What is prayer? This is a question scholars, myself included, have been asking a lot of late, with what success-at least to my mind-it is not yet clear.2 Whether prayer, historically or in practice, is best understood as something primarily (or ideally) mental or vocal, liturgical or private, scripted or spontaneous, dutiful or devout, instrumental or contemplative: all are tensions that have regularly

1 Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951; reprint edn. New York: Perennial Classics, 2001), p. 57. I would like to thank Barbara Newman for drawing my attention to Weil’s wonderful description of prayer.