Priest and the Prayer
Leo Tolstoy has written a beautiful story:
Three men became very famous saints in Russia.
The highest priest of the country was very much disturbed — obviously, because people were not coming to him, people were going to those three saints and he had not even heard their names. How could they be saints? — because in Christianity a saint is a saint only when the church recognizes him as a saint. The English word ‘saint’ comes from ‘sanction’; when the church sanctions somebody as a saint, then he is a saint.
What nonsense! that a saint has to be certified by the church, by the organized religion, by the priests — as if it has nothing to do with inner growth but some outer recognition; as if it is a title given by a government, or a degree, an honorary degree, conferred by a university.
The high priest was certainly very angry. He took a boat because those three saints used to live on the far side of a lake. The three saints were sitting under a tree. They were very simple people, peasants and uneducated. They touched the feet of the highest priest, and the priest was very happy.
He thought, “Now I will put them right — these are not very dangerous people. I was thinking they would be rebels or something.” He asked them, “How did you become saints?”
They said, “We don’t know! We don’t know that we are saints either. People have started calling us saints and we go on trying to convince them that we are not, we are very simple people, but they don’t listen. The more we argue that we are not, the more they worship us! We are not very good at arguing either.”
The priest was very happy. He said, “What is your prayer? Do you know how to pray?”
They looked at each other. The first said to the second, “You say.” The second said to the third, “You say, please.”
The priest said, “Say what your prayer is! Are you saying Our Lord’s Prayer or not?”
They said, “To be frank with you, we don’t know any prayer. We have invented a prayer of our own and we are very embarrassed — how to say it? But if you ask, we have to say it. We have heard that God is a trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We are three and he is also three, so we have made a small prayer of our own: ‘You are three, we are three: Have mercy on us!’”
The priest said, “What nonsense! Is this prayer? You fools, I will teach you the right prayer.” He recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Those three poor people said, “Please repeat it once more, because we are uneducated, we may forget.”
He repeated it and they asked, “Once more — we are three, repeat it at least three times.” So, he repeated it again, and then, very happy, satisfied, he went back in his boat.
Just in the middle of the lake he was surprised, his boatman was surprised: those three poor people were coming running on the water! They said, “Wait! Please one more time — we have forgotten the prayer!”
Now it was the turn of the priest to touch their feet, and he said, “Forget what I have said to you. Your prayer has been heard; my prayer has not been heard yet. You continue as you are continuing. I was utterly wrong to say anything to you. Forgive me!”
Prayer is an utterly personal conversation with one’s God. So, it has to be in a language one understands very well and in words with which one can relate to.
Most of the time, prayer is just a presentation of complaint list — both, about one’s bad circumstances and other’s good circumstances — and of course, shopping list!
A true devotee’s prayer ends in just one sentence, “Let thy will be done”.
Prayer is made perfect when the timeless is discovered.
The timeless is discovered through clarity of perception.
Perception is made clear when it is disengaged from preconceptions and from all consideration of personal loss or gain.
Then the miraculous is seen and the heart is filled with wonder.
Prayer is a state of simplicity. It is not of words but of silence.