Audio: Prayer and the Covenant
Prayer belongs to the people of the world. There is no one to whom prayer does not belong. Every soul has a heart, and that heart can pray in many different ways, each of which can lead to more intimate contact with God.
The Covenant also belongs to the people of the world. It is God’s promise of peace, comfort, and blessing to those who choose God, and this choice is not restricted by religion, education, background, or any other factor. To love God with the totality of one’s being — body, heart, mind, and soul — is to put into practice the Covenant — both the historical Covenant of Sinai made with the Hebrew people, and the New Covenant of Christianity which Jesus embodied and brought to the world. It is to live it, and to live in it. This Covenant is eternal. It asks that man love, revere, and serve God first, and out of the blessings that this relationship brings, experience the abundance of life.
This Covenant is eternal. It asks that man love, revere, and serve God first, and out of the blessings that this relationship brings, experience the abundance of life. [In keeping with this purpose, the ve-ahavta prayer is given.] To pray this prayer is to open one’s heart in love, humility, and obedience to Divine will.
Historically, there have been beautiful and special prayers within each spiritual tradition that are at the heart of that tradition’s relationship with God. Some of them convey more deeply than others the meaning and importance of the Covenant. The “Our Father” prayer that Jesus taught is one such prayer. The Hebrew prayer which follows is another. This is a prayer that arises from the deepest heart and history of the Hebrew people, yet its voice is universal and it speaks with a commandment for all nations. Initially received by Moses as holy decree for the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:5-9), it becomes a prayer because of the state of heart of the one who speaks it. Within this heart, when the prayer asks that we love God, that we seek His presence everywhere, that we remember His commandments, the devout heart says: “Let it be so.” This is what makes it a prayer.
Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart.
Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt speak of them when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.
Thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates:
That ye may remember and do all My commandments and be holy unto your God.
To pray this prayer is to open one’s heart in love, humility, and obedience to Divine will. It is to participate in the human part of the Covenant — to awaken to the importance of ‘remembering’. There is a poignancy and an intensity here which fills us, built out of the urgency and completeness of the asking. It is the expression of longing on God’s part that we know Him and remember Him. This is what gives this prayer its great beauty, and makes it both practical and mystical at the same time.
What can we learn from this prayer about the ways we are asked to be in relationship with God? First and foremost, there is the commandment to love God fully. Superficial gestures of compliance are not what God is asking for, but a deeper response that is of the heart.
Second, we are asked to bring God’s presence into the world through our words and deeds: through teaching our children about God; through speaking of God openly during the activities of our daily life.
Third, we are asked “to bind (these commandments) for a sign upon our hands.” What does this mean? It means that we are being asked to commit the actions of our hands to the service of God, and to commit no action with our hands that does not serve God.
Fourth, we are asked to place these commandments as “frontlets between our eyes.” This directive asks us to see with the eyes of spiritual truth — truth that is principled and moral and follows God’s law; truth that is not beguiled by a non-sacred reality.
Finally, we are asked to write these commandments “upon the doorposts of our house and upon our gates.” Here, we are being asked to redefine the ‘house’ that our self lives in — our identity — so that in our going out from ourselves into the world, and in our coming back from the world into ourselves, we remember God.
This is a prayer of Divine remembrance. It belongs to each heart that seeks God. It has sprung from a beautiful tradition, and it is ours to love and honor and make our own. In the same way, the entire spiritual history of mankind must be honored and made our own. For we are children of the past and children of the future at the same time, and those who have loved God and worshipped God before us are all our spiritual ancestors. Now, it is time to remember who we are and to pray for this remembrance. Through honoring the past and bringing it into the present, we create the future. In doing so, we create the future of the earth as well.