By Mary-Alice and Richard Jafolla
Since the beginning of time, people of all civilizations have prayed. From prayer beads to prayer wheels, from solemn Gregorian chants to foot-stomping gospel music, from the fervent worshipers flogging their backs with a rope to the seeker quietly sitting cross-legged atop a mountain, there are as many ways of praying as there are people who pray.
When human circumstances seem overwhelming, we instinctively turn to prayer. There is something comforting about taking time out to commune with a Higher Power-to savor the sweet luxury of special moments of conscious awareness of God. The soul seeks the experience of raising itself to a spiritual level, where it can think and feel from its innate divinity. It is these heightened moments which satisfy-which give us the strength to go forward, the joy to warm our hearts, the comfort to ease our sorrows.
What Is Prayer?
Prayer in its simplest form is any conscious attempt to experience the presence of God. Prayer is a deliberate activity-one of seeking to recognize our oneness with God, of opening ourselves to the power of God as it moves through us in new and wonderful ways. Once this happens, however, prayer becomes something even more. As our awareness of the presence of God expands, prayer becomes the experience of being part of God, of centering ourselves directly in the creative flow of the universe, of perceiving things not with human eyes or human ears or human minds but from the divinity within us. We pray not to God or for God, as something separate from us, but from that sacred presence which is our very essence.
And so we come to see that the purpose of prayer is not to fill an earthly need-new car, better relationship, healing-but to satisfy the natural longing in our souls not only to experience our Creator but actually to live from that experience. Even if we pray for specific things, the underlying need is really the need to experience our spirituality, to feel our oneness with God, to sense the comfort and the guidance and the healing which rise up out of opening ourselves to God.
Can “things” ever really satisfy our souls? Sooner or later we realize that true satisfaction comes only from finding God. As Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity declared, “The real search of all people is for God. They may think they are looking for other things, but they must eventually admit that it is God they seek.”
While historically we may have prayed to a Higher Power outside ourselves, imploring for things and outer changes in our lives, we are now discovering that this Power is omnipresent and dwells within each of us.
As a separated drop of ocean water eventually makes its way back to the sea, we are inexorably drawn back into the awareness of our oneness with God. The drop of water may evaporate and be drawn into the clouds to be blown by wind and fall as snow on the highest mountain. Eventually the snow will melt and the drop will become part of a trickle and then a stream and then a river until finally it returns to the sea. If we could suspend reason for a moment, it might seem that at various points in its journey, the drop may pray to melt or to be part of the trickle, or it may pray to join a stream or a river. But what it really “wants” is to find the ocean again.
Our prayers are to find God again-to be lifted by Spirit as It speaks and thinks and acts as us.
The Purpose of Prayer
Virtually every religion embraces some form of prayer, and followers of each religion are told to pray. But seldom are they taught how to pray, and so most people are troubled by doubts about whether they have been praying correctly.
Since the purpose of prayer is to know God, the highest use of prayer, then, is to announce our intention of opening ourselves to the presence of God. It is our endeavor to merge with and accept all the qualities of God-a heartfelt invitation to allow God’s life to be lived through us.
Therefore, we don’t have to pray specifically to change people or circumstances. Our prayers are for the purpose of knowing God. Yet, interestingly, when we pray to experience God, the people and circumstances in our lives do change! Why? Because prayer has changed us. Centered in God’s presence, we then deal with the people and the circumstances of our lives in more loving ways. Prayer-seeking more of an awareness of God-changes us, and in changing us changes all aspects of our lives. It’s been said that prayer doesn’t change things; prayer changes people, and people change things. And this is so.
There is no need to beg God for anything, because we already have access to all that God is. So prayer becomes the way to express our thanks for life and its blessings-those we already have and those still to come. This is sometimes referred to as “affirmative prayer.” It acknowledges the truth that God is present in us and in every situation, and therefore the potential for us is beyond anything we can humanly imagine.
Thus, if we are praying specifically for more prosperity, for instance, we may attain it simply because we are focusing our energy on prosperity and making it a priority in our lives. Such attention may yield the results we are looking for. But that is opening ourselves to only part of what there is for us to experience. We have limited ourselves and may not be fully open to all the rest health, love, joy, peace, and the teeming font of absolute soul satisfaction which is available simply because we are filled with the presence of God.
How to Pray
What exactly is the right method of prayer? There are as many “right” methods of praying as there are people who pray!
More important than the method of praying is the reason for praying. Prayers are not to change God. They are to change us-to lift us into the experience of the presence of God.
The Creator cares about, sustains, maintains, and expresses Itself through the created. God is waiting for us to open ourselves to the sacred Presence being lived through us. God is waiting for us to express our willingness to be guided and nurtured. Therefore, one of our prayers might be to express this willingness: “Here 1 am, God. Live Your life through me.”
By opening our hearts to the love already there, by expressing our willingness to let the sacred Presence live through us, we take a big step in getting into a prayer mode. We each will do this in our own unique ways, of course, but a helpful means of preparing for our prayer experience is to relax the body, breathe easily, and turn the attention inward. And while there is no one “secret” method of prayer, the acknowledgment of the presence of God is always a meaningful .way to begin. This may take the form of words, aloud or silent.
What kinds of words? Whatever is in our hearts. Praying is a very simple activity and requires no special words-only the willingness, the hunger, to know God. Whatever phrases, in any language, that help move us into the place deep within our souls where we can begin to feel our oneness with God-these are prayers. (Some prayers are included later.)
Eventually, however, we move beyond words-beyond thoughts-into the vaster realm of pure Spirit. This is what is sometimes called “the silence.” During our times of prayer we discover what is waiting in the silence to be discovered. We dip into the eternal wellspring of divine life that exists within us. And there, in the absolute stillness, we simply rest in the exquisite sense of the presence of God.
During our quiet times of prayer we want to let go of any preconceived ideas, any doubts, any desired outcomes, and surrender ourselves completely to God. If we find a parade of thoughts marching by as we sit in the stillness, we can merely become indifferent to them. We can just allow them to pass through and then gently bring our focus back to the inner silence. Nonresistance is the key here, so that we remain tranquil and able to savor the experience.
“The secret place of the Most High” is an inner space, a very personal place of total silence, which no one else can ever enter or disturb. It is that eternal, changeless part of us that waits like a safe harbor to welcome us in calm or storm, in peace or turmoil. It is in the silence that we feel infused with God. It is in the silence that we find our peace and our strength, our joy and our healing.
A few moments in utter stillness will quickly bring us back to the realization that we are part of our Creator, part of the universe, and that truly we are not alone.
There are numerous opportunities every day to still the body and quiet the mind, allowing us to slip between the cracks of our outer world and into the inner one of silence. It might be in the quiet of the early morning or during some wordless moments of a prayer service or even during those brief times when we sit in noisy traffic waiting for the light to turn green! The stillness, in other words, is always available.
If we are newcomers to prayer and communion with God and are harassed by thoughts, feelings, and memories during times of prayer, it is important not to give up. By making it a daily habit to become consciously aware of the presence of God, it becomes easier and easier. Each prayer experience builds upon the previous one, having a cumulative effect. Ultimately, through prayer, we will be transformed into the God-centered beings we are meant to be. Our “joy will be full,” for we will be experiencing the unimaginable wonder of God’s presence expressing through our lives.
What of Miracles?
Sometimes things happen as a result of prayer which are so far beyond what we would have expected that we call them miracles. They happen when we get ourselves out of the way so that the activity of God can work freely. It is like removing the dam in a brook so that the water can tumble and flow where it will. What we call “miracles” are really natural out-workings of the activity of God, even when they take place instantaneously.
If we believe that we need a miracle in order to have something change in our lives (or someone else’s), if we feel that only a miracle can help, then we are automatically limiting the power of our prayer. In focusing too specifically, we are ignoring the fact that the very nature of God is wholeness, abundance, and love. As part of God’s creation, we already have access to all that. To tap into these attributes is natural, not miraculous. To pray for a miracle is to see wholeness, abundance, and love as the exceptions and not the rule.
Praying for Others
Often we find ourselves wanting to help someone else through prayer. This is good, for love and caring are built into our hearts and it is natural to want to help those who appear to be going through a difficult time in their lives. But how do we do this?
Once again we come back to the premise that it is the experience of God which is the real need of all people. Humanly, we are limited in the level of help we can give, but we can step up to a higher level. By living God-centered lives, we lift others by our mere presence. We become that unwavering bulwark of faith which sees the sacred Presence in everyone and every circumstance-even the ones which might be deemed needing “help.” When we live this way, we serve as blessings to everyone who touches our lives. Praying for others, therefore, becomes a matter of releasing those people to the activity of God and continually strengthening our own awareness of this activity in them.
A Holy Time
Prayer is a holy time within our hearts a time of worship, joy, and thanksgiving deep inside ourselves. It is a time of lying down in green pastures, being led beside the still waters, and having our souls restored. We come away from prayer renewed in body and mind and at peace with ourselves and our world.
Let us take time to pray, for it is the highest blessing we can give ourselves and others.
Prayers You May Want to Pray
Thank You, God, for Your ever-present sanctuary of love and joy and peace within my heart. My only need is to savor Your sweet presence in my life. I trust-truly trust-that 1 am in Your care and that all is well. Thank You, God.
Thank You, God, for Your living truth as it speaks to me in unmistakable ways. l still my body. I still my mind. I relax completely. I surrender myself to You, God. Fill me with Your presence as 1 listen in the silence.
Holy Presence within me, I am willing to release all feelings of hurt and anger and resentment. Help me know true forgiveness and see each person as part of You. Let my words and my actions serve only to glorify You. May they heal and comfort and harmonize my life and the lives of those around me. Thank You, God.
Great Spirit of this universe, how glorious are Your ways. My human mind cannot fully grasp the magnitude of all You are, yet I know I am Yours. Thank You for the safety of Your guiding Presence-wherever I am, whatever 1 do.
Thank You, God, for the growing awareness of who 1 am. You have created me to express You. I make the commitment today to be Your hands, Your voice, Your heart. Live Your life through me-fully and completely.
The cells of my body shout for joy as they resurrect into new life! Thank You, God, for Your powerful healing presence as it touches every atom of my body, calling forth a radiant wholeness.
I choose this day to serve You, God-to let my love radiate to all people and to be an inspiration to help lift others. My only prayer is to know You. Aware of Your sacred presence within me, I am a blessing to all whose lives 1 touch.
Gentle Spirit, I have heard Your call. I feel You drawing me closer to the realization of Your presence in my life. I hunger to know You more. l want to love You more and serve You more. l am willing to let You take charge of my life. Show me Your way, God, for 1 am ready.
Extra Prayer Support
Sometimes people need help in praying-extra spiritual support when it feels too difficult to go it alone. In times like these it is comforting to be able to contact a prayer ministry such as Silent Unity, one of the oldest and largest prayer ministries in the world. Silent Unity serves people of all faiths. There is never a charge, and all prayer requests are treated with reverence and strictest confidentiality and are enfolded in prayer for thirty days.
The work of Silent Unity is based on the belief that true soul satisfaction can only come by knowing God-that experiencing the presence of God is the real need. In other words, God doesn’t have what we want-God is what we want.
Silent Unity is there to help people know their oneness with God, that they may open themselves to the presence of God and recognize this divine presence in all people and circumstances. Prayer support is available 24 hours a day by calling (816) 246-5400, or by writing Silent Unity, 1901 NW Blue Parkway, Unity Village, MO 64065-0001. (Should you ever be unable to pay for your call, you may use this toll-free number: 1-800-669-7729.)