Prayer and Meditation as the Vehicles for Spirituality
Conducting the Lesson
Ask the group to sit in silence, without moving, for two minutes. At end of the time, ask for single words that describe the experience. List them.
Introduce the idea that all religions ask us to take time for contemplation, prayer and/or meditation.
Pose a set of questions:
• Why do people pray?
• What types of prayer are there?
• Is prayer an essential part of all religions? If so, what does it provide for believers and for the community?
• What is the difference between prayer and meditation?
• Is all prayer ‘equal’? What might be some of the qualitative differences in prayer?
Ask participants if there are other important aspects of prayer they would like to tackle – add important questions to the list if any are raised.
In pairs, choose one or all of these topics for a 10 minute discussion.
Each pair is asked to create one sentence that summarises their discussion and to write it on a placard. These are collected for the end of the lesson.
Watch the video.
At conclusion, ask any pair if the contents/ theme/ message of their sentence was discussed by Forum participants.
What did the video add to your understanding?
What was not discussed in the video that you discussed earlier and you want to bring to the attention of the group? Use placards, if relevant.
A sample prayer from each of the traditions.
Can be studied in small groups, comparing and contrasting or looking for unique themes/ messages.
Optional additional text: Heschel on prayer.
Prayer: Religion’s Gift to the World
Dr Lawrence Freeman:
The gift of religion is to give the world, offer the world, the teaching of the spiritual journey. And this journey is supported by religious beliefs and practices that we are free to choose from and they cannot be imposed and we are obliged only to respect. We must always respect the other person’s. We have to identify prayer as the common element of religion. We have different forms of prayer: petition, intercession, magical prayer. We have to, I think, take a stand and say we have to move beyond the magical, pseudo-mystical, into the spiritual or contemplative. And there are practices in all our traditions that allow that to happen and if that happens, we change the world. We change the world because the individual is changed. What we should be saying to the world is: Prayer is central to our human crisis in the 21st Century. We cannot solve our global crisis without re-discovering the meaning of prayer and we have to agree, all religions agree, that the first thing that changes in the experience of prayer is the person who prays. We are not just praying for good weather, or for the solution to the crisis in the Arab world, we are praying that we will change. And every religion agrees that transformation of the worshiper, the devotee or practitioner, is central. And I think the pressure that we could bring to bear is to bring pressure, good pressure, to bear upon religious leaders because it is their responsibility to teach in the Mosque, in the Temple, in the Synagogue and in the Church this deeper form of prayer.
Rabbi Daniel Kohn:
I have a very strong belief that through meditative practice, through contemplation of the greatness of God, through the ability to contact the manifest silence, I believe in the human heart, that out of there grow the profoundly human aspirations that become expressed in prayers, so I just want to support that emphasis on the centrality of prayer, and the transition that prayer offers us and the speaking from that place, which requires a shift from an emphasis on the externalities of the liturgy into the interiority of the one who is praying and the faith that in part is a great and profound light. But each of us in our own communities needs to work very hard on that for us to be the voices in a world that is, in my sense, coming to be chaotic.
Introspection and Reflective Practice
Rabbi Dr Alon Goshen-Gottstein:
Something in us is wounded. Now, if we look at the outer rim of religion, religion can’t help with that. Just to say, ‘Do the commandments’ and ‘ Fast’ and even ‘Give alms’ and ‘Believe this and that’ won’t deal with that. You need to start moving towards the internal part of the heart to understand yourself, to hear, ‘Why am I reacting this way?’ ‘Why have I been wounded?’ ‘What is making me act this way?’
Before you can embark on the spiritual life you have to have a calculator, which is discrimination and discernment what is real and unreal, what is eternal and non-eternal. In other words, what is this thing, is it real, is it eternal or is it something ephemeral?
True wisdom of our traditions is something that involves knowledge of the self. How to accomplish that is not only in the domain of a technique. It is also in the domain of the power for introspection. To get to it you’ve got to have introspection and only through introspection you start healing the addiction, the acquisition, the identification with the material, touching the core of loneliness, woundedness, sin – everyone can call it something else – and that is where, I think, the spiritual traditions have something that is more than what the general religions have to offer.
Swami Atmapriyananda: The Hindu tradition starts with asking for the 4-fold factors
1. The first one – the purpose – What is it that I am seeking? Why am I seeking what Iseeking?
2. How qualified I am to seek what I am seeking.
3. What is the content and the concept also of the spiritual life which I am embarking upon
4. How are the other 3 related to each other?
Stages of Prayer
Br Laurence Freeman:
So prayer gives us the idea of stages. And that is something that I think that we all share in common: that we don’t reach the final goal in one step; you go through stages.
I’d just like to suggest one model. If you think of prayer as a big wheel, it is a good image because it suggests movement, it’s directional. If we pray seriously, deeply, if we allow ourselves to be changed by our prayer, then we are going through stages, we are on a journey, a journey towards God, I would say.
So prayer is more than just an obligation. It is more than a routine or a habit or a cultural practice. It is something that changes us as we pray more, more deeply.
And the other thing about prayer is that there is no point in praying unless the wheel is grounded in reality, in daily life. We have to give time to prayer, not just write about it or think about it. It needs practice. Practice means time. Time means prioritizing our day and deciding when we are going to pray during the day. Are we going to pray once a week? Are we going to pray twice a day or whatever? Five times a day? I think that is one of the great gifts of Muslims to Western Europe is praying 5 times a day – fantastic witness to secular, Western society.
The method is enquiry and investigation, listening, carefully over the heart and reflecting on what you have listened to and meditatively being aware, getting saturated with the ideas about what you have reflected upon or listened to. Being aware of the place of study and contemplation; the practice of silence; and the yoga tradition, the experience of Samadhi of the heart, leading to seeing the Divine in all beings and serving them out of love.
OK – Let’s think about prayer and the different forms of prayer.
Well, the different forms of prayer are very many. We can pray with scripture; we can pray with song or chant; we can pray with ritual, services, sacraments, external forms like that. We can pray with pilgrimage. And all of these are identifiable religious forms of prayer.
But there are also, in a secular society, forms of prayer that we might call more broadly ‘spirituality’. People who want to find God, who do find God, by walking in nature; or by doing yoga; or by other practices, creative practices, or playing the clarinet.
Rabbi Daniel Kohn:
It’s in a sense, of late, that I have realized more and more something of a comedy that played itself out by the dining room this morning: and that was that Alon was looking for Richard and Richard was looking for Alon. And Alon came to the dining room: ‘Have you seen Richard?’ and then he went to find Richard , and Richard came: ‘Have you seen Alon?’ ‘Have you seen Richard?’. And somehow it seemed that the only wisdom there was, just stop looking for him [Him] and just be where you are
Geshe Tashi Tsering: As you walk around, try to stay; not to conceptualise what you see. Just be present. Be fully aware of what you see, instead of conceptualizing what it is, how it is, just to be present and with the mind concentrate on this walking meditation.
Swamiji: The intense longing and yearning to be liberated from ignorance and from bondage, the limitedness; the limitation of the body, the individual ability of being.
To be self-aware of yourself: you are not only the body, you are not only the mind.
There is something which is beyond the body and mind and the intellect.
Br Laurence Freeman:
All these forms of prayer, many as they are, converge in the centre or the hub of the wheel and the hub of the wheel is where we find that which we are trying to find a word for. One form of prayer is not better than another. You might get to God by any way of prayer, if you pray deeply and sincerely enough.
All form of prayer are about attention, paying attention to God, paying attention to whatever we may call ‘God’ and that involves taking the attention off ourselves. That’s the spiritual journey – we are transcending our egoism – and that’s difficult.
Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg:
But what are those ways that enable us to go back to the heart, when we get out of balance?