In last week’s post, I explored how whatever we think about a God “out there”, the interface with God is “in here,” within us. For me, and perhaps others, our non-conscious mind may be the only God with whom we have to do.
How, then, do we pray? How does prayer work if we are praying to ourselves? How can prayer to a being within me result in a divine intervention on behalf of those for whom I pray?
How I used to pray
In the Latter-day Saint tradition, prayer has a formula:
- We call upon our Heavenly Father
- We thank him for things
- We ask for things
- We close in the name of Jesus Christ and say amen
Our formula also includes a requirement to use reverential language in addressing God: we use “thee” and “thou” in English, in such a way that prayer language somehow differs from our casual speech.
When I learned Spanish for my mission, I learned how many languages have a formal and informal reference to “you.” To someone superior to me, I use the form “usted” to demonstrate my respect. When I’m talking to a friend, I use “tu,” to connect more equally and intimately with my friend, child, or lover. A missionary never uses the informal “tu” form to talk to others: we are always to show respect.
But in prayer, in almost all languages that include a formal/informal “you,” we use the informal. We speak to God as an intimate friend, not as a superior. Oddly enough, the “thee” and “thou” from archaic King James English we use in prayer were the informal form of English. A lover would always say to the beloved in those days, “I love thee.”
How our understanding of the God-Mind changes prayer
My previous post proposed that we have within us a constant companion in our non-conscious/subconscious mind. This entity lives and reasons outside of our conscious ego-selves, forming memories from observations and emotions, and cleaning up the confusion of our lives. Because we share memories and feelings with this entity, we are in a very intimate way connected. Our non-conscious mind is indeed a “constant companion,” often a “comforter,” who helps us sort out all truth.
However we define God outside of ourselves, the reality is that our non-conscious is the interface to our conscious selves through our thoughts and emotions. When we awake from a dream, or experience a thought/feeling outside of ourselves, we become aware of the work of our non-conscious entity within us. Thus, in a very real sense, our non-conscious is our interface with God.
Within each human being, we have both a human and a divine nature, not in conflict with one another, not with one over the other, but rather, in partnership: like life-long friends who care for each other, deeply.
How, then, would I communicate with such a friend? Would it be with very formal, stilted language? Would I have to address my friend as “My Father,” with its implication of maleness and patriarchy over me? Would I have to invoke my elder brother’s name to talk to my friend? Would I use “thee” and “thou?”
Maybe I would. Sometimes friends develop a special kind of speech to talk to one another. Because I was raised with a specific Latter-day Saint formula for prayer, I tend to use “Lord” and “Heavenly Father” even if I do not accept the patriarchal aspect these words imply. But I do not think for personal prayer, the words we use—if any—actually matter: our friend understands us.
It seems to me that it’s more important for me to realize that this friend is there for me, comforting me, guiding me, a sounding board–always available, for me to articulate my concerns.
An experiment on Prayer
Over the past few weeks, I have been exploring prayer as a means to improve my contemplation each morning. The formula I’m using is not as important as the act of doing it—there are many formulas to follow. Each day I am feeling an increase in love from and for this constant companion within me as we discover the “more” that is beyond both of us.
The idea that I am talking through a real entity present with me fundamentally changes my perspective. I no longer am looking to ask for a bunch of things. Instead, I’m more reflective, more grateful, more seeking of guidance and reconciliation than intervention.
And I’m getting answers. I’m finding myself able to overcome challenges and frustrations easier, because I know there is someone alongside of me coaching me and helping me through my fears and anxieties. Prayer is no longer a magical process of getting divine intervention, but I’m experiencing the miracle of divine compassion and love, transforming my heart and actions. And I’m finding that my friend has a wicked sense of humor, and although deeply aware of my feelings, never condemns me for them.
In a couple of weeks, on Thursday, March 19th, Latter-day Faith will conduct a virtual fireside on Prayer. I’m looking forward to sharing our experiences with prayer, to make it the means for increasing our conscious contact with the God of our understanding.
What are your thoughts on prayer?
A common refrain in Christianity today is someone claiming something like this: “There are those who think of Jesus is merely a great teacher of morals or wisdom. But we know he is actually the Son of God and Savior of the world!” It is a binary, either/or proposition intended to discourage people from exploring the deeper, wisdom teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Well, in this episode, friends Jana Spangler, Thomas McConkie, and LDF host Dan Wotherspoon turn their attention directly upon sayings and parables and types of consciousness that are, indeed, best read and understood through wisdom and contemplative lenses. Each panelist tells her or his own “Jesus story,” and also talks about various scriptural passages and insights that only come truly alive when approaching Jesus in this way. It’s a wonderful conversation, followed by beautiful centering exercise led by Thomas.
Listen in! Be ready to re-embrace a powerful and even more compelling Jesus!
Philip G. McLemore, “The Yoga of Christ,” Sunstone, June 2007
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambala, 2008)
Andrew Harvey, Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ (TarcherPerigee, 1999)
Terryl and Fiona Givens, The Christ Who Heals: How God Restored the Truth That Saves Us (Deseret Book, 2017)
Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God (David C. Cook, 2009)
Thomas Withlin McConkie, Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map (Mormon Stages, 2015)
Next Latter-day Faith Retreat Information and Registration
Ignatius of Loyola was much like many of us: he aspired to be great and significant in the world, but as luck would have it, he was injured, and spent much of a year in recovery. During this period, he had few books to read, so he spent his days reading scripture and daydreaming.
He found that his daydreams of grandeur, of recovering the life he once aspired to, caused him to feel depressed. On the other hand, his daydreams of imagining himself within the stories of scripture brought him joy. In fact, as he lived within the narrative about the life of Jesus, he came to a personal relationship with the subject of scripture: the Christ as manifest in both the narrative and in his creative consciousness. He came to know God, not just know about God.
Motivated by his love for and with Jesus, he and his companions devoted their lives to not just reading and contemplation, but to active involvement in the world: that the love of Jesus is best manifest in our being men and women for and with others. They founded the “Society of Jesus”—Jesuits—based upon these principles of seeing God in all things, of practicing spiritual exercises including imaginative reading of scripture, of daily self-examination, and practicing love in the world, all for the greater glory of God.
I personally have found great benefit in reading scripture the Ignatian Way, that is, allowing scripture to open up as a creative, spiritual exercise, to live within the narrative, or as Nephi put it in the Book of Mormon, to liken scripture to ourselves.
To read the Scriptures as Ignatius suggests is not about just reading the text. Rather, it focuses on specific stories. For example, during the first phases of Ignatian spiritual exercises, it’s a good idea to explore the nature of sin—not as a stain on our soul, but as the process of learning to discern. The story of the Garden of Eden is particularly useful, exploring how Eve and Adam made choices in the Garden, and how those choices enabled them to learn through their own experience how to discern good and evil.
Another story is the birth narrative in Luke. In the video “Mr Krueger’s Christmas,” the title character played by Jimmy Stewart finds himself daydreaming as if he were physically present at the birth of Jesus. As he looks around, he sees shepherds, animals, Mary and Joseph, and of course the Jesus child. As he walks through the narrative, he connects in relationship with the baby Jesus, praying from his heart and enveloped in love.
My personal encounter with Ignatian spiritual reading of scripture was in contemplating the Atonement as expressed in John chapters 13-17: the “Last Supper.” As I entered the narrative, I heard the words of the Savior through the voice of my deceased mother express God’s intimate, personal, and unconditional love for me. In turn, if I love God, I will be motivated to love others “as God loves me,” that is, with intimate, personal, and unconditional love. The experience transformed everything I thought I knew about the Atonement. Click here to read the full article.
So how does Ignatian Imaginative Reading work for me?
Before reading scripture, I find it very helpful to prepare for the experience, by going to my own personal sacred space—a place outside of the noise of the world: could be a room in my house, could be in a library or church, could be anywhere where I can be outside of my daily interruptions and concerns.
There are many ways of imaginative reading—just use your imagination! The key, in my impression, is to find a story that resonates with me, then, reading the story four ways.
- I read the text as written, straight through, so that I can remind myself of the complete story line: What is the story itself saying?
- Next I read the text for what isn’t written: What is implied in the narrative? Who is witnessing this story? What are the factors, before and after, that affect the story line?
- Next I let the text go and put myself inside the narrative. Who am I in this story? Perhaps I could be one of the named actors, or simply an observer. Perhaps, in the story of Jesus’ birth, I’m one of the animals. I’m creative here—I’m putting myself in the story and letting my creative imagination run with it. I ask myself: What are my senses telling me as I become fully aware of the story? What am I feeling? What are my emotions telling me? This reading is purely contemplative—I allow the spirit to enter my heart and reveal what I need to learn from this reading.
- Finally, I return to the text itself. Yes, I have had an experience beyond the text in my imagination, but now, as I read the text, is there new meaning to be found? How does my new perspective open up the text to me to make me a better person—more loving towards and with others? How has God spoken love to me in this text?
As I close my reading session, I find myself physically and emotionally giving gratitude for the text. For me, I do a little ritual of closing the text and my eyes, touching the text to my forehead, and giving thanks for the experience I felt in the text.
Again, there are many ways to read scripture, and my approach, informed by Ignatian Spirituality is but one way. The key, in my impression, is to allow the text to open up for me, to speak to me, to become alive in my imagination, and then walk the journey of faith according to the inspiration I feel thereby.
I hope this helps. What are your thoughts about how you read scripture?