O Lord of devotions, O lord of Prayers and hymns and good books , O Lord of prayer and praise, Hear my voice and condemn me not!

The Gnostic Prayerbook

“There are many levels of attention in prayer.  First of all, there is purely exterior attention.  We ‘say prayers’ with our lips, but our hearts are not following what we say although we think we would like to mean what we are saying.  If we do not cultivate something better than this, we will seldom really pray.”

–Thomas Merton

Keep It Short


Gershon Winkler

When Moses’ sister Miriam the Prophetess took ill, Moses prayed for her: “Please, O God, please heal her” (Numbers 12:13). The sages asked: “Why did Moses recite such a short prayer? Why did he not pray longer on her behalf? So that people would not say ‘His sister is suffering and he is standing there spending a lot of time praying.’ Another explanation: So that people would not say ‘For his sister he prays a lot, and for us he prays in brevity!'” (Talmud, Berachot 34a).

Does God enjoy lengthy prayer? Who knows? But the ancient rabbis were trying to point out that God’s first and primary will is that we take care of things here and now that need tending to, and not seek the escape from our life challenges by sheltering ourselves in religious practice and spiritual pursuits. So when Moses cried out his prayer at the Sea of Reeds, before he could even get the words out of his mouth God interrupted him and said: “Why are you yelling at me? Speak to the Children of Israel and get them moving!” (Exodus 14:15). The sages added: “Moses stood there and cried out his prayer, when the Blessed Holy One said, ‘Moses, this is not the time for lengthy prayer — the Israelites are in trouble!'”(Rashi on Exodus 14:15).

Prayer, we are taught, is a fine practice, and the more the merrier as it deepens one’s connection to Spirit, to the Mystery of all Mysteries. It is a spiritual practice that in the moment reminds one that there is more to existence than what is conspicuous, than what is at hand, than what is happening in the moment. And yet, at the same time if what is happening in the moment demands immediate attention, we are taught to keep our prayer very brief and tend to the matter at hand. Otherwise, we accustom ourselves to severing our consciousness of the physical universe from our consciousness of the spiritual universe, when the unification of the two realms is our primary task in this world. Each is inter-dependent on the other.

The second-century Rabbi Akiva used to keep his prayer short when he prayed in public so that the congregants wouldn’t have to wait and wait and wait until he finally completed a segment of the service. When he prayed alone, however, “one would find him first in one corner and by the end would find him in the opposite corner way on the other side of the room from all the lengthy and numerous bowing and movements and gesticulations” (Talmud, Berachot 31a). Even though his private practice involved deep and lengthy communion with the divine, when in public he did not forget that not everyone prays that deeply and lengthily and most, in fact, start getting a bit edgy, tired, bored out of their skulls. Maybe even hungry. And so he kept his devotion short when he prayed with the public.

The second-century Rabbi Yo’see recounts how he once stopped in the middle of a journey and entered a ruin to do the afternoon prayer. The spirit of Elijah the Prophet appeared outside the ruin and waited for the sage to finish, and then admonished him for interrupting his journey to pray, and for doing so in a ruin. “I learned three things from him,” he recounts. “That one ought not to enter a ruin [for danger of falling debris; others say because of the possible presence of negative spirits], that one prays even while on a journey, and that when one prays during a journey, one ought to keep it short” (Talmud, Berachot 3a).

Prayer, Elijah taught the sage, was nice and proper to do, even while walking, but don’t stop on the road to pray, keep walking, and don’t pray in a place where you might be endangered, and don’t overexert yourself by trying to pray and walk at the same time — so keep it short.


May all be blessed, peaceful and happy,

May all be free of pain, resentment and fear.

May we have infinite gratitude, patience and compassion for all above, equal, and below us.

May we be the doctor, medicine and nurse, for all the confused, sick and sad. May all the virtue acquired by us, flow freely to all need.

May everyone find the Path to Peace,

May everyone become pure and perfect,

May everyone find the Treasury of Life!

May Kushta bless you and keep you . . . Amin

Good is the Good to the good, and They set their nature upon those who love their name.

We will seek and find, and will pray and be heard.

We have sought and found, we prayed and were heard in thy presence,

my Lord Yeshu and Maryam d-Hiya, Lords of Healings.


The Gnostic Prayerbook