Writing for the Huffington Post, Joshua Stanton, associate director of the Center for Global Judaism, explains why he believes it is both possible and worthwhile to pray to “an impersonal God.”
Prayer, at its best, heightens the potential of drama and its influence on our lives. If we are the players in the drama, and consciously playing ourselves in that drama, and doing so with a community of people who are likewise consciously playing themselves in that drama, then that drama can be elevated and take on a feeling that I would describe as sacred. The words we say or sing and the actions we take as part of the drama define the nature of that prayer. (Personal prayer, though at times more akin to meditation or silent soliloquy, likewise has many dramatic aspects.)
The meaning of prayer is shaped by the scripts of our traditions, how we enact them, and who at a given moment is acting them out. Are we pouring our hearts out? Are we seeking healing after a painful or tragic experience? Is it the prayer leader singing or reading, or is everyone present singing or reading? (Is there even a prayer leader?) Are we dancing and clapping, speaking softly, carrying a sacred object, or engaging other senses altogether — or perhaps limiting sensory perception of one kind by closing our eyes or being silent?
What marks my prayer experience is not merely the chance to reflect — as Mordecai Kaplan put it, in “a dialogue between our purely individual egocentric self and our self as representing a process that goes on beyond us…” I do not see prayer as a dialogue or conversation at all, but rather as the chance to transcend myself.
Do you pray to a personal God, or an impersonal one? And if the latter, what form does that prayer take?