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When we pray for something, does that define God somewhat and diminish him?

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The Rev. Holly McKissick, Peace Christian Church: He was sitting on the playground, cross-legged and bent over, his 5-year-old body perfectly still. From the back he looked like a Tibetan monk guarding a treasure on his lap, cradling something precious.

A bug? A worm? A rock? Walking up quietly, I saw a Dixie cup filled with dirt, squished a bit from his not-so-careful hands.

His face was almost inside the cup. Drawing close, I heard a whispered prayer over the seed inside: “Grow, grow.”

For the next few days, we all prayed, adding a tablespoon of water at the breakfast table, watching hopefully, while we ate our cereal.

All prayers are a version of that one: not so much a defining or a diminishing of God, as a deep longing for restoration, healing, completion.

At our core, we are still that 5-year-old hoping that all will be well, whether ours is the whimsical, good-luck-charm prayer, like a St. Joseph statue buried in the yard to sell the house, or a pleading-for-a-miracle prayer through tears as we wave a poster of our daughter, scarred from cancer, along the marathon route.

To my ears, the prayers of some people do sound defining, diminishing, even partisan and mean-spirited. Perhaps God hears those prayers, like mine, as the simple and honest pleading of a 5-year-old heart.

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy: A relationship that is one-sided, by definition, is not a relationship.

Praising God, thanking God requires no response, but petitioning God demands, at the very least, an answer. There is a Kabbalistic (Jewish mystical) concept called Tzimtzum, which means retraction, or diminishing.

The Kabbalists ask, why would a perfect, infinite, unchanging being create such a flawed entity as the world in which we live? The answer they give is that God retracted within to make space for this dynamic, but finite, entity.

The Chasidic master, known as the Magid of Mezeritch, explains how our own experience teaches that such an idea is true. Take the parent who gets on his knees to play with an infant. Does she not diminish herself to make a deep connection with her child? Is this not the deepest known worldly manifestation of love? To communicate with a student, does not the teacher limit all that he knows to facilitate that student’s growth in learning?

When we ask God for what we need, we are opening the door for a real relationship, for what we truly want is for God to demonstrate his love. For God to connect, he has to limit his true nature, but just like the parent and the teacher, this is his greatest pleasure.

Every time we petition God, we affirm this relationship for which he is pleased to “diminish” himself.

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