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  • by Russ Shumaker

A Better Way to Pray

You, You, You: Lessons in Prayer from a Zen Benedictine Monk

David Steindl-Rast, summarized his relationship with the God, the Great Mystery, after 90 years of life as a Zen-practicing Benedictine monk: "I could not express my own lifelong relationship with the Divine Mystery any more fittingly than in the sentence "i am through you so i."* What makes us persons is the richness and depth of our relationships. One's being a person deepens and matures through each new encounter. In every deep human encounter, we can say: you make me be what I am. But in our encounter with the Great Mystery, we realize an even deeper truth: that we can say "I" only because we stand face to face with a primordial You.

Ferdinand Ebner and Martin Buber each in their own way demonstrated what "i am through you so i" means: beyond each human You, we are in relation to a mysterious You, mysterious in the sense that the Mystery, itself, is our ultimate You.

I remember how in my early years as a monk, I would wander over the hills around the monastery, simply praying the word You, over and over. The same is told of a great Hasidic master; he prayed, "You, you, you!" Is that not prayer enough?...

The Prayer of the Heart is also a prayer to the You, in the end. The older I become, the more important this "i am through you so i" becomes for me. When our I passes out of space and time, our relationship with the primeval You remains. That was and is the fundamental First from which everything comes, and it will be the Last that remains."** ---------------------------------------------------------

To pray without listening is to speak without expecting a response. To pray without listening is to believe that God only notices us when we petition to be heard. This type of prayer may actually increase anxiety and heighten a person's sense that the world is dangerous.

Against this background, the simple "You, you, you" is a prayer of listening, of noticing. The Alder tree waving branches with newly budded leaves, You. Shadows gently changing into "feeble rays of moted dustlight", You. Friends smiling, cars driving past, emails arriving, work being done, You. Suffering. You? Prayer is not a cure. But in listening, the Divine You reveals something life-affirming, meaningful, ​ even in suffering.

Russ Shumaker is a creative consultant and business strategist living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He holds an MA in Theology and an MBA. You can find him online here.

See all previous articles by Russ Shumaker

*The phrase "i am through you so i" comes from a poem by E.E. Cummings. You can read a brief interpretation by David Steindl-Rast here. **Quoted text is from the autobiographical book, i am through you so i by Brother David Steindl-Rast

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