for life. We know about the difficulties the students face in their lives outside the university; we know about the difficulties of living under occupation and the anxiety of not finding a decent job when they graduate. They have real concerns about their future. But when we see their openness and determination to build a better future, they give us the courage to continue. 

* Fr. Jamal Khader, a Palestinian Catholic priest from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is a professor of theology at the Latin Seminary (Beit Jala), Chairperson of the Department of Religious Studies, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Bethlehem University. This article is part of a special series on freedom of religion in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 19 November 2009, www.commongroundnews.org

 

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