Why must we ask?

When Jesus was preaching to his followers on a hillside in Palestine, he urged them to put their trust in God as their divine Father. The birds of the air don’t till the earth, he reminded them, but they are fed, and he said the lilies of the field don’t shop for fine apparel, but they are clothed more beautifully than kings and queens. It is inspiring counsel, and yet moments before, when Jesus gave the model prayer that millions of faithful recite to this day, he included the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If God provides, why is it necessary to ask?

We find the same puzzle in the Sufi prayer Saum, where we pray, “Give sustenance to our bodies, hearts and souls,” even though in the same prayer we have already addressed the Divine Presence as the “Sustainer.” Why is it necessary to speak of the need for sustenance if it is God’s essential nature to provide?

As often mentioned here, we offer prayers not to awaken the Divine to action, but for our own benefit. If God required periodic reminders, He would be no different from a government benefits agency expecting regular contact from needy clients. As anyone who has stood in line in a welfare office will testify, it is an image that could inspire no sincere adoration – quite the opposite, in fact. But if the prayers are for our benefit and what we are asking for has already been assured, we could wonder what good do they do us? When we recite the Confraternity, for example, we repeat a number of times the words, “Pour upon us Thy love and Thy light,” but surely the dazzling cascade flows eternally. “Why do I have to beg for a handout?” someone might say. “What is the point?”

It is a question that takes us to the heart of the Sufi path. Spirituality isn’t knowledge learned from books, nor a particular set of behaviours. If there is anything that distinguishes a person as a student of Sufism, it is the attitude. Seeing the world from our own point of view, we are the center and everything moves around us. The Sufi – or the Sufi student – endeavours to break this limited perception in order to experience directly that all is One.

The medicine to help cure us of our ”self’ intoxication is the cultivation of the the God ideal – the ever increasing attunement to a Presence that, no matter how far we spread our arms, is always wider, and that is so loving and beautiful that we may forget ourselves completely and surrender with ease. Like a living plant, this ideal must be guarded and tended and fed so that it grows, puts forth fragrant flowers and some day bears sweet fruit. One role of prayer in this cultivation is to help us develop a beautiful, respectful attitude. There is no grace or harmony when a person bows with reluctance or resentment, and if one feels demeaned by asking for sustenance or light or love, then the shell of the ego is still hard and thick, and our prayers lie heavily on the earth. It is when the attitude softens and the heart grows warm that our prayers and our spirit can rise upward. That is the lesson in the saying from Gayan Tanas :
Incense, what were you whispering at the church service?
– No prayer can reach God unless it arises from a glowing heart.

2 Replies to “Why must we ask?”

  1. Romeena

    Thank you so much for the wisdom…I have been studying the Arabic translations of namaz…and was thinking this exact question.. definitely feeling the thickness of the ego…and my arrogance…huge thanks for this post.


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