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The Nature of Prayer

Always has the mountain peak been a symbol of things spiritual, and Ida and Olympus, Sinai and Fujiyama bear witness of the dignity with which it is invested. It typifies the ascent from a gross consciousness to a broader outlook, a more inspiring view. The dweller on the mountain looks abroad over the fogs that obscure the lowlands; and he who beholds life from the vantage of spirit no longer feels the limitations that beset the natural man—limitations that vanish before the all-discerning spiritual vision. To behold good as partial betokens shallowness and is virtually to deny God. All things are possible to man on the spiritual plane of life. Space, time and personality are finite conceptions that shall one day fade from the mind. Man is a chord in the divine harmony, a channel to the Supreme Intelligence. As the Soul is one with the Infinite so surely is it heir to all things. Shall we not believe that the things the Father hath are ours? We may recognize without only that which is already within, for the objects of desire are but the projections of the mind. The noumenon is the unseen but eternal entity, the spiritual prototype of the phenomenon, which though seen is but ephemeral.

Only in the world of ideas may things be said truly to exist; and we are the proper agents, each according to his capacity to make them manifest. In all-pervading desire the mind becomes one with the essence of its desire. Does it desire purity? It identifies itself with the principle of purity; it touches the Infinite at that point, and forthwith the stream of purity flows through that mind which becomes its channel. In the realm of ideas exist all possible architectural forms; man the architect focuses his thought on this, his desire, and lo, cities are built. So man the carpenter or the mechanic becomes the agent of the Infinite as surely as does man the sculptor or the painter.

But we are bound by the consciousness of matter. We show our materialism most in what is termed our spiritualism, that we should seek always to materialize that which is spiritual. Why must we look to some exhibition to be convinced of the ever present reality of the Spirit—or of spirits, for that matter? It is on a par with pinching oneself to see if one is alive. When we are fully known to ourselves we shall doubtless find that no separation ever takes place between the Soul and its affinities, that no separation is possible. It is from the living that we are often the more remotely separated. No wonder we cannot speak with the departed when in all our life together we never spoke them, never once addressed the spirit in them but were content with a babbling intercourse—a mere crossing of shadows. What is there to prevent our communicating with those who must ever remain near to us save only our uncommunicativeness, our dullness and lack of versatility and spiritual address? We are poor listeners as yet to spiritual things, and must appear dull indeed to one who attempts to converse with us from an unseen plane. With what patience must these unseen friends din in our spiritual ears and pass before our spiritual eyes, awaiting our tardy recognition. But we are unseeing and unheeding and unbelieving, and must have a sign—a rapping on the wall or the prating of someone in a darkened room. A sign! Always a sign! As if there were anything not a sign of the spiritual entity; as if the phenomenon were anything but a symbol. To have lived is the sign of continued and perpetual life; and the yearning for a recognition of the invisible is itself the assurance of the spiritual presence. We shall not have a material perception of spiritual things, but of material things only; and would we bridge the Beyond and dwell here and now in spiritual Companionship we shall spiritualize our own natures rather than seek to materialize the Spirit.

We see in the world a steadfast adherence to a form which usurps the office of prayer: a kind of ecclesiastical dust thrown in the eyes of men. Here is not prayer but an expression of faithlessness in the divine order; a weekly report, as it were, from the officious heads of departments to an incompetent executive, with suggestions for governing the universe and directions for the amelioration of apparently untoward conditions.

He who is filled with a sense of the Divine Love and resigns his life to its keeping, presumes not to dictate as to the outcome. He who prays to a just God asks not for a suspension of law, which would not be justice; who prays to a God of Wisdom presumes not to instruct One who is All-Wise. A man's idea of God is an infallible test of his condition. Does he pray to a God of Revenge, so surely is he himself revengeful: if to a God of Love, then does he esteem love the greatest of all things. Men pray to Mars and to Athene, but as there was in Athens, so is there still within the human heart an altar to the Unknown God.

True prayer is not a petitioning, but a claiming; it is begotten not of infirmity of the will, but of assurance—is not weakness but strength; and he that apprehends the nature of prayer bends not the knee but towers in majesty. He goes forth to meet his own; he ascends the mount to speak with God. It is the beggar asking alms, the slave imploring mercy, who grovel in the dust.

Prayers are not spoken, they are lived. Our lives are our prayers and they are answered each after its own kind, be the seeking for worldliness or for wisdom. But this babbling—this lip service in which we foolishly indulge, is confuted by the very flowers of the field. The blossom unfolds its petals, and in its fragrance and its color expresses its desire; thus, it offers its prayer and waits assured of the answer—assured of the visit of the bee that shall consummate its life's purpose.

In considering the nature of prayer we must distinguish between prayer in its divine sense and the mere unconscious psychical action of irrelevant desire; for prayer may function on different planes—it may be exalted or it may be abased. There is the prayer of animality, the prayer of intellectuality, and the spiritual prayer, and all are answered but only the last brings peace. When one says he never prays, he means that he never prays consciously—perhaps never wisely. The prayer of weakness is answered in weakness, the prayer of folly in foolishness. Our very vacillation and indirectness saves us from much we might bring upon ourselves, for conflicting desires offset each other.

The mind is not contained within the skull but envelopes and surrounds the man, as does the corona the sun, and like the latter is of no permanent dimensions, but it expands and undulates, sending out jets of thought far into the mental atmosphere. The efficiency of prayers depends on the state of this mental envelope, for it is the ultimate and spiritualized function of thought to be the vehicle of prayer. As two minds may communicate at a distance in virtue of telepathy, through the medium of prayer the mind becomes en rapport with the Infinite and with the sum of all kindred minds. To be entirely absorbed in a single purpose is to become for the time a pool into which shall sweep the flood tide of the mind of humanity. When in this way an outlet is made, the supply will come as water seeks its level. What are termed the qualities have this attribute, that they tend to augment themselves through the force of attraction. Let a man countenance a little passion in himself and it is a bid for the like quality wherever it may exist—a nucleus around which shall be deposited layer upon layer of the same. The possession of any quality is in itself a species of prayer, tempered and offset by differing qualities and modified by desires. Goodness is forever linking to itself goodness; charity is always attracting charity. Kindness calls the love out of men's hearts; and a perverse nature ransacks every mind with which it comes in contact in its efforts to call out a similar disposition. The atmosphere with which we surround ourselves becomes in a measure the magnet of our destiny.

There is a steep gradient from the mere mental attitude and its attraction, and the play of thought, up to the ultimate step of which the individual is capable, the realization of direct contact of the Soul with the universal; and it is this, the spiritual office, that should perhaps alone be dignified with the name of prayer. Prayer so considered is spiritual activity; it is a power that touches the very springs of action and sets in motion the machinery of the heavens. It is here that we gather the scattered threads of diffusive thought and give singleness and direction to the spiritualized faculties, and prayer becomes the great uplifter and regenerator; it opens the doors from littleness to greatness, from weakness to strength. Cease your striving and pray, for prayer is the royal road to wisdom; but we must learn to pray wisely—to rise to the full heights of prayer. To recognize that life is prayer is to abjure triviality. The ability to control and direct the spiritual forces, to discern and keep well in mind the intent and bearing of all thought and action—in a word, the faculty of praying wisely—is the highest prerogative of spiritual manhood, and its possession the virile evidence of power. In this, its pure form, prayer is the short cut to the attainment of ideals, to which the methods of strife and outward effort are but blind trails. Only when we have become engrossed in the Soul, only when we are assured of the all-sufficiency of the divine relationship, may we utilize the spiritual forces of prayer.

The nature of spiritual prayer is dual; it is breathing and the air breathed; it is seeking and that which is sought. Thought and concentration, these are its vehicles; wisdom, truth, love—of such is its basis. It is the ultimate spiritual concept; it is a drawing of the Soul toward God—the sublime expression of trust in that which is not seen. We may but reverently intimate the sublimity of this the bond between the Infinite and the Soul, for it is to be apprehended spiritually; the terms of three dimensions will not serve to express the fourth.

He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The mother's love for her child is a prayer that finds answer in the happiness and well-being of the child; and so is her fear a prayer of weakness that is none the less answered. The scholar's love of culture is a prayer that is answered in the advancement of learning; the artist's love of the beautiful, a prayer that finds answer in grace and perfection of form, in color and composition. The sun's love of the earth is a prayer that finds response in the beauty and sublimity of nature; and the Soul's love of God is the prayer of prayers which is answered by all that is ineffable and transcendent, and by the "peace of God which passeth understanding."

We shall divest prayer of its arbitrary character and see in it the working of law. Faith is the essential of spiritual prayer; the faith of the child who questions not his wants shall be supplied. Any shade or variation from absolute faith vitiates prayer; and this may be shown in the nature of cause and effect, for assurance begets assurance, but from uncertainty comes no certainty. A prayer without assurance is a sum of additions and subtractions whose result may be zero. Its action may be compared to opposing forces that cancel each other. With all our disparagement of external acts of faith and of the objects of such faith, we yet cannot gainsay the marvelous efficacy of faith itself, for it works miracles despite the object on which it is pinned—be that never so trivial. The psychic activity directed toward bits of wood and stone has done what reputed science could not do; Lourdes is a fact! If faith in bread pills and rusty nails will produce results, how much more shall faith in God accomplish.

The rationale of prayer is clearly expressed in that profoundly logical query as to what man if his son asks bread would give him a stone. Why, indeed, if we ask for a fish should we look for a serpent? But we mar our destiny through seeking what we do not need and expecting that which we do not wish. Trust! Trust! How can there be life without faith? To doubt the goodness of God is to belie mother and father. When the Personal God no longer suffices we turn to the Immanent God; from separateness and duality to oneness and identity.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings.

It is the appointed order of human life to work from sense to reason, from reason to intuition; and so it is the nature of man to essay first his self-will which is foolishness, but after weariness untold to be brought to the cognition of the Divine Will which is wisdom. The more we would strive to be and do of ourselves alone, the less have we to show of permanent and beneficent result. In the life of self-will the day comes when one by one every expedient shall have failed: then do we turn our thoughts within. "When matter is exhausted, spirit enters." Through all facts, experiences, visions, one ultimate fact; shines supreme; this, namely, that being spirit we are in touch with the Infinite; that God has not left us but is within us, and to our awakening touch the Infinite responds. When we shall give free course to the love, the power, the wisdom which are around and within us, we shall be irresistibly impelled to all good ends. He who boldly lays claim to the real prerogatives of man which are spiritual, who elects henceforth to walk with God, shall be reinforced by Infinite Power and shall be wise by the communications of the Supreme Mind.

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Stanton Davis Kirkham

  • Born on December 7th, 1868 in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France and died on January 6th, 1944 in New York City.
  • Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Quoted in As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

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