What is the Best Way to Pray? Is God Personal or Impersonal?
The best way to pray is any way you can and will! Who cannot but feel for the people in Israel and Palestine fighting one another with civilians being targeted and taking the brunt of the violence. All war is stupid, but stupidity is endemic. As much as millions yearn for peace, war is a consistent fact of human existence as far back as we have records. It would seem to be a necessary part of the human drama.
As it was said during the last so-called “world” war, “There
ain’t no atheists in foxholes.” If it requires hardship, pain, and suffering to
trigger an appeal to a greater power, then so be it.
Contemplating the vastness and complexity of the universe
and the human body and life, we are confronted with two choices: head down and
get mine, or, head up, and embrace our part in the symphony of life.
Life tends to push our head down into the details, let’s
face it. And there are many details, more now than ever before in history. The
head-down mudra of the cell phone symbolizes this reality. Who can blame those
billions who, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of facts, energies, and
circumstances that surround them, prefer the original head-down mudra of the
ostrich. Tempting it is to hide under the covers or binge on Netflix.
Whatever opinions you may have of so-called pagan worship of
the gods and the elements, at least in that worship there is a recognition that
there are forces greater than our own that impact our lives. Not as much can be said of billions of humans
on our planet today between their indifference, their atheism, or agnosticism. Real paganism is the
worship of the false idols of money, power, and pleasure.
Human consciousness is poised between the old and the
unfolding new. The old contains static beliefs and social immobility; well-worn
ritual and dogma; hierarchy and privilege; exploitation and abuse; power and helplessness.
The new promises freedom but threatens us with chaos. Our world is confused and
polarized, at best.
As there are many levels or stages of awareness and
consciousness among humans so also does higher consciousness descend through
many layers of God-ness and good-ness through forms such as angels and devas,
saints and avatars, sages and heroes, peacemakers, teachers, caregivers, and
The best way to pray is that which opens our hearts and minds
to a power greater than our own. Not in abject self-denial but in
self-expansion and love.
Our Father who art in the heaven of Eternal Bliss, sacred
is the vibration of Thy presence above, below, and within. Give us this day the sustaining life of Thy joy, the
cleansing power of Thy love, the guidance of Thy wisdom, and the healing power
of Thy peace. Forgive us our forgetfulness of Thee as we forgive others who
hurt us, and may our tests strengthen our resolve to seek Thee alone. I shun the
false promises of material desires, for Thou art my life, my love, and the
light and glory of all life forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus shows us as do many great saints, East and West, that praying
to God in a personal form is both beautiful and powerful. Never mind that God
is “infinite.” I can think of several saints who encourage us to put aside our
definitions of God in favor of developing a personal relationship propelled and
flavored by the fragrance of pure love.
Nonetheless, our prayers should rise to the heaven of God’s
nature as joy or pure love, and not try always to pull God down to make our
lives more comfortable or successful. We cannot help but pray for the relief of
suffering of others and sometimes even ourselves, but the highest prayer seeks
to know God who is our very Self, our nearest and dearest. “God knows what you
need before you even ask.”
Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda,
describes in one of his many books (“Awaken to Superconsciousness”) that he
makes it a rule for himself never to pray for himself. He admits that is not an
expectation he has of anyone else. During his life, he experienced significant
incidents of physical pain from operations and procedures. In the book
mentioned, he tells of when he had a kidney stone attack. He could barely talk
or move. After a time of intense pain, he recalled that he was scheduled to
give the talk at the Sunday Service in a short while. He prayed to Divine
Mother not for relief from the excruciating pain but to mention that if She
wanted him to give the talk, She would have to make it possible for him to
speak! The pain left him instantly. Ironically, he DID have trouble speaking as
he was suffused with divine joy for the miraculous demonstration of Her love.
Unless we are significantly impersonal with respect to our
own feelings, desires, and bodily compulsions, we would do better to relate to
God in a more personal form.
Is God personal or impersonal?
In the ancient teachings of India, God has not only made
this world but did so by BECOMING all things and endowing all creation
with a spark of divine consciousness. After all, think about it: what else
could God have made the universe out of except “Himself?” Divinity must, in
some way, be present in every atom of creation even if well-hidden and deeply asleep.
The universe is God’s child and as such must contain, in
varying degrees, elements of the nature of God’s impulse to have brought forth
the creation in the first place: elements such as consciousness, the impulse to create, and choice. As the source of all created things is God’s consciousness, the
greater the degree of self-awareness (consciousness), the greater one’s potential
for creativity and choice. When awareness turns inward upon itself it has the
potential to transcend the inherent limitations of form: including the human
body and subtler aspects of human consciousness linked to the body: such as
thoughts, emotions, memories, and imagination. When awareness turns inward to
perceive its own nature it begins the return journey to the Consciousness out
of which all things were born. Meditation is the art and science of consciousness.
In this return journey to God (as Consciousness), our
perceptions become increasingly subtle and refined. We see this even in
ourselves as we outgrow the toys of childhood and move increasingly through life
with ever greater awareness and wisdom (hopefully). At the border of Infinity, we encounter stories such as that of Ramakrishna Paramhansa: he enjoyed a
loving relationship with Divine Mother who appeared to him in vision and form
but when his guru, Totapuri appeared in his life, Totapuri guided him to go
beyond divine form into the formless bliss of God-consciousness.
We should be careful, however, not to grade God-consciousness as if we were the teacher. God is as much present IN forms as
BEYOND forms. To one with “eyes to see” there is no difference. But we must
also be careful not to imagine we are “one with the Father” in our present state!
Tricky stuff, eh?
Thus it is that Krishna encourages us to relate to God in
the personal form. Responding to Arjuna’s question in the Bhagavad Gita comparing
prayer to the impersonal Absolute to the personal form, Krishna states that “for
embodied beings, the path of dedication to the Absolute is a more difficult way.”
Why be concerned if devotees extoll their love for Jesus or
Krishna above all else? As Jesus said to the woman who washed his feet with
her tears, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she hath loved much.”
God has everything; God IS everything; but God awaits our love.
May the light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with you always,