It is lovely when you are suffering to know that someone is carrying the icon of your presence on the altar of their heart. John O’Donahue
Since our last writing on May 26, we have continued to walk in the darkness of heartache and uncertainty as our granddaughter continues her slow journey of healing with its many ups and downs. We know that prayer is essential at this time, and are deeply grateful for all those who are adding their prayers to ours. This is especially important now as I find myself struggling in my own prayer life, and draw comfort in knowing that there is a global community that is supporting us in healing Light and Love. I also realize that the questions and difficulties I am experiencing at this emotionally traumatic time are part of a process that can lead to the deepening and purification of prayer. I would like to share with you these reflections as part of my ongoing spiritual exploration, which I have found leads to no final answers but carries me further into the darkness where “not knowing” may eventually be transformed into a deeper “knowing.”
One of the first issues that arose for me as I began this journey through darkness was a serious questioning of how I should pray. I know that most people pray by asking for specific results and visualizing positive outcomes for healing; however, I am deeply engaged in “centering prayer,” a practice of self-emptying that follows the model of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “not my will but Thine be done.” While I did pray for healing, I didn’t feel comfortable in praying for specific outcomes. Instead my prayer centered mostly on simply resting in the Heart of Love, being there with my beloved granddaughter, knowing that “all will be well” because we always live in the flowing stream of divine Love.
But at this critical time the question inevitably arose: Is this type of prayer enough? Especially after the first major setback in the healing process, I was plagued with doubts: maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough, or being specific enough about what needed to happen! This really surprised me because my rational mind had always dismissed the idea that it is a specific type or intensity of prayer that “works,” but now I could certainly see why someone in an extremely emotional situation might feel this way. And I wondered if perhaps they were even right. So I have been grappling with my prayer life at this very existential level; at this point in my understanding, I have come to believe that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to pray. All forms of prayer are good – it is the intention of love that is the important component of intercessory prayer.
I recently heard this phrase from the Celtic wisdom teacher John O’Donahue: “Each one of us comes from a different place in the circle of the divine so that the prayer of each soul is a different prayer…” So I can honor all the ways that others pray as I continue to pray in the way that I am guided by the Spirit, knowing that ultimately it is one prayer that flows from the heart.
I have also found that this experience has deepened and clarified my belief in the power of prayer. At this time I don’t approach intercessory prayer as petitions directed to a “God out there” to intervene in earthly affairs, but instead experience prayer as an energetic exchange that has powerful effects on all levels. I believe that our primary human role is to serve as mediators between the earthly and spiritual realms, and so to act as co-creators with the Divine. The intention and attention we bring to prayer creates an energetic field that exerts significant influence in the spiritual realm that interpenetrates our earthly realm. Therefore, prayer has the power to change things in this world. But for me the ultimate purpose of prayer is not to bring about specific results but to change the energy of the field so that the power of Love may arise in new ways that greatly surpass our current limited visions.
What has been most distressing about my prayer life throughout this ordeal is that often I cannot even enter the quiet “prayer of the heart” that is the essence of the centering prayer practice. Even though this has been my primary mode of prayer for decades, I now find myself extremely distracted and with little energy for prayer even as I know that this is when it is most needed. So once again I question whether I am not praying as I “should” – not praying enough, not praying with the strength of intention. But it is in this dark night of prayer in which I feel that I can no longer pray as I once did that I finally realize that my own efforts to control the practice of prayer are useless and I find that further self-surrender is needed.
During this time I read a passage in David Frenette’s book The Path of Centering Prayer that was very helpful to me. In centering prayer, one begins with the “intention to consent to God’s presence and action… God’s action includes the purification and transformation of your idea of who God is, your felt ability to say yes to God, and sometimes even your capacity to pray. In the unknowing, the pure consent and the surrender of your ability to pray, you are brought to deep receptivity, so that the Spirit prays in you.” As the process of self-emptying prayer continues – letting go of the contents of the egoic mind, such as thoughts, feelings, sensations – now I must let go of the subtle egoic desire to control the process of prayer. Knowing that I cannot do this with my “small self” is a further letting go, another true lesson in experiential humility.
As I reflect on this insight, I remember the prayer by the 17th century Roman Catholic archbishop Francois Fenelon that has been meaningful to me throughout the years:
Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee,
Thou only knowest what I need…
I would have no desire other than to accomplish Thy will.
Teach me to pray.
Pray Thyself in me.
My intention to consent to God’s action within becomes my constant, fervent prayer: “Lord, pray Thyself in me.” The dark night of prayer continues, but at times the Light breaks through in the presence of the indwelling Christ. This is not a rational or egoic experience of prayer but an embodied, visceral experience of the opening of the heart to the flow of divine Love that holds all the suffering and the joy of the world. I receive this unexpected gift with gratitude as an answer to my prayer: “Lord, pray Thyself in me.”
The Universal Christ that always dwells within, the Christ that is our deepest being, is always “praying within me.” My verbal prayer is simply my conscious consent to the continual presence and action of the Divine that is within all of us. So through this dark time, when I often find it difficult to pray in any way, I can simply hold in my heart the intention for healing and wholeness – in whatever form that will take – and the Spirit will pray in and through me, as this deep prayer joins that of all others who have entered this Dance of Love.