This month's missal takes a look at prayer and praying. While prayer is universal in religious and spiritual traditions, it is may also one of the most least understood or examined practices. The dictionary defines prayer as, "the act of communicating with a deity, especially as a petition or in adoration or contrition or thanksgiving". While many view prayer as petition, calling on a higher power to grant one's wishes, prayer's higher forms are often neglected, as they may work counter to the ego and its vanity.
Traditionally, prayer falls into the following four categories:
: Prayers of devotion, surrender, love, praise and offering.
or thanksgiving: Prayers of thanksgiving, initiation, affirmation and blessing.
or petition: Prayers of petition, supplication, calling forth and healing.
or confessions: Prayers of reflection, contemplation, being and teaching.
These could be called the different forms of addressing the divine in their base or traditional sense. Let's examine the act of prayer of the last category and beyond, perhaps better defined
as a dialogue with God, or better yet, as remaining silent before the divine or unknown Source.
The first, dialoguing with God, as put forth by St. Augustine, or "friendly conversation with God" as spoken of by Teresa of Avila, is not simply a common conversation, but a heart-to-heart connection between the higher and lower, moving beyond the limits of verbal exchange. Here, we receive inspiration or teaching from the divine, the solutions to our moral and spiritual dilemmas. This form of prayer is not for worldly gain or for the ego, and is not performed so as to be seen by others, being only between oneself and one's higher power, as one understands this.
“...But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.” - Matthew 6.6 (New American Bible)
The next stage, that of being in rapport with a higher power, connotes a wordless merging of one's 'self' with that of the divine. In this stage of prayer, the problems and dissonance of the body and mind are lost, and the awareness is sunk in the spirit to which it was drawn through its longing. The mood of intense nostalgia or longing, coupled with an admission of our ignorance or not-knowing, is a clue to the direction of our source, and takes us within.
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26).
Another form of prayer just as important to our path is that of self-inquiry or introspection. We pray to be able to see ourselves, clearly and without rationalization. If we come to understand that a retreat form error is paramount in merging with the divine, we will need to see these errors in ourselves for correct change to occur. To become one with the divine means to change, and for this we must first know what we are, and what direction we must go.
"According to Rabbi Irwin Katsof’s book How to Get Your Prayers Answered, the Hebrew word for prayer is li-heet-pallel. The latter part of the word - pallel - means to inspect, examine, while the initial part - li-heet - makes the term reflexive. Therefore, prayer is self-inspection, self-examination." - Helene Ciaravino
One of the most complete prayers is one used by Alcoholics Anonomous, and combines surrender, introspection and union in a short but intense meditation:
Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
Whatever understanding we have regarding prayer, humility, longing, and ardent practice are essential. If our intuition has hinted that there is something higher than our current self, and that we would be better served to contact it, then prayer is essential. Whether it be a simple longing or heartache, a begging for release from ourselves, or a commitment to finding the truth, each of us, within, knows how to pray, and as we practice our prayer will change according to our becoming.
, and think what you will, your thoughts will be purified by prayer.
and do what you will. Your acts will be pleasing to God and useful and salutory to yourself.
and do not labour much to conquer your passions by your own strength. Prayer will destroy them in you.
and fear nothing. Fear no misfortunes, fear no disasters. Prayer will protect you and ward them off.
Pray somehow or other,
only pray always and be disturbed by nothing.
-anonymous, from 'The Way of the Pilgrim'
- Related Sites -
The World Prayers Project
: The objective of this website is to gather the great prayers written by the spiritual visionaries of our planet into an online database representing all life affirming traditions. Many of these prayers have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years. Others are from spiritual contemporaries in today's intricate global fabric. Though these sacred verses arise from divergent paths, voices, languages, cultures and heritages, they all carry within them the same burning flame - the same impassioned love for life and the divine mysteries. http://www.worldprayers.org/
is a method of prayer,
which prepares us to receive the gift of God's presence, traditionally called contemplative prayer. Centering Prayer facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God. It emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God. At the same time, it is a discipline to foster and serve this relationship by a regular, daily practice of prayer. http://www.centeringprayer.com/cntrgpryr.htm
Tricks and Traps
" What do you need problems for? The mind unconsciously loves problems because they give you an identity of sorts. This is normal, and it is insane." - Eckhart Tolle
Trap: Being identified with our decisions. The above quote points out a common trap, that of being identified with the decision maker, but being unconscious of the process. We may think we are that which sees problems, and decides on their solution, but may have no grasp of how we unconsciously created the whole scenario. We make up a problem, worry about it, then feel good to have solved it; our ego is affirmed.
Trick: Observing our feelings. If we can see what emotional hook has brought up the need for the problem, and then revels in its solution, we may see how identification works. We need problems, and to feel we are solving them, thus giving our sense of self a double boost. If we can see what we do, as well as observe the feelings that motivate our doing, what are we?
The Prayer of Looking
This issue's commentary was written originally as a letter in response to the following question:
"So, can the collective of impulse and energy called ego be 'tenderized' somewhat so as to allow it to get out of the way long enough for unending abiding in It? Or should I just get on with trying to learn how to get on the hamster wheel, serve others, and hope that the house suddenly and abruptly collapses on itself?"
Your question implies an either/or dichotomy, with the choice being one or the other of two states of mind. The answer is simpler: just look. To use the attention to observe. To find out for yourself, by observing yourself; an attentive listening. The end is found in self-inquiry, a questioning, rather than deduction. This questioning is not conceptual or thought based, but is a function of the attention. It is a feeling, found through intuition. You look without ideas, a functional `doing' of your listening attention. Whenever you question in this manner, you will notice there is no longer a problem.
This looking can happen very quickly and easily, but is soon lost. As soon as the experience is logged in memory and added to the ego's inventory, the mind will jump back in, steal the attention once again and declare, "Oh yea, I know all about this, now I've got the answer". As soon as the mind revels in patting itself on the back with what a good job it's done, we're back in the same old problem, the old dissonance and angst; the duality of the conceptual mind. So the answer is, again, to go back to true self-inquiry, to question, to look. To point the attention and look, while simultaneously lining the attention up with our source. Once you've felt this and know how it works, the answer lies in practice. Whenever the mind comes up and bothers you, and you begin to slip back into identification, question, look, and listen. If you keep this up, once you've found the trick of it and place value on it, value above the conceptual problem/solution trap of the mind, you'll again see what you really are, in the moment, rather than as a function of memory and ego. This questioning attention, when practiced and eventually turned within, will take you home. Everything will line up; there is no longer a problem. You are connected with your source, and there are no more questions as far as identity is concerned.
When the mind jumps in and steals the reins after the experience of seeing, what you have is a separation from yourself. You're lost in the mind again, looking outward for answers and identity in your experiences. This is what is talked about when it is said that the experiencer is the product or creation of experience. It is of itself not real. It is a reaction to a reaction pattern. When we have begun to see and admit this, we simply refer back, again and again, to questioning, a listening attention.
This could be called a form of prayer. We pray to, and have faith in, our intuition. We're turning our attention back within to something we may have faith in, but we can't really see. This nameless something or nothing, sometimes called the dazzling dark, a primal ground we sense behind or within us, has no image or form. When we are connected to this formless Is-ness, and then again turn our attention outwards, we are lined up. "Life is real only then, when 'I Am'." - Gurdjieff
When this attention is as a double arrow, one pointed within, one without, we are connected with our source and bypass the personality or response pattern, the experiencer. We now witness experience directly. This form of prayer needs to be practiced in every moment, as often as we can remember.
So keep questioning, keep this prayer of attention going. Practice it whenever and wherever you can, as often as possible. You'll find it does not interfere with action or your day-to-day life, but it will interfere with the mind, its fantasies and endless problems.
- Quotes of the Month -
" Prayer is only another name for good, clean, direct thinking." - Mr Gruffydd, How Green Was My Valley
" The prayer that I learned for myself and I can say came from me quite early was to be saved from myself." - Tim Howell
" Your prayer should be, ' Break the legs of what I want to happen. Humiliate my desire. Eat me like candy. It's spring, and finally I have no will.' " - Rumi
" Because every thought enters the heart in the form of a mental image of some sensible object, the blessed light of the Divinity will illumine the heart only when the heart is completely empty of everything and so free from all form. Indeed, this light reveals itself to the pure intellect in the measure to which the intellect is purged of all concepts. - St. Hesychios the Priest
" The trouble is that we live far from ourselves and have but little wish to get any nearer to ourselves. Indeed we are running away all the time to avoid coming face to face with our real selves, and we barter the truth for trifles." - from The Way of a Pilgrim
" I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching."- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"It's not a good idea to address any prayers to a Supreme Being.
It would only attract his attention and might cause trouble." - Terry Pratchett
"Why is it that when we talk to God we're said to be praying, but when God talks to us we're schizophrenic?" - Lily Tomlin
"Remember, there's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over." - Frank Zappa
- 02/10/06 -
Copyright 2003 - 2006 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.