Friday, July 18, 2008

An ecumenical sentiment

Quoted from John Donne's sermon, preached in 1640 at the Funeral of Sir William Cokayne, Knight and Alderman of London (from "Sermons", #80):

When we consider with a religious seriousnesse the manifold weaknesses of the strongest devotions in time of Prayer, it is a sad consideration. I throw my selfe downe in my Chamber, and I call in, and invite God, and his Angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his Angels, for the noise of a Flie, for the ratling of a Coach, for the whining of a doore, I talke on, in the same posture of praying; Eyes lifted up; knees bowed downe; as though I prayed to God; and, if God, or his Angels should aske me, when I thought last of God in that prayer, I cannot tell: Sometimes I finde that I had forgot what I was about, but when I began to forget it, I cannot tell. A memory of yesterdays pleasures, a feare of to morrows dangers. A straw under my knee, a noise in mine eare, a light in mine eye,. an any thing, a nothing, a fancy, a Chimera in my braine, troubles me in my prayer. So certainly is there nothing, nothing in spirituall things, perfect in this world.

Cf. the following Yerushalmi:

R. Hiyya said, “I never concentrated during prayer in all my days! Once I wanted to concentrate, but I thought about who will meet the king first: the Arkafta [a Persian high official] or the Exilarch [the head of the Jewish community in Persia]?”Shemuel said, “I count clouds [or “flocks of birds”] [during prayer].”Rabbi Bun bar Hiyya said, “I count the layers of stones in the wall [while I pray].”Rabbi Matnaya said, “I am grateful to my head, because it bows by itself when I read ‘Modim’!”[Yerushalmi Berakhot, end of 2:4 ]

(N.B. R' Chaim Kanievsky's explanation (one of those question and answer books) is that their minds were so concentrated on their learning that they had trouble focusing during davening.)


andy said...

They say that R' Chaim Shmulevitz could sometimes be observed 'learning' while in the middle of SE.

Anonymous said...

Taken literally, this Yerushalmi is a little tough to swallow. R. Gedaliah Felder, in the intro to his YEsodei Yeshurun, refuses to take it at face value.

wolf2191 said...

The Chazon Ishi in his Hasagot to Grach al HaRambam Hilchos Tefilin seems to understand it literally.

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