Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 14, 2012

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The Habit of Prayer

(Spiritual Habits: Part 2 of 7)

In prayer, at its best, we give our attention, energy, and heart to the Sacred and we receive purity, peace, and love. Itís a pretty good deal all the way round. Most significant for our spiritual work is the purifying nature of prayer. It is inevitably humbling truly to attempt to present ourselves before the Divine, to stand before the Infinite One. However we may or may not conceive of the Higher, we know that somehow God far transcends us. We can only relate ourselves to That to the extent we shed our arrogance and self-centeredness, the sure belief that we personally are the important center of the universe. The spiritual person is free, or at least becoming free, of all that.

Regular prayer chips away at egoism. In fact, sincere and regular prayer takes us beyond belief altogether, by bringing us into direct experience, however veiled, of the Sacred and Its precincts. In that inner place, life is very different: not so fragmented and contentious, not so fragile and incomplete. We come toward this very simply by representing to ourselves, as we pray, that our prayer is addressed, not to nothing, but to some One, the Divine One, Who is present and listening right now, even if beyond our perception. This is the key that keeps our prayer from being a rote, perfunctory, and empty repetition. When we have the feeling that we are standing before the Divine, it sobers us, awakens us, and opens our heart. It helps us understand that we are here for a reason, even if we cannot comprehend that reason. It arouses in us the wish to live rightly, to make the best of our life. It alerts us to the possibility that that best life somehow concerns our inner development, service, and spirituality as much or more than it concerns outward success.

So how do we create, reinvigorate, or extend our regular habits of prayer? We begin with cultivating our faith that there is a Higher Power, that there is much more to reality than science reveals, that this remarkable universe was and is being created. Of course, prayer itself increases our faith by bringing us closer to the Source. But we can also cultivate faith by contemplating this world, its complexity and beauty, our lack of understanding what makes it tick and what decides which possibilities get realized. Is love just some psychological trait that helped us survive the long rigors of evolution? Did this universe just create itself, by accident? Is there no greatness behind the scenes that beckons to us? Who am I really? When I look deeply into myself, do I find nothing? Or chaos? Why are we here? Are all those who follow a religious way just deluded holdovers from a pre-scientific era? Do the enlightened see that nothing is sacred, that everything is sacred, or that there is a Sacred One? Deep questioning awakens faith, because the answers lie beyond our mind, beyond our ordinary perceptions. And prayer is a road toward the answer.

So how should we pray? Usually, the best way is to draw on the liturgy of our childhood religion, or another religion that may have attracted us. Religions are of full of prayers. We look for those prayers that touch us personally. And if we do not find any, we create our own. The important qualities of the form are that it invite us, that it enable us fully to engage our mind and heart in the prayer, and that it orient us toward the Divine.

Then we look to make it regular. How we do that depends on the nature and length of the prayer: perhaps each morning before we meditate or at the end of our meditation or perhaps each evening, or all three. We can have different prayers for different circumstances. Some prayers may be petitionary in nature, asking for the welfare of our family, neighbors, and our self. Some prayers may be contemplative, looking to open to a certain sacred quality, like love or acceptance, or looking to open ourselves directly to the Divine. Other prayers may be of gratitude, such as at the beginning of a meal or at the safe end of a journey. Some may be the formal, set prayers of a religion, done at certain times of the day or the week or the year, on our own or in a community of prayer. Some may be spoken or chanted, others said inwardly and silently. Still others may have no words.

Some prayers may be episodic or spontaneous, while others are regular and repeated. The latter create a space for the former. To develop that regularity, we choose one prayer and one regular daily time for it. And then we do it. If we persist, soon enough it becomes a habit. We need to monitor that habit, not just the regularity but also the quality. We make sure that we bring the whole of ourselves to the prayer: our heart, mind, body, attention, and intention. The more fully we enter it, the more useful it is.

At first prayer is a one-way conversation, from us to the Divine. At times it can be a celebration in gratitude. More and more, an appreciative joy becomes our attitude toward life. And in contemplative prayer it becomes an intimate participation in the root of world: in that silence we enter the Holy Land. We are meant for that. Prayer is one of the principal factors that give our life completeness.

For this week, invite yourself to pray.

See also Prayer and Stages of Prayer


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