What good is prayer? Does it have place in our lives today? What do we really mean by prayer? These are interesting questions.
Of course prayer is not the province solely of Christians, though I suspect that that’s they way many of them see it. But Muslims pray, just as devoutly. Many other religions have either prayers or the equivalent of prayer.
In fact prayer or its recognizable equivalent has a cherished place in all societies on the globe and at almost all times in history. Prayer was around long before the Church.
It is a universal human yearning to reach out and be listened to by forces which are bigger, wiser, more knowing and guiding our lives. This is especially true at times of great duress. But is by no means confined to these events.
Only modern sophisticated man has talked himself out this time-honoured method of summoning up the deep moving forces of life when they are needed most.
The Essence of Prayer
Taken on the world stage, prayer-equivalent has always enjoyed huge respect and popularity. The minor drop off of prayer in the West caused by the Church’s troubles holding its flock together has little relevance to the vast majority of persons who make up the human race. Prayer is with us, alive and well. Always was and (probably) always will be.
Part of the purpose of this website is to seek new meanings for prayer; to find out what the real essence of prayer is; and isolate it from the distractions and trimmings of religious cant and hypocrisy. I believe if we can succeed in doing this, then prayer will have a renewed vigour and appeal.
This does not mean that religion is unimportant. It does mean that prayer is, and should be, independent of any particular credo or formalized structure, such as churches and temples.
Prayer fulfils a certain requirement and it is hard to see how it could be replaced, speaking as a doctor and psychologist.
Prayer is the way we remind ourselves of the religious aspect of life and absorb this into our daily strivings and activities. It should make us conscious of these things that we might otherwise forget in the strenuous hurly burly of so-called civilized life. Far from usurping religion, the liberalized prayer proposed here would have little meaning without consideration for a higher life and spiritual planes of knowledge and experience. This applies whether you believe in a God or not.
Those who don’t believe in such things will hardly come to prayer, by any route. It would not make sense for those who see life only in material (physical) terms to appeal to “something” (anything) outside their own little supposed domain of chemicals and electrical impulses.
Summing Up Energies
Alexis Carrel (1873 – 1944), French surgeon and biologist and Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine in 1912, has this to say about prayer:
“Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate. It has a force as real as terrestrial gravity. As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy has failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer…. Prayer like radium is a source of luminous, self-generating energy … In prayer, human beings seek to augment their finite energy by addressing themselves to the Infinite source of all energy. When we pray, we link ourselves with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe. We pray that a part of this power be apportioned to our needs. Even in asking, our human deficiencies are filled and we arise strengthened and repaired…”.
It doesn’t matter what model we use here. Carrel made no reference to God or Allah or any other monotheistic deity. This beautiful writing applies, whatever you consider the architect of the universe to be; that energy is still out there. Just call it the Great Spirit. Or don’t call it anything.
To those who remain sceptical of the last sentence of Carrel quote I would say only this: try it. You will be surprised.
Asking For Help
My colleague and contributor here at F4M + F4S, Susan Flood, sums it up neatly by saying: prayer is a way of formalizing confusion.
This may mean you actually get what you want; it might also mean that you gain the strength to cope with disappointment, even if you don’t.
In discussions with Susan, I used to argue that the seeking help aspect wasn’t all that important; it was summoning up your own resources that counted most. She threw up her hands in exasperation, I remember that: “You just don’t get it, do you?”
You know what? She was right. I didn’t get it. But I do now.
I think part of my attitude was a self-effacing ethic: God is very busy and has a lot to do; I should get a grip and stop snivelling—just solve this for myself.
The truth is: Prayer is really 100% about asking for help. You are saying: “I can’t do it alone, God please help me.”
Prayer comes in when you are smart enough to see things are not fully under your control and that it will take a Higher Power to make it happen for you.
These days I’m more inclined to lean towards saying: “You up there, I need this and I need it fast: it’s IMPORTANT!” I doubt very much that any Higher Power thinks less of someone who is to the point and determined. Drivers and bottom-liners are just as welcome to Higher Power as social-types and self-apologists. Otherwise, could you call that God?
Aspects Of Prayer
Emmet Fox talks about “scientific prayer” He says Scientific prayer or spiritual treatment is really the lifting of your consciousness above the level where you have met your problem. If only you can rise high enough in thought, the problem will the solve itself.
This is really the only problem you have – to raise in consciousness. The more “difficult,” which means the more deeply rooted in your thoughts, is the problem concerned, the higher you will have to rise. What is called a small trouble, will yield to a slight raise in consciousness.
What is called a serious difficulty, will require a relatively higher rise. What is called a terrible danger or hopeless problem, will require a considerable rise in consciousness to overcome it – but that is the only difference.
Prayer in the context of mending life is about the following:
i. spending some time with yourself
ii. looking honestly at what is happening
iii. deciding what needs to be done to clarify or improve things for yourself
iv. letting go of unhappiness
v. enhancing the inherent good in a situation
If you can achieve all of these aims, you have had a truly good pray!
Say It Out Loud
It is very important that you verbalize your deepest yearning or wish; indeed, this is one of reasons the term “prayer” has been retained here. Part of the success of this action remedy comes from focussing more clearly on what it is exactly that you want. Sometimes, when it is worded out, you will realize that what you thought you wanted isn’t it at all, but some other need or wish will come into view.
Thus the desire for a “new car” might really crystallize into wanting a better paid job; freedom from discontent and stress might resolve into a wish for a steady loving relationship; the desire for top marks in an exam might turn into wanting parents to understand it isn’t your goal to be a veterinary surgeon but you want to be an actor instead.
It can even be so corny that to pray for “Things to be easy” will change into “Well, not too easy, otherwise I would be bored!”
Action To Take
Sit in a quiet place, where you will be free from disturbance and you are not troubled by people overhearing you. Everyone usually has a safe space and this is ideal. And yes, on occasion it might be helpful to go into a church, where even a non-Christian can drop out of the noise and bustle of life and find temporary peace, for the purpose of collecting one’s thoughts and feelings.
A park bench will do. Many people are aware these days of what they call their “power spots”, places which seem to resonate with good energy vibrations. Lying in bed. Anywhere that feels “right” for this.
What about those funny, submissive postures? Yes, definitely: YES. There is something about the act of humility that engenders deep spiritual connection. Look, you are already in big trouble because you have gone out of harmony with natural laws and energies! You goofed. Otherwise you wouldn’t be praying. This is not the time play smart-ass and refuse to get on your knees, is it?
At the very least it is really important to put your hands together in the time-honoured gesture. As Susan Flood says: “There is something about this act that makes it virtually impossible to lie to yourself or the Cosmos.”
Start “Dear God”, “Great Spirit of Life”, “Hello out there…” or any way you choose. “Anybody listening?” will be fine if you are not sure what you are dealing with! For some, the valid mechanism in prayer is that you address your higher self, in which case there is only a need to turn your attention in that direction, or try “Hello, the real me!”
You will gather, then, that any way at all is valid for starting a prayer, if you feel comfortable about it.
Experiment for yourself. It may take several attempts over a period of days or weeks. The important point is to feel you are achieving something; that prayer has made you more cheerful and hopeful about the future. This alone is very powerful psychology.
Prayer should not be too serious or too frivolous. A casual sense of play is absolutely vital for creating the right inner environment for postulated success.
Word of caution: don’t try to use wishing or prayer to suppress or over-ride the truth. This never works. To wish you didn’t have cancer is silly; to pray for the resources to fight it is much more likely to be fulfilled.
The simple truth is that you cannot deal with what is unwanted by wishing it away, pretending it isn’t there, hiding it, altering or in some other way negating or running away from reality. This lowers your power and status. You are thus less able to deal with things effectively.
Prayer can help by bringing a person gently up to confronting the issue that is so very painful and thus starting him or her out on the road to betterment.
It is important, above all, to be truthful with yourself when we talk about prayer.
Write Your Own Prayers
There is no doubt whatever that some of the most effective prayer is that which is made up on the spot. One simply voices what is on our mind and expresses it fervently.
However there is also a lot to be said for a prayer which has been crafted to say what one would often like to say. You can write you own, you don’t need anyone else’s stuff.
A good start would be to find prayers, wishes, poems, little celebrations or offerings that we like and then alter these to suit our own needs. The prayers I wrote and have included here on this website were written that way.
A Physician’s Prayer
Great Universal Spirit, Breath of Love:
Help me this day to be the best I can be
Let me listen quietly and sympathetically
To try to understand what the REAL problem
Troubling my patients may be
Give me the eye of an eagle, the heart of a lion
The hand of a woman and the cunning
Of the serpent of the rod of Aesculapius
So that I may help those who turn to me
With all the skill at my command;
Guide me to find those things which I need
In order to make an accurate assessment
On which depends the correct treatment.
And from the words of my great forebear
Jean Marie Charcot:
Let me cure sometimes; heal often;
But comfort ALWAYS those who are sick,
And bring assurance of eternal life
To those who are faced with Unbeing.
There is no doubt that group prayer has an important role. This has nothing to do with any common religious beliefs or shared credo; peoples of different race and religion can pray together comfortably and harmoniously.
It has everything to do with uniting the collective forces of creative mind to bring about a result.
The human mind and spirit has enormous powers for bringing about that result which it desires. Our subconscious, which we understand so little, is less to be feared than Freud taught and more of a friend capable of looking after our interests at a hidden background level. It can perform even when we are asleep. In fact, as a doctor, I can state than in certain ways it works best while we are asleep.
The self-development market is flooded with books of the positive affirmation type. They make the point over and over that we can programme our subconscious to solve problems for us. We can have what our heart desires, provided we let the forces of creative consciousness work for us.
But how much more successfully this can take place if there is a giant collective mental energy directed towards the problem. When we get several minds together something different occurs. Instead of being the collective sum or each there is a huge extra charge that comes into play, a multiplication effect that scientists call potentiation. US architect and philosopher Buckminster Fuller gave us the incisive word synergy for this. It means energy working together and coming up with more than the sum of parts.
A sort of 2 + 2 = 17 equation!
Why is it that people so often turn to prayer only after a serious illness, threat of death, times of war or when they have lost a beloved? In other words, when they have become desperate and cannot control the events in their lives any longer.
Is it because prayer has become their last hope? That nothing else, they feel, can save them from doom?
No, I don’t think so. I think the real answer is that at times of great distress or fear, a person is dragged out of the mire of materialism and everyday living and made, perhaps for the first time in a long time, to face – really face – the fact that we are spiritual beings after all. The threat or despair can be a real wake up call, which attunes us once again to our true nature.
It is only natural after that to assume our spirit guise and work things out from that point of view.
Presence Of Mind
Ideally, there would be no difference, no demarcation, between the prayer state and intense spiritual involvement and awareness of what we are doing at all times. One should put love and awareness of our Being into everything that we create. It is our nature to do so.
This is the Zen way – to be ever-mindful of what one is doing, so that one puts out the greatest possible spiritual energy in each act; and thus one gets back the maximum available spiritual energy. The Tea Ceremony is a good case in point, where the ritual emphasizes boldly and tastefully that each movement in the sequence has a value, a significance, which cannot be ignored or forgotten, without defiling the whole ceremony.
To live properly by these precepts is to make each small act we perform during the day a religious event in itself. In it we find delight, harmony and oneness with the God-force, Universal energy, Brahmin, or whatever you conceive the author of this life to be.