When we were children we were taught things that make no sense to a mature rationale mind. We were taught the entry level things calculated to appeal to a child, including that God is our Father (appropriate imagery) plus simple ritual and rote memory sayings we were told were how to pray.
That was good. It was the same in all western religions and it was calculated to inculcate in the mind of a child that there is a God; that He is our father; that he created everything; that He is good; that there is hope and that there is love everywhere that makes life beautiful.
Those are the main positives. We were also taught a back story intended to make us believe that God made US better than everyone else and that our way of believing and of relating to God is the only right way. You belong to a great club. You are very lucky to belong to this wonderful club. You can be kicked out of this wonderful club if you don’t obey its rules and believe the things we believe in the way we believe them. All western religions teach this in some way. This is the classic mind control method that organized religion uses on its followers – threats of separation from the community and eternal damnation and suffering. This is manmade, not God made. This is the way to extract wealth from the congregation. Giving wealth to the church was the way to being blessed. This is the “business” of religion. Without the business of religion there can be no institutionalization of it, no cathedrals, no rich pomp and pageantry, no organized political clout for religious interests (like making them tax free in case you forgot). This is more about you and God, not you and your church.
But what of Christ? To what extent did Christ tell us about how to pray? What ritualistic, institutionalized exercises did Christ place before us as impedimenta to prevent our prayers from being effective?
One of the most revealing projects one can set for himself is to go through the Bible and the religious literature of all the western religions and in doing that attempt to sort out what of that massive body of information came from Christ, what actually was derived from a statement directly attributed to Him. The result of this work produces two distinguishable bodies of material. The first obviously comes from Christ and is simple, direct, open and pure. The other is more corporate structure and public ritual, theater calculated to assist in producing religious spectacles and raising money – for upon each such occasion there is a fund raising portion.
It can be said that having church congregations is good socializing and a positive community resource, and that is usually true to an extent. It also costs money, as churches don’t operate without great expenses. So if you want it you support it with donations.
In our culture church is where we send our children to go to Bible class and associate with other children of the same ilk. That is thought to be positive, and in many ways it is positive. For adults it is a different story, more of a form of God Club for people who are into the politics and frippery of God Clubs everywhere. They breed bigotry; are loaded with politics; and are manipulated politically to support negative agendas in some convoluted interpretation of a presumed mandate from God. Keeping women in subordinated position, as second class citizens in the world is one such agenda. Intrusion into the private lives of people and families is another.
This is not about all that nonsense. This article is restricted to the subject of trying to help you to understand and appreciate prayer – what it is – how it really works – what its proper uses are – how easy it is when properly used- and the effect it has on you when you realize these things and regularly pray.
Among the primitive ancients there were many gods that were believed to affect everything in life – a god of sun, of rain, of wine, of day, of night, of fertility and on and on. They were prayed to by the communities on earth in the hope that each god would then do its job and the amenities of life would continue to spring from the earth.
Eventually monotheism became the common belief. We prayed to one God who rules over everything and who runs the universe according to His/Her own creative and other rules. To be sure, God our Creator operates according to some rather obvious rules, many of which have been scientifically discovered and corroborated. Through that regimen the natural process has become established and is maintained in cyclical pattern. This is easily seen from the mere act of living. Everything has its season.
To these rules man has added the rules of politics, control devices that by their nature could not possible have come from any beneficent God. We may well eventually disappear through the vicissitudes of the natural order, becoming unable or unwilling to continue to support our further existence, but we hasten that day and spoil our world through our political and social rules. We abuse everything we can abuse, people, animals and the physical world itself. This abuse has the effect of our continuing to expel ourselves from the Garden of Eden, the world. The man made rules can be seen for what they are by contrast with the creative, positive attributes of the rules of God.
What we find in today’s Bibles, therefore, is an inept and contradictory blending of inhospitable doctrines, some God ordained and the rest rather ineptly inserted by man and passed off as part of God’s law. One especially illustrative example of inept insertion of false notions is the idea and claim that God is male, our father. There is no reason for God to be assigned to a gender limitation wither of male or female. Assigning gender limits God’s capabilities per se. God is beyond gender. Belinda says it the best I have ever heard when she comments, “We know God cannot be male because God is omniscient”. Sorting these out reveals the true beauty of something worth preserving, as it will preserve us if not abused.
Having separated this God worthy material from the profanity of the Bible, we now know to what we can with any expectation of positive result direct our prayers. When one prays to some impossibilist authority, nothing can be expected. Directing our aspirations, our prayers to positive, creative and nurturing forces, on the other hand, carries a significantly higher prospect of fruition.
How is that actually done and to whom is it directed and how best might one present it?
We can begin with the words attributed to Jesus in Matthew’s gospel 6:5-14, where we are told not to make our praying an ostentatious public exercise; not to pray in congregations, but in a closet and in our mind. We are given the Lord’s prayer as our tone setting begging of our prayers and then it is up to us where our minds go.
When we spontaneously express a strongly held wish for something that is not selfish we are praying. Our dismay and prayer for an injured friend to do well is a prayer though we may not realize that is what we are doing rather automatically. The real indicators of what is prayer and what is not include that we are wishing in our thoughts for something positive for another; that we wish for a state of peace and of harmony; that we do not ask for material benefits; that we do not wish for harm in any direction. The single greatest prayer that we could ever wish for ourselves if that we be granted grace – grace to face what must be faced, without cringing or loudly exclaiming, with the calm that comes from actually believing that there is a solution to every difficulty and that we will find the solution if we just stick to concentrating on our own positive conduct rather than focusing on the shortcomings of others that we see all around us. That is at base what grace is, coping ability, being there for yourself and others without rancor and ranting, using our talents to get through the tough moments that we encounter so frequently. Lord, please give me tranquility of spirit and show me the way to attain grace in this difficult time.
Public displays of religiosity are described by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel as hypocritical. We should avoid joining in public prayer even though we may find ourselves in the midst of a crowd that is engaging in it themselves. We can remain within ourselves, in our minds, avoiding the theatrical gestures that are so ridiculously meaningless. Hand waiving, other gesticulations, jumping up and down, kneeling, saying hello, wearing silly costumes are all outward acts of display, not forms of prayer. Still and quiet are the hallmarks of prayer. To be sure, a certain amount of ritual has to be taught to children so that they may have the background to understand that prayer is a necessary element of living and that the congregation is used as a social training tool to connect them to religion. Eventually, as they grow, we wean them off the theatrics and teach them the real manner and uses of prayer. It’s OK to sing at parties and be outwardly joyous and exuberant. In fact it’s good. It’s what we do with the serious moments that this discussion deals.
Have you ever made a wish? That is very much what prayer is. Whether it is real prayer or wishful thought is important to know. Wishing for a new car is wishful thinking. Wishing that someone recover from an illness or injury is prayer even if you weren’t thinking about praying at the moment. That’s what prayer is – the quiet introspective moment when in your mind you ask for assistance to achieve a positive goal. When praying for yourself the positive goal that prayer could help you reach if you really want it is to obtain grace. Becoming a person of grace is an extremely high and positive goal in anyone’s life, for it means that you have learned to assign proper values in those moments when you are going to be making decisions what to do. Then you usually do the best option and get the best result of which you are capable at that moment regarding that particular subject. It is being quiet and thoughtful and analytical about the decisions you make and the things that you do, trying to do the most positive thing you can do in the light of how you perceive the situation at that moment.
Sometimes that can mean making a self-sacrificial decision because someone with you needs you to give them the gift of support even though you may know that you would rather they do something else. They may be in more emotional need than you at that moment, and the gift of your self sacrifice could be the one thing they absolutely and desperately need just then. When you can give emotional support gifts to others, that is a form of grace. Accepting responsibility for your actions even when to do so could be costly because you made a mistake calls for character, which is a form of grace. Moments of love given to someone without an expectation of immediate return on that psychic investment are moments of grace. Not taking unfair advantage of a situation when you easily could calls for character and grace. Asking God in your own mind to help you perform acts of grace is the single most important prayer you can pray. Over the long term, when you repeatedly conduct yourself with grace, you receive respect for who you have become. Respect is one of the great compensations enjoyed by people of grace. Respect includes trust and with those specific rewards from those around you the quality of your life improves, all because you have acted with grace whenever you had the opportunity to do so. Honesty and loyalty fall within the ambit of those characteristics as well. Now perhaps it is becoming clearer how the results of praying for grace influence your life in positive ways. Those are long term rewards requiring constancy from you. That becomes who you really are and what others perceive you to be.
Prayer for others becomes enhanced prayer when it is accompanied by your doing some act to further the chances that your prayer for them may actually bear fruit. Praying for someone’s recovery accompanied by giving blood or driving them to medical appointments or just by your being with them in their moments of apprehension are situations of enhanced prayer. The often heard expression “I’ll pray for you” has become like a greeting card in its uselessness these days. Saying that you will pray for someone could also be the prayer itself, because at that moment you really are wishing that they recover. Which it is at that particular moment depends on whether it has become just something that is nice to say in some social sense or whether at that moment you take a moment and seriously consider that you really do wish for them to get better and are also thinking of what you might be able to do to assist them or their families in some way. You might not be able to do anything right then and there, but that you tried to think of what you might be able to do transforms the empty social salute into a prayer. That is how psychic chemistry works.
The ability to pray is a great gift. While it is available to everyone, some are incapable of benefitting from it. The ability to appreciate that all life – whether you are a creationist or an evolutionist – has to have sprung from some original root is the beginning of realization that what you do with your belief system is a function of your limitations. Life didn’t come from Wal-Mart. In the history of the world no one has ever invented anything in any created sense of invention. What we call invention is actually our discovering ways to use things and forces that are already here for us as part of the creation of our world. The telephone, for example, represents the discovery of a way to use electricity and the materials of the earth to fabricate equipment. I marvel at the ridiculous argument between creationists and evolutionists. They somehow are incapable of recognizing that both are the same story. There was, to be sure, an original moment, and since that original moment there has been growth and development. Life is a motion picture, not a snap shot.
Everyone knows that and that aspect of our existence encompasses evolution as well as the moment of coming into existence. If you can’t appreciate the genius of how the natural order and processes of this world work in their limitless complexities, and you think that it’s all about a lot of junk being thrown against some wall to see what would happen, that speaks to your limitations rather than to accurate observation. When the extent of the world is defined by you as the extent of what you can see, perhaps it is your limitation and incapability to perceive reality that is driving your opinions.
For those who are able to accept that we still have growth to accomplish in every possible dimension, the ability to pray and to accept the notion of an ultimate genius creative power is an ultimate reward. You can be an optimist despite what may be going on around you at any given moment. You have hope and dreams. Those are also the gifts that accompany prayer. You can be as cynical as you like with good reason when you speak or think about how people treat each other, but with regard to ultimate questions cynicism falls away in the face of observable natural realities. For that there are prayers of thanksgiving.
By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
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