Gandhi and prayer services

From Book of Prayers by Mohandas K. Gandhi, ed. John Strohmeier (Berkeley Hills Books, 1999), this passage in the introduction discusses why Gandhi took the time for daily worship:

Why, one might wonder, take the time to do all this [daily prayer services] in the middle of a revolution? Gandhi was not one to cling to empty forms. An answer may be found in the testimony of someone who observed Gandhi during one of those evening prayers. As you read it, bear in mind that the nineteen verses of the second chapter of the [Bhagavad] Gita, the description of the illumined man [sic], is widely regarded as the Sermon on the Mount of Hinduism:

“The sun had set when we got back [from his regular evening walk]. Hurricane lanterns were lit; Gandhi settled down at the base of a neem tree as ashramites and the rest of us huddled in Some hymns were sung, then Gandhi’s secretary began reciting the second chapter of the… Bhagavad Gita. Then it happened.

“Not that I can describe it very easily. Gandhi’s eyes closed; his body went stock still; it seemed as though centuries had rolled away and I was seeing the Buddha in a living person. I was what we had almost forgotten was possible in the modern world: a man who had conquered himself to the extent that some force greater than a human being… moved through him and affected everyone.”

…Gandhi had the power to shake India, in part, because he drew on resources within himself that are not normally accessible. And that access happened, among other occasions, at the high point of these prayer meetings….

There is a tendency to think that meditation and action are opposties, that one chooses between one way of life or the other. But as the Bhagavad Gita insists, meditation and selfless action are inseparable. They are opposite sides of the same coin, as complementary as breathing in and breathing out….” [pp. 14-15]

While of course we might phrase this differently to fit the context of our Western religious tradition, it is still true that worship services in our tradition are not escapes from the world, but a way for us to change the world. Worship unleashes powers that can heal us and heal the world; and it is probably dangerous for us to ignore this point.