By Rev. Lauri Boyd, Minister, Unity of Columbia, MO
The experience that we call prayer is a universal human experience. Whether we are burdened with fear or sorrow, or our hearts are overflowing with joy, we have this instinct, when things go beyond our human capacity to process, that there is ‘a something more’ that we can turn to. It matters not whether we conceive of this ‘something more’ as a being, a living energy, the force of nature, or the Infinite Unknowable Source of all that is. In our times of greatest joy or pain, we have an overwhelming desire to commune with it – to become consciously aware of our Oneness with it. And we call this experience of communion and Oneness “Prayer”.
In my experience, I pray in different ways depending on how grounded I am feeling in a particular moment and on the deeper need motivating the encounter. In my study of prayer, I learned about a model in which there are four levels of consciousness which influence how and why we pray. I will call these levels “Praying to God”, “Praying for God”, “Praying with God” and “Praying from God”.
“Praying to God” This is the prayer of asking. This is the prayer that rises up from our deepest pain. When confronted with yet another mass shooting, this prayer cries out in anquish, “Why?”
In this form of prayer, our human self (the little ‘s’ self) is the one doing the praying. It may be praying to a God out there, or God within, but either way, it has recognized the end of its ability and is seeking help and comfort.
There is a danger in using this form of prayer exclusively. It can devolve into viewing God as a glorified Santa Claus or a giant vending machine in the sky. “Drop in a prayer and out pops a bag of prosperity chips.”
Yet, at its best, this form of prayer is our lifeline in the midst of despair. When we are feeling isolated or hopeless, this form of prayer can re-awaken our awareness of the Presence and Activity of God within us and within any circumstance.
“Praying For God” This is the prayer of wonder and awe. Though it is also a prayer of the little ‘s’ self, this prayer has moved beyond focusing on our own needs and instead focuses on an awareness of the transcendence of God. This is the prayer epitomized in the magnificent hymn, “How Great Thou Art”.
Again, this consciousness of prayer is not sufficient unto itself. If misused, this prayer can lead us to focus, not on God’s transcendence, but on our own smallness instead. Yet, at its best, this prayer is a joyful celebration of God. In encouraging us to take in God’s transcendence, this prayer can create an awareness inside of us that we are somehow a part of that transcendence.
“Praying With God” This is the prayer of co-creation with God. In this prayer, our little ‘s’elf is aware of and consciously aligning with our innate divinity (our capital ‘S’elf). At this level, we not only change how we pray, but we change why we pray. As we pray with God, we pray not so much to change the external circumstances of our life, but rather to transform our inner experience. When we realize we are expressions of God, we come to understand that our only purpose here in this life is to express God. We pray to allow God to express through us.
“Praying From God” This is the prayer of the capital ‘S’elf. When we pray from God, we let go of our little ‘s’elf completely and simply rest in our oneness with God and with all that is. This is prayer without an agenda. It is the prayer of the mystic.
Charles Fillmore called this prayer The Silence. And, that name is so apt for in this prayer, even words cease. We come to a place inside ourselves of utter stillness. And yet, it is not an empty stillness. It is a stillness that is filled with the Allness that is God.
Which Prayer is Right?
At this point in the discussion, some people begin to interpret these four levels of consciousness as a progression from so-called ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ forms of prayer. They start to assume that the goal is to always strive to pray ‘from’ God.
This is not correct. Which approach to prayer is right? All of them. Each addresses a specific need and each is necessary to the whole.
A more interesting question is, “Are there one or more forms of prayer to which you feel resistant?” If so, that is excellent fodder for self-exploration.