The Magical Power of Prayer

Swedenborg Foundation

By Jeremy Simons

It is not hard to spot the flaw in the idea of intercessory prayer.

God is going through his day, making plans, running the universe. Suddenly, he receives a message. Someone is praying, asking for his help. He hears the prayer, decides the petitioner has a good case, and makes the requested change. Or maybe he just ignores it.

prayinghands

So what is the flaw in this scenario? Well, if God knows everything, then a prayer tells him nothing that he doesn’t know already. Would he really change the course of events based on a request, as if he did not already understand the situation? Swedenborg says no. That is not the way that it works. The omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God never changes. He never changes his mind. He never reverses direction.

Since no one can influence God, such prayer is pointless.

In Swedenborg’s system, however, prayer is not pointless. It just isn’t about influencing God.

Regarded in itself, praying is talking with God, while taking an inward view of the things we are praying about. In answer we receive a similar stream of speech into the perceptions or thoughts of our mind, so that our inner depths open up to God, in a way. The experience varies, depending on our mood and the nature of the subject we are praying about. If we pray from love and faith and focus on or seek only what is heavenly and spiritual, something resembling a revelation emerges while we pray. It discloses itself in our emotions in the form of hope, comfort, or an inward stirring of joy. (Secrets of Heaven §2535)

The point of prayer here is not to influence God. The point is “hope, comfort, or an inward stirring of joy.” The way that this works is that “our inner depths open up to God” (Secrets of Heaven §2535). In this setting, God is always the same; it is we who change. Prayer plays a role in this. But there is more to it. True prayer entails a person’s whole life.

Truths with [a person] are what pray, and [a person] is continually in such prayers when he lives according to truths. (Apocalypse Explained §493:3)

And the essence of prayer is that God’s will be done.

When prayer has a divine origin, it always contains the thought and belief that the Lord alone knows whether the object of the prayer is useful or not. The person praying therefore submits the hearing of the prayer to the Lord and immediately adds the plea, “Lord, let your will be done, not mine,” in keeping with the Lord’s words during his heaviest trial, in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44)(Secrets of Heaven §8179)

The message is that prayer is not just a ritual, an aspect of our devotional life, but is key to a person’s whole life.

This may seem to take the magic out of prayer. But in Swedenborg’s system, there is something else that puts the magic right back in.[1]

There are those who think they deserve heaven because of their earnest prayers, and yet who pray, not for others, much less for all, but for themselves alone. Their prayers, therefore, are not heard. (Spiritual Experiences §1850)

People, of course, do not just pray for themselves. It is human nature to care for other people. This is surely what religion is all about. One thing that people may not know, however, is that the emotions involved in that caring and the prayers that naturally spring from them do not remain contained within the person who feels them. They are communicated without our even being aware of it.

According to Swedenborg, angels are able to “communicate to another the goodness, blessedness and bliss that they themselves have received” (Secrets of Heaven §6478)Goodness in heaven is thus “communicated from one to many by means of a real transferring that is remarkable” (Secrets of Heaven §1392). This communication happens by means of the spheres that surround everyone, both in heaven and on earth (Secrets of Heaven §§8794:5, 10130:3)—for a person’s sphere “deeply affects other people” (True Christianity §433).

The communication of love has tremendous power, whether it is expressed in tangible or intangible ways, for love carries all good fortune, success, and healing within it. When people—whether many or few—love and pray for someone, that love is communicated through heaven to that person. While it may or may not have any tangible physical effect, the spiritual and emotional effects can be like the moving of a mountain. The collective love and prayers of large numbers of people exert a tremendous societal force, something that people are only beginning to understand.

So, according to Swedenborg, prayer does not influence God. But prayer is not pointless: it has the power to literally change the world.

 

Jeremy Simons is former Senior Pastor at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral and today in retirement serves as the Cathedral Chaplain.

 

[1] See also Spiritual Experiences §§1300, 5976; Secrets of Heaven §§452, 952.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

Real challenges: addictive behavior in a loved one.

Real challenges: addictive behavior in a loved one.

When someone close to you is struggling with addiction, how can you help them?

If a good friend accidentally splashed coffee onto your dress shirt, you might quickly assure him, “Don’t worry, no harm done. I’ll just put a little soap on it, and I’m sure it will come out.” Not many of us would raise our eyebrows and say, “This shirt cost me fifty bucks. Fork it over! I want you to experience the consequence of your mistake.” In this kind of situation, playing hardball seems a little insensitive. So where do we draw the line between helping others and enabling destructive behavior?

When it comes to everyday interactions, most of us enjoy being able to make another person’s life a little easier. We hold the door open for the person with her hands full; we turn the light on for the friend who’s reading in a dimly lit room; we hand a tissue to the kid who has the sniffles. These things allow us to feel that we’re having a positive effect on the world.

It becomes much harder, though, when we’re dealing with someone who struggles with an addiction. Should we help him recover from his hangover in the morning? Should we call her office and tell them she’s “sick”? Should we loan him money to pay for the car accident he had while under the influence? Should we patch up the hole in the wall and pretend nothing happened? Should we tell her that she can stay with us when she’s kicked out of her home?

When our conscience seems to pull us in two different directions, the teachings of the New Church may help us determine the best course of action. In the Writings of the New Church, Emanuel Swedenborg conveys the idea that real charity involves careful discretion, which he calls “prudence.” He writes that when we give assistance to someone who’s involved in poor behavior, we actually end up hurting others through this person: “for through the assistance which we render, we confirm him in evil, and supply him with the means of doing evil to others” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 100).

So what can we do? One thing we can do is refuse to undo the consequences that result from an addiction. This can be very difficult. We may suffer embarrassment, exposure, loss of familiar situations, loss of financial stability, or temporary separation. The benefits come later, though, as the gradual process of healing begins. One woman told a story about how surprised and hurt she’d felt when her mother forced her to leave home, after discovering her crack addiction. Years later, having hit “rock bottom” and slowly learned to face her own fears, the recovering daughter spoke with gratitude about the courage and strength of her mother’s decision.

Another step we can take when a loved one has an addiction is to begin finding peace within ourselves. It can help to take time each day to reflect, noticing the ways we’ve been reacting to upsetting situations, and beginning to learn healthier responses. It may also help to seek the advice of professionals who are trained in dealing with addiction.

Learning how to best support a loved one who suffers from addiction can be a tremendous struggle, but there is also enormous opportunity for growth, when it is undertaken with patience, prudence and prayer. If you are currently in this situation, may the Lord bless you and the ones you love on your journey to emotional health and recovery.

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“People who are in heaven are in the Lord.”

Arcana Coelestia 3637

How does prayer work?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

When I was considerably younger than I am today, I used to think I was lucky; fortunate not to often get het up, upset or worried like individuals I noticed around me. Then I met the real world – the demanding boss, the troublesome colleague, the awkward neighbour – and I realised I could get as emotional as the next person. I do feel irritated when things go wrong; I do get angry when people are inconsiderate; I do find myself nervous in unfamiliar social situations.

Just as I am writing these words, I am very much aware of a telephone conversation in an adjoining room. I cannot hear the words but I’m half listening to the tone of voice of my wife as she is talking to someone we are fond of who is having a bad time of things just now. So I’m naturally concerned. It’s distracting my mind. I feel uneasy, unsettled, even anxious.

We get so immersed in the hectic daily round that we forget those past occasions – perhaps infrequent and brief ones – when we actually felt content with life, and there was a sense of inner peace. Only when we concentrate hard do we vaguely recall  having had that state of mind –  when the stress of everyday life was forgotten, when we were becalmed in what had been a stormy sea, and when we sensed a harmony with everything around. Those were the times when we felt we had found refuge and protection from the conflicting and unsettling pulls of what was going on around us.

People ask, ‘How does one engineer this sense of calm in the muddle, disarray, and emotions of daily life, when one feels anything but tranquil?

When I think about it, these moments of inner quietness for me have occurred in prayer. I’d love to talk in a simple down to earth way about such times. But mere words seem so inadequate. The experience of profound stillness is so different from ordinary consciousness.

Other people who have talked about such peaceful moments may have travelled a different path but I can’t separate these special moments from my religion. A Divine state of peace comes from a ‘place’ deep within oneself and yet it is also an inflowing presence from above. This probably sounds a bit odd if you are not of a religious persuasion, but all I can say is it is very real for me.

The trouble is I’m not sure whether I want to tell others about it even if I could find the right words. The sense of the Divine Presence while conversing with God feels such a personal and private matter. The mystics have been willing to put it into words, but for me it seems like betraying a secret as if one were telling people about an intimate moment with one’s lover.

For love seems to me to be the essence of that inner sense of peace; feeling fully accepted warts and all, fully embraced by the unconditional compassion and mercy of selfless love. This is a very different picture of God to that of the old religion based on a literal understanding of the Bible. For the traditional idea of a judgmental, punitive, vindictive God is not my religion. It is not a picture of God that I could turn to for rest and peace, but rather one to turn to in fear and guilt; for we don’t find inner peace by condemning ourselves.

I think that perhaps another obstacle to experiencing inner calm is our negative reactions to other people.  I’ve found that only when I give up mulling over unwelcome things said by others can I hope to experience the peace of forgiveness. In a state of anger, peace cannot be found.  For only when we bring peace to others can we find peace within ourselves.

Also I would suggest that it’s no good praying merely to get confirmation for our own views about things. We need also to be prepared to have our eyes opened. Prayer is like any worthwhile conversation; it has its awkward moments when we realise we have said something daft or unfeeling or when we realise the full implications of some casual comment.

What counts is what comes from the heart and not whether we are using smooth phrases.  For me, prayer is the focusing of one’s thoughts on the Christ within and this must necessarily involve our whole being.  Only then can we become fully in touch with the Divine Peace that passes all understanding.

My own problem is one of complacency. Things go along hunky dory for a while, life seems to be running smoothly, and I forget to make contact with the Source of peace. Thinking about it, I realise that repeatedly, it’s usually only when I hit the rocks and suffer hurt and sorrow that I spend sufficient time in prayer.

For only then do I really try to surrender my own ideas and hopes. Only then do I really ask about what God wants in the circumstances I find myself in. And only then do I get an answer which gives such a sense of serenity. We don’t find rest from problems unless we speak with God sincerely, fully opening ourselves to the Divine Presence.

This article was first published as A Time to Keep Silence and a Time to Speak in New Vision Magazine July/Aug 2010

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on2nd July 2010CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags, ,, , , , , , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Nurturing the Soul Course

By Helen Brown published by spiritualwisdom.org.uk © July 2009 pp 75 £9.95 Enquiries:  contact editor@spiritualquestions.org.uk

Helen also leads groups taking this course. The aim is primarily to encourage reflection, experience and exploration of what our ‘soul’ means for each of us. The scope of the course includes music, art, prayer, meditation and energy medicine.

This has been a course that was both inspirational and challenging.  Throughout the eight sessions in our exploration of the ‘soul’, Helen gently guided us along an inner path in keeping with her book on the subject.

We were a small group who throughout our time together formed a very supportive and close connection.  At the beginning of each session we sat round a table where there was always a simple but beautiful delicate arrangement of flowers and leaves encircling a candle.  As we lit the candle and concentrated on the light we left behind the outside world, forming our own peaceful and tranquil world through meditation and prayer.  This made a perfect start to our spiritual journey, discovering and connecting with our own soul.  During the course we were encouraged to follow our own path freely, expressing and sharing our thoughts and feelings.  It brought in music, art, prayer, meditation and specially chosen readings to help in this search and nourishment of our own soul.

It was suggested by Helen that we should keep a journal where we can reflect on the course as it unfolds, giving time for more thought.  I chose an artist’s journal as I find both illustrating and writing stimulating.

In the quest for the soul I found I was becoming more attuned with my inner self, gaining a deeper understanding of what this long journey involved.  There were parts which were challenging and painful; complex issues had to be confronted before moving on.  Throughout the sessions this was balanced with the uplifting realization that the soul is a recipient of life from God and that the Divine flows in with Love and Wisdom.  The soul is a sacred place where God dwells.  This knowledge is inspirational, but before we can find and nurture the soul we have first to reach down into the recesses of ourselves, seek and find God and with love bring Him into our daily lives, letting His light shine in our hearts.

I have found this course exhilarating and plan to continue with this spiritual journey.

As we sat around the table for our last meditation, it came to me that our group represented a lotus flower.  I visualized each one of us as petals of the flower joined together as one with the candle in the centre radiating light.  As we lent forward to blow out the flame we sent love and peace to the world.

“OM.  In the centre of the castle of Brahman, our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower and within can be found a small space, we should find who dwells there, and we should want to know him” (Chandogya Upanishad).

Rosella Williams, Course member

Here are some additional comments from others in the group: ‘its been a spiritual journey, a journey of discovery’, ‘ I found it opened doors and brought up things that I hadn’t thought about before’, ‘enlightening’, ‘gave me peaceful thoughts – we shared the journey’, ‘helpful and reassuring’.

Aborigines: What can they teach us?

AboriginesIt has been suggested that Australian Aborigines are primitive and uneducated; animists who uses ritual to win the favour of the spirits controlling food, shelter, and fertility and to ward off malevolent spirits.

Despite what sounds to the western mind as believing in superstition, these semi-nomads have shown enormous intelligence by hunting and foraging for food, and thus surviving, in extreme conditions of the arid bush-land and desert wastes for over 30,000 years.

Respect for nature of Aborigines

Like with other indigenous peoples, there is a sense of closeness with, and a deep respect, for the natural world of animals and plants. Full-blooded Aborigines in their natural state live in and are influenced by both the physical world and also by what they think of as a spirit world (dreamtime). They are not materialistically orientated like those of European descent. Their spiritual values have been reflected in a rich oral tradition of legend and ritual going back to ancient times, unaffected by Western world religion.

And so the question arises whether there is anything of value in their way of life which can benefit us all today?

A few Aborigines left

With white settlement of their tribal lands and consequent loss of identity and self-esteem, their culture is being lost. However, there are still some initiated into their legends and rituals who know the traditional meaning of rock and bark paintings, ceremonies and oral teachings.

Cyril Havecker lived close to the Warramunga Tribe and was seen as their blood-brother. He has written an illuminating book Understanding Aboriginal Culture.

Creation myth of Aborigines

All Aborigines, initiated into their tradition regardless of the tribe to which they belong, share a creation myth. Baiame is said to be the supreme intelligent creator spirit who dreamed of a future that he wanted to materialise. In other words there is thought to be a purpose behind the development of the world; all living things being brought into existence with the object of fulfilling a function in the great plan of life.

It is also taught that myriad portions of intelligence were taken from Baiame’s supreme intelligence; each of these being a human soul (yowie).

Idea of soul of the Aborigines

There are said to be three inbuilt drives in each person – drives to survive, reproduce and achieve. These drives were to be the cause of all the trouble and mischief on the earth but also the cause of all that is positive and productive. Each soul was to have the will and freedom to discriminate between positive or negative action, choice being dependent on wisdom-knowledge and level of development. It was decided to give each soul a memory to prevent chaos.

Dreamtime of the Aborigines

Associated with this creation story is the claim that the physical world is connected to a psychic dimension by character vibrations and that this land of mystery actually exists. It is referred to in their mythology as the dreamtime.

The tradition teaches that the universe is a mental creation projected out of spirit essence. And so traditional healers and magicians (wirinun) who deal with spirits have been operative and are well known for their powers in extra-sensory perception and control of the mind. Induced emotion and directed thought are two powerful ‘magical’ weapons used by the wirinun. And so as part of training, such a person undergoes a strong personal discipline. This involves long periods of isolation, and restriction in diet.

It is said that when in a heightened state of consciousness, such individuals make contact with the ancestors in the spirit world (dreamtime); this being possible because each individual soul has two bodies — one material and also a spirit body (dowie). It is the latter that is apparently used to communicate with the ancestral spirits. The soul is said to never leave the body of the living except at physical death, when it goes to reside permanently in the dreamtime; this dimension only being continually experienced in a spirit body as it is not somewhere in space: it is all about us and it requires only the proper conditions to be contacted at any given time.

Spirit world of the Aborigines

The wirinun, through training in concentration and the environment of the spirit world, use signs, symbols and incantations necessary to call up needed psychic entities. Whilst operating in what is regarded as a sacred area (bora ground) the magician is believed to be protected from demons. Such an individual never calls upon any spiritual entity with which he is not completely familiar for he says he must know their nature and aims. In fact he often uses prayers (narmingatha) directed to the supreme intelligence (Baiame).

In seeking the aid of benign entities of the spiritual world he uses no words of compulsion, or extravagant terms. He asks earnestly and gives reasons. He does not ask for something that deprives people of what justly belongs to them or which gives an unmerited advantage over someone else.

A lot more could be written about this fascinating tradition. However to sum up, extra-sensory perception, survival after death, and constant contact with a much more knowledgeable spiritual world, are all widely accepted facts in traditional Aboriginal culture; as is the presence of a supreme divine spirit and other spirits who affect life on earth. In fact the whole of their lifestyle is subject to supernatural forces.

Is there anything here for us to learn?

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

The frustrations of email

The frustrations of email! I’m trying to get a message to someone and it is coming back – not because of anything I’ve done wrong but because their mailbox is full.

Until things clear down there is no room for new messages to get through, so they are returned to the sender. At least this means I know the message hasn’t been received, but it is still rather awkward as I now have to reach the person by another route.

The same sort of thing gets in the way of communication when we try to phone, only then it is the engaged signal or a voicemail message. Leaving a message may be alright, but there is no way of knowing when or if it is picked up and understood. Sometimes the only way to be sure is to actually talk – which was the point of the phone call in the first place.

When we communicate with each other we are making all kinds of little connections. There may be a definite purpose to it – to give or receive information or to make arrangements, but we can equally want to make contact just to be sociable, just to keep friendships running smoothly, or to let the other person know that we think of them and care about them.

There are so many ways to keep in touch; email and text messaging may not suit everyone, but the popularity of social networking, making new contacts and then using the technology to keep updated about people’s lives is too popular to be dismissed.

Feeling that we matter to someone is very important to us, but it can be very hard for us to accept that we are of individual and very special importance to God. If you are a believer, why not take a little time to check where your relationship with Him is at the moment.

How much of our life is taken up with refusing to listen to the incoming spiritual messages – we have our own priorities for the day and don’t like to deviate from our set ideas. I believe the Lord always has us, each and every individual, as his priority. He is always ready for us to make contact. There are no full mailboxes, no engaged tone or unobtainable numbers; He will always listen and hear us. Personal time with the Lord may not be something we give much thought to, but it is a contact and a relationship I feel I should be making an effort to establish and maintain.

My understanding is the Lord is always ready for us to talk with Him, but he’s not going to force us. He is always close, but doesn’t invade our sense of independent life – it is our choice to make enough space in our life, our mind and our heart to make real contact. I began with the frustration of finding an email returned; a way of saying that you must try again if you want the message to get through.

I am sure the Lord always tries again, He doesn’t give up, get bored or go away to follow up a more promising line of enquiry elsewhere: He is there for us whenever we choose to listen.

Based on material by Christine Bank