“Two great servants move through the ages: prayer and sacrifice.” Buber, 1970.
This is one of those sayings that stuck in my mind, maybe more because I liked the sound of it more than any sense I could make of it when I read it. The more it cycled in my mind, the more I tried to make sense of it. The word “prayer” first has to be stripped of its immediate associations to religion, to stereotyped recital in order to maintain favor with some sort of being that is judging or granting redemption based on how often you attempt to communicate. What is left?
“Whoever knows the world as something to be utilized knows God the same way. His prayers are a way of unburdening himself- and fall into the ears of the void. He- and not the ‘atheist’ who from the night and longing of his garret window addresses the nameless- is godless.” Buber, p 156
This helps to remove the word “prayer” from that obnoxious association. So prayer could be construed as a longing outward toward whatever that may be receptive and embue meaning, whether it is within or in the world. A state of the self that opens one to presence, subjective reality, love, mystery.
Sacrifice. Throughout time, man has been compelled to offer sacrifice, whether it was an animal, a human, or personal object. Why is that? Organized religion may harp on one’s guilt- one must sacrifice to appease or to prove worth. How does one sacrifice these days? Mainly time or money. Does that have the same meaning? Is it felt in the same way in modern America? If it is not guilt or obligation, what is the root of the act of sacrifice?
“The moment of encounter is not a “living experience” that stirs in the receptive soul and blissfully rounds itself out: something happens to man. The man who steps out of the essential act of pure relation has something More in his being, something new has grown there of which he did not know before and for whose origin he lacks any suitable words. Actually, we receive what we did not have before, in such a manner that we know: it has been given to us.” p 158
Perhaps at the root is the hope that in response to our sacrifice, we will be given this moment of encounter? Does it really work that way- must we give an object in exchange for divinity? Then I was struck with the thought, what if sacrifice was already embedded in our lives? Symbolic sacrifice as part of ritual has nothing on real pain of sacrifice. Everyone has something- a loved one lost to death, sickness, disability, flaws, mistakes, addiction, particular vulnerability. Can these particular areas of pain become sacred? Can we take the sense of pain or loss and experience it in a way that leaves us transformed?
Perhaps the symbolic act of sacrifice is meant to invite us to instead dwell in the feelings that true sacrifice embedded in our lives brings us. Sacrifice needs to be truly felt to be real, and that reality combined with longing reaching outward, via “prayer”, perhaps primes us, opens us to something more. That is, if we don’t fall into the trap of experiencing and using, and substituting.
“Originally, faith fills the temporal gaps between the acts of relation; gradually, it becomes a substitute for these acts. The ever new movement of being through concentation and going forth is supplanted by coming to rest in an It in which one has faith.” p 162, italics mine.
“Faith” is another word that requires effort to take away all the associations- to church attendance, to Bible-toting narrow-minded moral judgment and rigidity. Faith is perhaps is simply believing that the moments of pure relation or extraordinary genuine encounter- those moments will happen again. No matter who we are. We don’t have to feel guilty, or appease, or submerge in rote and ritual, or be a certain way dictated by the expectations of others. We just have to learn (perhaps the word “unlearn” would be better) to be ourselves- not a mask or a role- and move toward what gives our lives passion and meaning. Meanwhile, remaining open to vulnerabilities and losses in our lives invites something more.
“You cannot come to an understanding about it with others ; you are lonely with it; but it teaches you to encounter others and to stand your ground in such encounters; and through the grace of its advents and the melancholy of its departures it leads you to that You in which the lines of relation, though parallel, intersect. It does not help you to survive; it only helps you to have intimations of eternity.” Buber, 1970, p 84
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Jun 12th 2006Introspection