Question — If we get what we earn, and are rewarded or penalized for our actions, then just what can we expect from prayer?
Comment — This subject is an important one and has many implications. But before we can begin to discuss the matter of prayer, it is advisable to drop from our consciousness the idea of an anthropomorphic Personal God enthroned in space, who dispenses good or evil, either according to His whim or fancy, or according to our desires. That concept, I feel, is erroneous; it denies justice and undermines faith — faith in the ultimate harmony of universal law.
Actually, the practical essence of prayer, as Jesus conceived it, is contained in his Gethsemane supplication: "Not my will, but Thine be done" — not my personal desire, but the will of the Divine. In other words, let the law of justice work its harmonizing and balancing effect, so that causes previously set in motion may work themselves out in our lives.
Question — If we with our personal wills seek special help now and get it, even if we know we don't really deserve it, would we be extending our credit, and must we pay in equivalent coin later?
Comment — While intense prayer of the personal-will type might temporarily divert the effects of specific causes, and in that sense only could we say that our "credit is extended," we can be mighty sure that the exact effect of every cause will, in time, catch up with us — and often with interest compounded. For let us not imagine that any amount of prayer will nullify the action of the great law of balance. There is no "remission of sin" in the sense commonly understood. Neither prayer nor "forgiveness" can alter the inflexibility of nature's universal working, and effect will follow cause, no matter how great a span of time may intervene between the one and the other.
Question — Probably everyone prays in one way or another, and of course we know that Jesus did — at least he is credited with the Lord's Prayer. Now there are parts of that prayer that don't seem to add up, yet I have heard it said that one can find the whole philosophy of life in it.
Comment — The Lord's Prayer does contain a whole philosophy of living. But prayer as it is generally practiced has wandered far from the injunctions of Jesus and indeed of all the great world teachers. Prayer today takes a variety of forms, nearly all of which may be classed as selfish: at best, they center on the needs of oneself rather than on others; and at the worst, they are nothing more nor less than an exploitation of one's divine heritage. By this I refer to those techniques of prayer that are becoming increasingly popular, whereby so-called "power, wealth, and intellectual vigor" may be had by concentrating on what we want. This type of prayer is packed with concentrated selfishness, and as such is extremely dangerous to the spiritual progress of the individual who practices it.
When fully understood, there is not one iota of selfishness in the Lord's Prayer. And yet who of us really grasps what Jesus meant? We learn the prayer in childhood; in adulthood we hear it recited with variations of piety; while in hymn it is sung by choirs the world over. But how has it affected our day-to-day thinking,
Question — I imagine we've all gone through a number of stages in our thinking about prayer. We all learned the common forms of prayer in church and Sunday school, but these never appealed to me as being practical. Nor did they seem what prayer should accomplish, in that most of this praying was with the idea of doing something to or for myself. Somehow I never felt that I had the right to ask for anything, having had so much in comparison with others. I rather felt like giving thanks for what I had, instead of asking for more, and thus attempting in some way to pay the freight, so to say, on my stay here. I never could see the idea of praying to any being, nor to any Deity directly, for the accomplishment of any specific earthly purpose. But I have always felt that just as in the field of physics nature runs things according to law, so it must be in spiritual things: you will receive in direct proportion to that which you give. What then is the benefit you receive from praying?
Question — I also have never felt I had the right to ask for things. Praying has always meant to me just asking; and while I didn't have any Personal God I could recognize, or any anthropomorphic Being to ask favors of, just so I couldn't find anybody in particular to thank.
Comment — I understand exactly what you mean. There is a world of difference between the concept of a God somewhere off in space outside of man, who is supposed to be directly responsible for all that happens after he created us, and the idea of a Divine Intelligence at the heart of everything within the universe, from atom to sun to each of us. If we have this latter concept, then when it comes to praying we find ourselves thinking of the Lord's Prayer no longer as a means of having our petitions answered, but rather as a verbal expression of the highest aspiration man is capable of feeling.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name — Here Jesus addresses himself to the Father within, which is not fully incarnated in us because we haven't yet reached that point where we have become one with it. Keeping in mind St. Paul's division of man into body, soul and spirit, we may consider the Father within each one of us as an aspect of that Divine Intelligence, which it is our supreme responsibility to become like unto. This will take long eons of time, but man has the potential because of that spark of the Divine manifesting in every living organism.
Thy kingdom come — Here we ask that the kingdom of the Father, which resides in heaven or the spiritual realms, and also within, should come into being. That is, we pray or aspire for the ability to bring into active manifestation right here on earth that Divine aspect of our nature, without which we would not exist.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven — Let the works of the Divine Intelligence find their way into all the affairs of life on this earth, as they have found expression in heaven — heaven being the relatively ideal as well as the potential quality that we one day will develop.
Give us this day our daily bread — Note, this day, our daily bread. We are not enjoined to secure the needs for all of futurity; nor does "our daily bread" signify merely the physical needs, important as these are. Give us this day whatever is required in the way of strength, vision, and wisdom, not only for ourselves but for our family, neighbor, community, perhaps our nation, and all mankind. Those needs may run the gamut from the most ordinary to the highest qualities of character that we are in the process of developing and thus making pliable to the Father within.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors — Here is one of the most practical rules of esoteric training, and yet one of the most misunderstood. This prayer does not ask the Father to forgive us our transgressions in the sense of absolving us from the responsibility to correct them. Nor are we to pray for forgiveness or to ask for ourselves qualities of character that we in turn have not expressed in our relations with others. Just as we do not hold against our brothers their mistakes, so we ask the Father within, whose compassion is greater than ours, not to hold against us the errors in judgment we are making in our struggle to evolve. The old law of balance, of harmony, is operating here, the law of karma. As ye sow, that shall ye reap — action followed by its corresponding reaction holds good unto eternity. Just as karma is one side of the coin, so compassion or mercy is the other side of the same universal law. But we must remove from our hearts all rancor or resentment against injustices done to us before "praying for mercy" to the Father within as regards the injustices we daily commit against our real Self.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil — Taken literally this is an extraordinary statement. If this prayer is addressed to God, supposedly the father of all good, what an insult to ask him not to lead us into temptation. Or is there a more inspiring interpretation? "O Father within, lead us not away from our trials and difficulties, so that meeting them squarely we may recognize evil for what it is and overcome its power to control."
Question — I like that far better. I never could understand why we had to beg the Father not to lead us into evil ways, and I've always wondered why this was included in a prayer supposed to have been given by a Savior.
Comment — You're not the only one who has puzzled over this. Probably every thinking person has tried to figure out some interpretation that could satisfy his innate sense of ethics. In fact, some years ago an Episcopal clergyman urged that the Lord's Prayer be revised. He suggested that the phrase be changed to read: "And let us not fall when tempted," because, as he explained, "no Christian can expect to be spared temptation," and therefore the prayer should petition for "the strength to resist temptation."
Certainly that attitude, rather than the weak supplication to be spared every enticement, arouses our inner strength. Who is the stronger, the more compassionate, the wiser, in the final analysis: the man who has been shielded from all the distractions of life, or he who having been challenged by temptations has recognized them for what they were and battled his way out to land on his feet? Assuredly the latter, for that man can be counted on; he has strengthened the inner fiber of his soul.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. I understand that some authorities consider this phrase to be a later addition. Whatever the case, we can interpret it in this way — the Divine Intelligence is the real kingdom and the only real power, and when its works are made manifest on this earth, in the lives of each one of us, then truly is it seen as a glory for ever and ever.
What then does the Lord's Prayer add up to in relation to karma? We find that nature's inviolable law of cause and effect is working toward one end: the restoration of balance and harmony. Man therefore has the responsibility to work consciously toward that goal. In so doing, we discover that prayer becomes the performance of duty in the light of our daily responsibility to our guardian angel who watches over us. To the degree that we cooperate with that divine Inspirer will we become an expression, not of our personal wills, but of the spiritual will of the Father within.