Praying like Rabbi Akivah

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Rabbi Akiva

Rabbi Akiva was a good very first-century Jewish teacher and spiritual leader. He spent a lot of time in prayer – each in neighborhood and in private.

The Talmud in Berachot 31a (the central text of Rabbinic Judaism) says, “When Rabbi was with the congregation, he would pray promptly so as not to be a burden on these praying with him [who would respectfully wait for him to finish.] But when he prayed alone, one particular could leave him in one particular corner and afterwards obtain him in a different corner, due to his a lot of bows and prostrations.”

Two levels of prayer

From this account, we see that Rabbi Akiva prayed in two extremely diverse techniques.

In public he aligned himself with the level of prayer of the congregation – focussing on the which means of the words.

But, when he was alone, he permitted himself to pray at a greater level – seriously letting himself go, in physique, thoughts and spirit, as he sought to come into the presence of God. Usually this meant he began praying in one particular aspect of a area and, very obliviously, would obtain himself someplace else by the finish of his prayer. You could say that he permitted the Holy Spirit to pray inside him.

The Shulchan AruchI (a legal code in Judaism) describes this state, saying ‘Devout and pious folks would seclude themselves. They would direct their thoughts in prayer till they succeeded in divesting themselves from their physicality and expanding their state of consciousness. Then they would attain a level close to that of prophecy.’

All prayer has worth

I think that God hears just about every prayer – no matter if we just concentrate on the words or let the Holy Spirit to pray inside us.

We couldn’t all pray in the Spirit – at this ‘higher’ level – in a church service with no producing disorder and likely discomfort in some members of the congregation. So, out of respect and courtesy to other people, we constrain our prayers.

But when we are in private we can let the Holy Spirit to pray inside us. And, when we do this, we may well obtain ourselves kneeling or prostrating ourselves, lifting up our hands, perhaps dancing, perhaps speaking in tongues. If no one particular is watching (except God) then who cares?

When Rabbi Akiva prayed by himself, his prayer was not the reserved, dignified prayer of the neighborhood. It was an intense and ecstatic service of God.

So this Lent, attempt drawing closer to God by way of prayer. In prayer at church and with other people. But also in the privacy of your area, as Rabbi Akivah did, and see how uplifting and thrilling prayer can be.

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