Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of January 21, 2008

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The Stages of Prayer

The starting point of all prayer consists of a kernel of faith, however vague or weak, that there is SomeOne Who receives our prayer. Throughout our life of spiritual inner work, we cultivate that seed of faith, which grows and flowers through the stages of prayer, the stages of our developing soul.

In prayer we communicate with the Divine. We find a useful analogy in modern communications theory, which highlights the importance of the communications channel. The channel of prayer is our soul and the quality of our prayer depends on the quality of our soul. Here quality relates to questions like: Is there noise interfering with the communication? Does the signal fade on its way through the channel? Is the communication one-way or two-way? Is the signal source strong enough? Can we receive and recognize the Divine response?

The source of prayer is the one who prays. That is our will, our I. The strength of that signal source derives from our will, from our need and devotion. Through our inner work, we hone and purify our will, we develop wisdom and love.

The signal itself, the content of our prayer is our intention, the why and what of prayer. Our I sets our intention, choosing the form of prayer. The many forms of religious rituals and traditional prayers each help us shape our intention, our devotion, and our heart, which constitute the true content of prayer.

The medium or channel which carries our prayer is made of spiritual energies, the substance of our soul. Through our inner work, we accumulate, refine, and organize those energies to build our soul. All effective techniques and methods of spirituality, including prayer, act on our energies and engage our will.

The channel noise that masks the signal of prayer comes primarily from random thoughts that insert themselves into our moments of prayer. More generally, preoccupations distract us from prayer, springing leaks in the channel and attenuating our prayer directly. All true paths have some notion of non-distraction in prayer, of having our attention completely engaged in the prayer. The deeper the stillness, the more focused our attention, our will, the clearer the upward-bound channel. The deeper our stillness, the more relaxed, and the more love shapes our intention, the clearer the downward-bound channel. The noisier and leakier our channel, the quicker the prayer and response signals fade before reaching their destination.

The Divine response can come to us on many different levels, independent of the level of our prayer. This depends on the acts of that great and unfathomable Intelligence. Among those acts is the grace that enables us to pray, that raises the level of our prayer, and that makes our prayer more useful to the Divine. While engaged in prayer, or in preparation for prayer, aided by grace, we work to raise our spiritual level. The higher we ascend in the spiritual worlds, the higher the energies available for prayer, the more valuable our prayer is to the Sacred. Indeed, it may well be that the very reason we are here is because God needs our prayers.

Ultimately, with the supreme grace, prayer shifts from communication to communion, wherein the source and destination of prayer merge.

The practice of prayer serves the sacred and also serves us by developing our soul. In deep prayer high energies descend into us, blending with our sensitive energy and helping form our lower soul, our inner body. Furthermore, the unifying and purifying action on our will of deep prayer gradually forms our higher soul, the body of will.

Here is one view of the stages of prayer, from simple asking to the ultimate communion:

      1. Petitionary Prayer
      2. Prayer: Method and Ritual
      3. I Pray
      4. Commitment to Prayer
      5. Faith and Doubt
      6. We Serve Through Prayer
      7. Contemplative Prayer
      8. Ecstasy Through Prayer
      9. Unification

In the coming weeks, we will delve into each of these stages. For this week, look at the role of prayer in your life. If nonexistent, consider beginning again. If you do pray, pay attention to the quality of heart and intention you bring to prayer.


        

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