Tag Archives: Prayer

An Humble Prayer

Here is a simple poem by Louis Untermeyer on the subject of prayer that I really like. Oh, if I could only write poetry!

Prayer
God, though this life is but a wraith,
Although we know not what we use,
Although we grope with little faith,
Give me the heart to fight – and lose.
Ever insurgent let me be,
Make me more daring than devout;
From sleek contentment keep me free,
And fill me with a buoyant doubt.
Open my eyes to vision girt
With beauty, and with with wonder lit -
But let me always see the dirt,
And all that spawn and die in it.
Open my ears to music; let
Me thrill with Spring’s first flutes and drums -
But never let me dare forget
The bitter ballads of the slums.
From compromise and things half-done,
Keep me, with stern and stubborn pride;
And when, at last, the fight is won,
God, keep me still unsatisfied.
– Louis Untermeyer

Nuances of Prayer

We are inextricably caught up in the time-space continuum.   Everything we think,
do, and say is influenced by our bondage to this master. It is called
“reality.”

When we pray, for example, we tend to think of God as “Someone” who is “out
there” and I remember some in my youth who appeared to even think it was
necessary to raise one’s voice in prayer as if volume made a difference. And
then “earnestness” was an issue—if we prayed with the utmost passion and
sincerity, the fervor itself would make a difference. And, of course, we had to
“live right” or God certainly would not hear us!  We had not heard of T.S. Eliot who described prayer as “more than an order of words, or the sound of the voice praying, or the conscious occupation of the praying mind.”

The nuances of language are very revealing, even in prayer, as they reveal our
attitude, our spiritual perspective. This led to a change in my word
selection when I prayed for someone else. For example, if I prayed for a friend
or relative back then who was in distress, I prayed, “Lord, send your Spirit to
comfort them.” But, I now see that God’s Spirit is not time-bound as we are and will not be sent anymore than He already has been sent.  Therefore, I now pray, “Lord, may he/she be aware of your Presence today and feel your Spirit’s healing, comforting touch.”

For God is always with us. He is intrinsic to our being itself. All we have to
do to commune with Him is to merely get out of the way.

Meditative prayer…again!

I have often quoted a line from Hamlet re prayerKing Claudius is on his knees, in prayer, saying, “My words fly up.  My thoughts remain below.  Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

That is a very subtle observation as is often the case when something is profound.  Shakespeare noted the distinction between a prosaic, formal, perfunctory prayer and one that is essentially meditation, “thoughts” and “words” conjoined.   Richard Rohr’s blog posting of today presents this notion more eloquently:

In what is commonly called prayer, you and your hurts, needs, and perspectives are still the central reference point, not really God. But you have decided to invite a Major Power in to help you with your already determined solution! God can perhaps help you get what you want, but it is still a self-centered desire, instead of God’s much better role—which is to help you know what you really desire (Luke 11:13, Matthew 7:11). It always takes a bit of time to widen this lens, and therefore the screen, of life.

One goes through serious withdrawal pain for a while until the screen is widened to a high-definition screen. It is work to learn how to pray, largely the work of emptying the mind and filling the heart—that is prayer in one concise and truthful phrase. Or as some say, “pulling the mind down into the heart” until they both operate as one.

Prayer and humility

I have discoursed several times re prayer and its meditative function. I don’t believe that God sits “up there” waiting to bestow “stuff” on us when we want or to bail us out of a mess we have created with our life. I think prayer, like all dimensions of spirituality, is ultimately a mystery. I don’t know definitively how it works but I do believe that it is important that we pray.  So I think you should pray as you are inclined to pray. You know as much about this mystery as I do. But I hope that you will consider the perspective that I offer from time to time.

Rabbi Adam Jacobs made an interesting point in the Huffington Post that I would like to share. He noted that in the Hebrew language the word “to pray” is a reflexive verb, something you do to yourself. And the root of the word means “to judge”, “rendering the actual translation of prayer as something more akin to self-evaluation. Therefore, when a person stands before God to communicate, she is taking stock of her capabilities, current level of spiritual consciousness and willingness to accept reality for what it truly is. The deeper notion is that we are willfully trying to integrate the inescapable fact that we are utterly dependent on the Creator.”
The upshot of this observation is that humility is an essential element in prayer. And humility always comes hard to those of us who have been educated into “humility.”  And I close with my favorite Shakespearean observation re prayer, King Claudius on his knees in prayer, offering the following observation, “My words fly up.  My thoughts remain below.  Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

“Teach us to pray”

T.S. Eliot declared that, Prayer is more than an order of words, or the sounds of the voice praying, or the conscious occupation of the praying mind.” He recognized that prayer is not a perfunctory performance “because it is what Christians do”. You know, “Wind me up and watch me pray and therefore I’m a Christian.”

Prayer is a mystery and I’m not for sure how to define it. I think it always starts as a “perfunctory performance” but at some point in one’s life it needs to go beyond, to become more of a meditative enterprise.

I love what Shakespeare had to say about prayer in Hamlet. Hamlet’s step father, Claudius, is on his knees praying and lamented, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” Shakespeare recognized that when we merely throw words around, when we trot out the usual “prayer” verbiage, when we are consciously choosing our words so that we “pray right”, then our prayers “never to heaven go.”

I recently started reading Thomas R. Kelley’s book, A Testament of Devotion, and he noted the following re prayer: We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. Something of our punctiform selfhood is weakened, but never lost. All we can say is, ‘Prayer is taking place, and I am given to be in the orbit.’

This is an overwhelming notion that I am presenting here. And I don’t have it figured out. And I don’t think the right thing to do is to wait until I have it figured out. The right thing to do is to pray and always remember what the Apostles asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (See Luke ch. 11))

Prayer and Presence

Prayer continues to be an essential part of my life.  And for me it is “meditative prayer” which continues to be a challenge because of that “monkey mind” which squeaks endlessly and jumps around….hmmm….well, like a monkey!  The goal is focus in which our hearts and minds are wholly open to God and not given to distractions.  Shakespeare best described this prayerful dilemma when Claudius (in Hamlet), kneeling to pray, lamented, “My words fly up.  My thoughts remain below.  Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

I also try to choose my words wisely in prayer.  I try to avoid, for example, saying, “Come Lord Jesus.”  For, he has already come and is present in all of our hearts.  To say, “Come Lord Jesus” is to speak of Him as if he is out there, not reflecting an awareness of his inner presence.  He is always here.  In fact, he is intrinsic to our very being.  In fact, without Him we would not even have “be-ing”.  This is relevant to the famous words of Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I,  (my emphasis) but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  Paul was recognizing that his “not I” was now prevalent in his life–Christ.

When I pray for healing, I don’t pray, “Lord, please visit “x” with your healing power.”  I pray, “Lord, may “x” become aware today of your healing presence.”  For God’s presence, including his “healing presence”, is always with us.  All we have to do is get out of the way, let the ego’s grip on our life dissipate a bit, and the Spirit of the Lord is waiting.

self soothing strategies

In my practice as a therapist, “self-soothing” strategies were a basic intervention that I offered.  This refers to behaviors and patterns of thought which would help the client cope more adaptively with “the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to.”  (Shakespeare, “Hamlet”)   These could be something as simple as saying a brief mantra from time to time, planting a flower, taking a walk, watching a favorite tv show, or preparing a special meal.

I was made aware last week how this same notion of “self-soothing” can apply to spirituality/religion.  I was at a thrift shop and encountered a person who frustrated and angered me, inducing…shall we say…unsavory thoughts.  I immediately trotted out a little contrivance that I’ve borrowed from the Buddhists—“mindfulness”—and was able to then step back from moment and recognize this evocation of feelings in my heart.  I recognized that this immediately made me feel better about myself and spared me from the orgy of shame and guilt which once would have beset me.

Now some would respond to an experience like this with a trip to the confessional or would silently (or openly) castigate himself/herself for being such a sinner.  But each of these three maneuvers is merely a “self-soothing” activity and each has its place….though I much prefer mine!  It is important to have strategies to make us feel better about ourselves, to assuage our guilt/shame over the misdeeds or errant thoughts that come daily.