On the Experience of Mental Prayer

We want to be spiritual experts, masters of A Course in Miracles, Christian gurus unto those in despair and loss. And yet over and over we find that we are in despair, weย suffer loss. We are the lost, we are the forsaken.

Faced with this poverty we go back to the start we maybe never left: we pray as children: we beg the Father for mercy and supplication. And some us – perhaps – see this crying out as failure and feel guilty accordingly.

There is – there is always – another way.

So we fall to our knees and beg God to get us out of this hard place in which we presently find ourselves, so what? So we pray to Jesus – literally to the executed peasant whose brief ministry ended over two thousand years ago – to ease our pain and suffering, so what?

It is tempting to think the wise and enlightened never sink to this level – oral prayers beseeching supernatural agents to benevolently intervene on our behalf. It is a problem in the ACIM community that folks are so intent on being well and wise and woke that they can’t accept their brokenness and anguish and confusion. They can’t meet their own self where and as it is.

I speak here from experience.

We are just people having this particular experience of being people, which includes – to varying degrees – pain and loss and confusion. Sometimes it hurts to be who and what we are. Sometimes it hurts bad.

It is not a crime to feel this way. And it is not a crime to turn to simple mental prayers as a response to these feelings.

Mental prayer is vocal and basic. It is the child calling to her father or mother. It is an urgent cry for instant attention, reflecting a primal need to be held in arms whose strength and presence are unconditional and beyond any doubt or question. Mental prayer arises from our interior desire to be perfectly safe, perfectly loved, perfectly fed, et cetera et cetera.

To be human is to have needs and when those needs aren’t met, to strive to meet them. Thus, part of being human is also to face the simple truth that those needs are not always met – sometimes to the point where our discomfort turns to anguish, inconvenience to crisis. Of course we cry out. What else could we do?

To turn to Jesus in dialogue – to literally ask him for aid the way we might ask a parent or partner or therapist – is a way of coming back to our bodies, to the nontrivial clarity of being itself. It reminds us of the stillness and grace that naturally inheres in this being, this way.

How does mental prayer do this? By helping us to simply breathe. We throw our plea at our image of Jesus – the brother who loves us unconditionally, who mediates for us the supernatural agency of God, who never says no or sees any problem as insignificant – and because he’s got it, we can let go and draw a breath. And then another.

And in the simple rhythm of breathing, which is simply to be, we remember some of the essential facts of this experience: that we are not alone, that everything passes, that there is always something we can do – for ourselves and/or for others – that can calm the raging storm inside us.

The goal is not to perfect our external circumstances. That will never happen anyway. Nor is it to perfect our interior psychological spiritual balance so that nothing can ruffle or frighten or disorient or trouble us. That isn’t going to happen either, not perfectly.

The point, really, is simply learn how to not freak out when our actual experience of being human deviates from our projection of what that experience should be. Sometimes the actuality and the projection line up fine. But frequently they don’t. We have to see this and not panic about it. Everything comes and goes. We want to be graceful and gentle about surfing the coming and going. That’s all.

So mental prayer is helpful to the extent it triggers some interior insight that in the fundamental sense, no matter how crazy or upset we are, nothing is happening that is new or wrong or permanent. It’s just life being life responding to life being life. It’s amenable, fixable, pliable. When we remember this, we remember that we are not alone and not deprived of our capacity to be – even in little, hardly noticeable ways – the healing we require.

Go for a walk, visit a neighbor, write a poem, compliment an activist whose work you admire, carry some canned goods to a food bank, sit quietly and compose a gratitude list, fill the bird feeder, do one thing on your to-do list, do something on someone else’s. Whatever. What hurts will pass; the hurt will pass.

It is a sign of spiritual maturity – not specialness – to accept and make use of prayer in the full breadth of its potential. Sometimes it is contemplative, sometimes transcendent, sometimes active. And sometimes it is the wordy gasping of the lost and forsaken, turning to a mythology they thought they had outgrown and left behind.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Cheryl February 26, 2018, 7:29 am

    Believing we have outgrown anything is part of the thought process that holds us on the circular path of becoming. At least, that is what MY ego tells me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    This morning, before reading your words, Sean, I considered how — outside of church, which I still attend for (mostly) non-spiritual reasons — I no longer pray words. Instead, there is this movement of opening to a sensed presence, holding the who or what or how of it in that space. Sometimes, though, I think the words might be necessary, may bring clarity to this mind that is often clotted with the thoughts it has invented about itself . . . and, well, about others.

    Perhaps this type of prayer, like anything that somehow allows us to see more deeply into the foundation of our belief system . . . to recognize that there is still more to be undone, that there is still at the core a premise we cling to. . .is helpful, even necessary. Until it isn’t.

    Like the Course. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Then again, what do I know? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Sean February 26, 2018, 9:48 am

      Yeah. It’s hard to get away from language & becoming and all that. Circles gotta circle. It seems to sort of inhere in the natural experience of being human.

      Thanks for reading, Cheryl.

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