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Prayer, Plain and Simple

Today is Mahatma Ghandi’s birthday. Ghandi, the spiritual and national father of post-British India is renowned for his none-violent strategies of revolution that led his nation into independence.

In my new book, The Karma of Jesus I tell a story of Ghandi recounted by the Christian writer E. Stanley Jones. Here’s that excerpt.

When the bell sounded at 3:45 AM the pilgrims who had come to Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram in Sabarmati, India rose and silently processed to the river bank to say their prayers. In 1927 Stanley Jones stayed there with Gandhi eight days, and each morning joined the prayer march under the stars. The experience had a profound impact on him. In Christ at the Round Table Jones recalls listening to the droning chants, then the quaint, sad voice of Gandhi expounding on the Bhagavad Gita. He marveled that such a slight man, wearing only a loin cloth of cotton spun on his own wheel wielding nothing more than his own personal discipline, good will and a strategy of non-violent civil disobedience could command such power, a power he imagined might one day bring the mighty British Empire to its knees.

Following one of these prayer walks Jones approached Gandhi to tell him about the “Round Table” gatherings he had initiated across India where people from many faiths came to share how their religious faith impacted their personal experience. Gandhi seemed intrigued and agreed to have a similar heart to heart conversation with Jones. Jones kept confidential most of the intimate details of their discussion, but he did relay one telling exchange. 

Gandhi began. “The more I empty myself the more I discover God,” he confessed. “The world is a well-ordered machine and we may discover God in obeying its laws, but no miracles are to be expected, and it may take ages.” Gandhi then went on to acknowledged that he hadn’t yet found spiritual enlightenment. Jones recalled reading a steely determination and what he named “noble despair” in the pundit’s eyes, as if he had braced himself for a long uncertain struggle.   

When Stanley Jones returned to his own cottage near the compound’s spinning room, Gandhi’s words haunted him. “The world is a well-ordered machine… No miracles are to be expected… No miracles are to be expected…” Was this the best hope from the best of men? If the Mahatma, the “Great Soul” had not found enlightenment, what hope had an ordinary man?

Jones recalled his own experience. 25 years before he too had felt bankrupt and despaired of every reaching God. Then he’d given his soul to Christ, a person, not a machine. At that moment a miracle had happened. He knew it. It had not taken ages. It had taken only a moment of surrender, a simple exchange of life for life. The next day Jones met Gandhi again and he shared this story. The two men walked and talked and wept together, yet each out of very different state of heart.

Karma exists, Jones concedes. The world is in fact a “well-ordered machine.” But mechanics need not define the baseline. The “Karma machine” might have a Designer, Someone with a will independent from the design itself The “Everything” behind everything could be a Person. Seeing things this way gives the world a very different look and feel.

God is personal. We can meet him and know him and relate through prayer to him personally. E. Stanley Jones’ challenge to Gandhi is also a challenge to us… A challenge to pray!

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