Along with increasing the precision of my spiritual vocabulary—about which I’ve written several times now—I find myself considering a clearer understanding of spiritual activity. I don’t mean outer activity—I haven’t been called to change that so far. No, I’m thinking of … well …thinking! Specifically, the thinking activities we call prayer and meditation.
Both meditation and prayer have been essential elements since Unity’s earliest days, well over a century ago. And for all that time, it seems, we have debated and discussed the difference between the two. When am I praying? When am I meditating? Does the distinction between the two really matter?
I’m sure that all of us have been taught that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God. There’s a sense in which that’s true, I think, but doesn’t it seem to suggest a separation between ‘I’ and God? I know that praying to a God ‘out there’ can certainly work; ultimately there’s no wrong way to pray. But I’ve found it to be rather hit-or-miss. And what am I to think about the misses? That God is saying ‘no’? Or ignoring me altogether?
I think it’s simply that we are giving away our Power through an ego-fed fear that we are insufficient to the purpose at hand. We need to call for back-up! Which inevitably means that expressing that Power will be a bit erratic.
In analyzing my own prayer time recently, I’ve found that there’s a step between meditation and prayer that I haven’t fully considered. The clearest word I’ve found to describe it is contemplation.
I meditate with no specific focus; I step away from my ego mind and feel myself to be the Sprit I truly AM. Now, from this higher perspective of Spirit within, I contemplate ego mind and the mortal manifestations it is expressing. In other words, I contemplate my life, including my relationships with others.
Freed from fear and other human emotions, I may notice shadow expressions—in my own life or in others—that are not serving any spiritually useful purpose. The great Unity teacher Ed Rabel was always careful to distinguish “useless, unnecessary suffering” from suffering, or the appearance of suffering, that is serving an important purpose in our spiritual expansion. It’s only by contemplating the workings of ego mind from the perspective of Spirit that I can make that distinction in terms of my own life experience. (I can’t ever make the distinction in the lives of others.)
Now comes prayer, which is making a Spirit-inspired choice. Since there is no absence of God anywhere, I can’t ‘send’ Spirit to transform a situation. What I can do is to call upon my innate creative Power to focus Spirit. That’s an inadequate word, but it’s the best I can find to express the activity of prayer. It’s a bit like concentrating light into a laser.
It may seem that adding this third element of contemplation just complicates things. If it seems to be doing that for you, just drop it! These Spirit Expressing messages aren’t meant to make things more complicated for any of us. For me, I find that the three steps of meditation-contemplation-prayer seem to allow me to relax, try less hard and set about the creative work for which I’m here with greater confidence, and deeper appreciation.