How to Pray

I have been asked to write about prayer. How do I pray? What’s my response when I hear, “Pray for . . .”?

If God is not a humanlike individual, an external deity, with whom or what do I communicate? Does it make any sense to appeal to Something for anything?

What we call God is larger than, beyond anything we can imagine, but our minds and imaginations are what we have to work with. Particular images—let’s say an idea of Jesus—work very well for communing with the Grand Power of the Universe. The problem arises when we insist that our image is God and everybody better believe it and pray to the same image. I don’t pray to Jesus, but my weak humanity reaches toward a humanlike being who doesn’t have any gender—my Invisible Partner, my Inner Beloved.

In the famous conversations of Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell, they expressed compassion for one who has no “invisible means of support,” sympathy for one who’s unaware of help available from “hidden hands.”

It was in this context that Campbell said, “Follow your bliss,” a phrase that was popularized and misunderstood. Campbell said that “as the result of invisible hands . . . you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Goethe said something similar: “the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves all.”

It sounds so easy, and it’s so hard. It requires, in Campbell’s words, enduring “ten years of disappointment with nobody responding to you” and having “the guts to stay with the thing you really want, no matter what happens.”

I think many of us don’t know what we really want. We desire things that produce results opposed to what we really want. The critical thing to remember is that our Higher Power—it’s irrelevant how we imagine that Power—knows what’s best for us. So let’s not be attached to any specific result.

I used to interpret the idea that God knows best as God opposing my own desires. I thank Unity School of Christianity for showing me that’s wrong. My very deepest desires come from the divinity within me, but I may be wrong about how to achieve those valid desires. Christians call the inner divinity “Christ.” Other terms are “Buddha,” “Tao,” and “Self.”

This inner divinity connects us with all persons, all creation, and this is why our intentions for others have an effect. I believe prayer works and write about this in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.

There’s much more to say about types of prayer and the power of human consciousness, but it’ll have to wait for another time. Next time I’ll pass on some prayers of mine.

November 16, 2007

Large swatches of silence nurture awareness of an invisible Presence and turning toward this spiritual reality is prayer.

However we imagine that reality, connecting with it and trusting its power for good renders our daily concerns more manageable. As we reach toward the indefinable Something, we start to commune with that reality. And after long periods of silent communing with this Holy Source, we notice that our outer circumstances turn out right more often—not necessarily as we might have wished, but ultimately better.

Intentional opening to the Holy One is prayer. A quick acknowledgement that my thought or action just now was less than noble is prayer. Awestruck appreciation of beauty is prayer. Gratefulness is prayer. Trusting that I will be guided in my thoughts, words, and actions is prayer. Claiming my right to good things is prayer.

What? This is prayer? Unity School of Christianity taught me to pray in affirmations rather than pleas. It’s quite a psychological shift. Here are affirmative prayer samples:

Divine order and timing are at work in my life and affairs.
I expect good things and accept all the good that comes to me.

Underlying these prayers is trust—expecting good through me, to me, to my situation, and to the world.

Trust is the heart of faith as well as the heart of affirmative prayer. It saturates the beloved Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and the stories of Jesus healing in the synoptic gospels.

In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul advises, “Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks.” This is not as impossible as it sounds. Poet and educator Maya Angelou says in Unity magazine (September/October 2007), “Now I pray all the time. I pray when I’m walking from here to over to the chair. . . . Mostly I’m thankful.” Jungian analyst Robert Johnson says, “In every moment there is one right thing to do.” Discerning that and doing it, we are communing with the Holy—in prayer.

The apostle Paul and Maya Angelou refer to Jesus, which is their religious context, their way to God. In The Bhagavad Gita, all wisdom and blessing flow through the god Krishna. That my prayers and those of a Tibetan, Muslim, or Inuit don’t go through Isis or Jesus or Krishna is irrelevant.

A cautionary note: In the deepest pool of consciousness connecting us with each other and with divinity, we must surrender totally to Divinity. Unity reminds us,

When we let God free to choose what is best in our present stage of unfoldment, we will be pleasantly surprised—at times even astonished—at the good manifest through us and for us.

Pray for wisdom, for self-respect, for spiritual blessings of all kinds—I mean, trust that they are lighting on whomever—and specific desires may be met. Praying in this way also eases the command to love our enemies because their highest spiritual good includes good behavior toward everybody else.

That I write these things doesn’t mean I achieve them. They are reminders to myself.
I’m sure I’ll revisit this subject of prayer.


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