The ProsenPeople

Can Prayer Heal the World?

Thursday, June 02, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber shared how writing Why People Pray changed his life. He is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

According to a recent poll, 90 percent of Americans believe in the healing power of prayer. For most Americans, prayer is not a substitute for medicine, but rather a way of reinforcing the healing process which depends primarily on medical treatment. In Judaism, faith and medicine have always complemented each other, as attested by the life and work of Moses Maimonides, the great twelfth-century physician and rabbinical authority.

A much broader question, however, is whether prayer can heal the world. As the current century continues to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that both the human race and the planet it inhabits are in urgent need of healing. It boggles the mind that now, nearly three-quarters of a century after the horrors of the Holocaust and of World War II, genocides are being committed in places like the Middle East and Africa, rivers are being poisoned everywhere, the rain forest is being decimated, and clouds of pollution hang over big cities, all because of human action. I have traveled to many of those places, and I have seen those things with my own eyes.

While all of the major religions pray for the healing of the world, their prayers seem to be, to use the expression of Langston Hughes, a “dream deferred.” (“Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”)

It is safe to say that prayer has done little to heal the world. For over fifty years I have been joining my fellow Jews in reciting the Sabbath service which contains the closing words, l’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai, “to repair the world in the image of the kingdom of God.” These are words all Jews believe in, but they are yet to repair the world. And so I have to ask myself, is there any point in continuing to utter such words? Political, economic, and ideological forces around the world do not seem to be interested in ending international conflicts and enabling the human race to pursue peaceful progress. The world remains deeply divided, and the threat of new large-scale wars, even nuclear ones, is hanging in the air across the globe. Is there any solution?

One thing I have learned in my extensive travels around the world for the past twelve years is that while political ideologies across the entire spectrum from communism to capitalism have become dysfunctional, religion—which many people in the West believe is on the decline—remains the most powerful ideology from Tokyo to Timbuktu to Teheran to Tasmania. Prayer remains the ultimate expression of humanity’s innermost hopes and wishes. I would propose convening a world conference of spiritual leaders to discuss the incorporation of prayers for healing the world to be shared by all belief systems around the world. An appropriate day would be designated during which all places of prayer everywhere will see the world praying in one voice for the healing of humanity and the planet. This would create an awareness that all people everywhere, with the exception of fanatics and self-serving cynics, are sharing the same wish, namely, to see the world at long last do away with hatred and war-mongering, and begin the healing process so sorely needed by a troubled planet that is on the verge of courting its own doom.

Rabbi, author, educator, writer, translator, publisher, Biblical scholar, and founder of Schreiber Translations, Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber has sailed the Seven Seas as a spiritual leader aboard cruise ships, with over fifty books published under his penname, Morry Sofer. He is touring through the Jewish Book Council for the 2016 – 2017 season as a JBC Network author.

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How Writing a Book about Why People Pray Changed My Life

Tuesday, May 31, 2016 | Permalink

Between his travels around the world, Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber is set to publish his latest book, Why People Pray, later this month. He is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

As a retired rabbi and long-time author, I accepted an invitation to serve as rabbi and discussion facilitator on cruise ships. For twelve years I sailed the Seven Seas and visited about a hundred and islands on and off of every continent. Wherever I was, visiting houses of worship and observing people of all faiths at prayer drew my attention.

There is a common presumption today that religion is on the decline and that less and less people pray. I found the opposite to be true. In the former Soviet Union, in mainland China, in the Muslim and in the Buddhist worlds, and throughout Latin America, I witnessed large numbers of people pouring their hearts out in prayer. I found myself asking why? Why is it that in an era dominated by science and technology, steeped in materialism, where people are seeking instant gratification, so many people continue to ask for help and reassurance from a transcendental force that remains elusive and unknown?

I grew up in a time and place where Jews hardly ever set a foot inside a synagogue: Haifa in the 1940s and ‘50s, in what became Israel. In the opening part of his book The Source, James Michener describes how, upon arrival in Haifa harbor, one sees a Baha’i temple as well as churches and mosques, but no synagogues. As a child, I was not taught how to pray. But since Haifa happened to be a microcosm of world religions, and since, from a young age, I was deeply interested in my people’s past, I found my own way to pray. Later, when I went to the United States to study journalism, my interest shifted to religion, and I became a rabbi and a student of religions.

I was always intrigued by prayer and by questions such as, “Is anyone listening?” “Does prayer make a difference?” and so on. And there were always aspects of formal prayer that troubled me, such as asking God to punish my adversaries, or praying for personal gain. I always felt that much of formal prayer had become antiquated and did not keep up with our changing world. Most of all, I have always been aware of the failure of prayer to bring people of different cultures and creeds together, but rather seemed to drive a wedge between different belief systems.

All these thoughts that lingered in my mind since childhood finally found an outlet when I sat down one day about two years ago and wrote a question to myself: Why do people pray? It became the title of a new book that changed my life. When I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher, I proofread it carefully for typos. Suddenly I felt it was not I who wrote this book: the book had written itself. By delving deeply into my own world of Jewish prayer, and into the world of prayer of other faiths as well as what I consider to be the prayer life of so-called nonbelievers, I discovered the universality of prayer. I found out that prayer is a cry of the human heart which is as unitary as the belief in one God. I realized that the human race cries out to God with one voice, albeit in many different forms and dialects. Buddhists are not different from Muslims and Jews are not different from anyone else. The idea of “them” and “us” is man-made rather than an expression of a divine law. Its ultimate expression is the race theories concocted by racist regimes. It made me reach the following conclusion: while all belief systems are valid for their followers, the world needs a belief superstructure where all people of faith find a common prayer ground that would enable them to pray in one voice for one purpose: to heal the world and, at long last, to put an end once and for all to hatred and war, and help bring about a world of peace and human harmony.

Rabbi, author, educator, writer, translator, publisher, Biblical scholar, and founder of Schreiber Translations, Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber has sailed the Seven Seas as a spiritual leader aboard cruise ships, with over fifty books published under his penname, Morry Sofer. He is touring through the Jewish Book Council for the 2016 – 2017 season as a JBC Network author.

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