Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of February 4, 2008

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Prayer: Method and Ritual

(Part 2 of 9 in the Inner Work Series: The Stages of Prayer)

In childhood we learn about God through the customs and rituals of our family religion. Those rituals speak to us directly and emotionally, bypassing the confused filter of our thinking brain. Communal worship rituals open the way to faith. We see and feel the faith of our fellow worshippers. Immersed in that faith ritual, it soaks into our developing soul. The community of faith and the power of its rituals lead us beyond the rational toward the ineffable.

The training we receive in religious practices opens us to the love and wisdom embodied therein. The practices and rituals of all the major religions have been honed and perfected over the centuries for maximum effect. Furthermore, the energies and will of the millions of people who have engaged in those rituals imbues them with a sacred power to draw us toward the Divine. Each time we reenact such a worship service the work of our predecessors gives us wings.

Traditional religious rituals come to us with fixed form. Some intended for community action, while others may be performed alone. We may also develop our own personal rituals, of meditation or prayer for example, that gain in power over the years. Similarly, we create family faith customs such as grace before meals. Returning to these established forms and the wisdom embodied within them, offers us tried and true methods for raising our soul toward the sacred.

When we begin practicing any religious ritual or prayer, our first challenge is to learn its form, the words and/or melody of the prayer, the gestures, the sequence, and so on. We rightly focus on these external features. However, the day may come when the practice seems empty or devoid of meaning. Then we realize that its true meaning must come from within. Thus begins our journey from form to formless, from the external ritual to its inner depth.

Within the form, we focus on adopting an appropriate prayerful attitude. For example, when we enter a religious ritual, whether in a communal house of worship or on our own, we enter a sacred space. A sober awe descends as our soul responds to the spiritual opening provided by the ritual. We feel grateful for this portal to the ocean of love. We open our heart to the Divine. We seek to draw and be drawn closer to the Sacred One. And the external form of the practice serves as the ladder on which we ascend.

The religion of our childhood can be an effective doorway to the sacred, because of our comfort with it and the connection to our family heritage. If those forms now seem empty and meaningless, we can reach toward the depth within them, within us.

For this week, renew and deepen your work with religious practices, forms or rituals.


     

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