“Worship does not consist in prayers and in external devotion, but in a life of charity.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Explained 325
I was on holiday in the French Vendėe looking for peace and calm. The family had caught the ferry and located the camp site. And now on a lovely day without a cloud in the sky, I shouldn’t have had a care in the world. My daughter passed by and said “Oh Dad, you look relaxed”.
Outwardly I probably did – she’s not used to seeing me lazing in shorts and tee shirt. But inwardly, I was still bothered about not finding the best shady spot away from the hot sun. I was focusing on other minor inconveniences, such as sand in the tent, the grandchildren squabbling in the background, and not immediately finding that wretched bottle opener for a refreshing bottle of beer.
I know that finding inner calm should be less difficult when you are on holiday. But how do we achieve this in ordinary life at home and at work? How does one find peace and calm in times of bother and responsibility?
Therapists, as well as spiritual teachers, all say to experience a state of emotional calm one must be in a receptive state and this means learning a little self-discipline. So I try to take an attitude of mindfulness: focusing my awareness on the present moment, while calmly observing my feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This discipline enables one to take an emotional step back from what is going on around oneself.
For me it also means trying to be receptive to what I believe to be an available in-flowing spirit of calm and contentment. I’ve discovered that this level of consciousness replaces thoughts that dwell on minor irritants, it raises the mind above whims that would otherwise comes flitting into the head, and it prevents falling for each sense of frustration.
I happen to believe that quietening the mind to all the things of self and the world can be hard. A higher awareness is easy to miss when I am preoccupied with the things of the material side of life and self-centred cares.
I find it helpful to direct my thought to what I’ve learned to term ‘the Divine within’, and to listen carefully to its inner voice.
I’m reminded of the Old Testament story of the child Samuel who was lying down at night in the Temple. He heard a voice calling his name. The narrator tells us that the boy, not knowing God, mistakenly supposed it was Eli the priest who had spoken. Only when he was told to direct his thoughts to the Lord did Samuel respond:
“Speak, for your servant is listening”. (1 Samuel 3:3-10)
Listening to this inner voice might be said to amount to prayer. Yet, when doing so, to all appearances, one is merely in a reflective mood quietly going about one’s business. This prayerful state of mind is allowing the universal spirit of love as the ‘Divine within’ to lift one from an ego level of mind to a spiritual one.
Everyone has some sort of idea of God. Mine came from when I was a boy. Then, every night my mother would tuck me in, and say the Lord’s Prayer with me, before kissing me good night and turning off the light. And, as a teenager and later, I would silently rehearse those few sentences alone when going to sleep. And as a consequence feeling the peaceful presence of my idea of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This was and is an impression of a very personal deity. Not just a cosmic powerhouse but an essentially humane entity. Not a punitive harsh idea of God but rather a compassionate figure – who I see as the true source of humane love. One with whom I can take my troubles and feel comfort, encouragement, and guidance. This is a personal image of the Divine with whom one can have a relationship.
Many years later I find that I do lose my way and sometimes forget to keep up the inner conversation. But I have learned that when I re-direct my attention away from immediate concerns and focus on this Christ-within – a spirit who is present within me but at the same time coming from beyond myself – I can directly experience calm.
I would say that to really know this Divine presence is not just to possess a memory about it. Nor is it to just have some level of enlightened thought. Neither is it to simply have a strong spiritual belief. I feel to truly know the ‘Divine within’ means to base one’ life on this presence and be transformed.
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on 5th September 2016
Does prayer impact healing
“I’m going in for an operation; pray for me.” “My mother is sick and they are not sure if she’s going to pull through. Would you please pray for her?”
What could be more natural than to ask for help from a loving God when we or someone we care for is in need, and especially when we we’d like to have some reassurance that we are not alone? It is frightening to face a threat to our health, and perhaps even more so to watch someone we love slide slowly downhill. So people reach out to the Lord, the one who can make a difference when no one else can. And we ask others to do so.
But does it do any good? It may make you feel better, but is it really a pain killer that simply numbs you to reality? Surely the Lord is doing all that can possibly be done for that person. How would the prayers of one human being sway the God of the universe to give someone more healing power, or more courage to pull through a hard healing process?
I’m going to assume that you believe that praying for others is a good idea. After all, in the Lord’s prayer we ask for all of us to receive blessings – “give us this day our daily bread … lead us not into temptation.” And the Lord tells us to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us (Matt 5:44). In New Church teaching that prayer means that we should “intercede” for them, meaning that we should seek to stand between them and the harm that is coming to them. (Apocalypse Explained # 644:23). Imagine a parent willing to stand in harm’s way to protect a child and you are picturing what interceding means. That’s a pretty clear message to pray for others, especially in their times of need.
But what can we pray for? We know we can pray for spiritual well being; that’s obvious, and should be the main thing we pray for. The Lord is interested in things that last. Can we also pray for a new car? For a solution to a health crisis?
I would say that a prayer is as good as the intention of the person asking it. If you have a sincere desire for something good, your spirit will be open to the Lord’s purposes.
One way to ensure that we are open to the Lord’s way of doing things is to do what He did while on earth. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Father if it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). This, for me is the best answer. Pray for almost anything, but when you are done, turn it over to the Lord, telling Him, in so many words, that you trust His leading and providence.
Here’s a good reason to pray for people when they are in need: it works. Look at this famous study about prayer for others done by Randy Byrd: “In 1988, as a cardiologist at the UCSF Medical Center, his double-blind study of 393 cardiac patients showed that those prayed for by Christian prayer groups used in the study were five times less likely to require antibiotics, three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema, and, compared with the control group, fewer prayed-for patients died.”
The Christians in this study were simply given the first name and initial of the last name. They did not know the people, nor did any of the hospital workers know that the study was occurring. A similar study was carried out by Zvi Bentwich at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovor, Israel. In this study patients were not prayed for, but were given “healing intention” (meaning well-wishes) by volunteers.
One interesting aspect of the research done of the effectiveness of prayer is that non-directed prayer – prayer that is simply opening ourselves up to the Lord without any goal in mind – seems to be somewhat more effective than directed prayer. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to end our prayers, as the Lord did, with “nevertheless, not as I will but as You will.”
People in the medical profession sometimes say, “God heals; the doctor sends the bill.” This is obviously true. Think about it this way: If you think of someone with love, your spirit is touching that person’s. If you pray, your spirit is open to the Lord’s presence in an unusually heightened way. If you pray for someone else, you share a bit of that connection with the Lord with that other person. If in some small way that presence of the Lord could help, it would be worth doing.
Prayer, in the end, is speaking with God. Its real aim is to change ourselves. It is turning to the source of life and hope. Whenever something that we value is threatened, we will benefit from turning to Him. His purposes are higher than ours and He will not always answer us in ways that we might like, but He will answer us. Our job it to turn to Him daily and especially when we are in need. And if we cultivate patterns of asking for His help we open ourselves up to the best chance of receiving the gifts He has to offer.
“The more closely you are connected to the Lord, the more distinctly you appear to yourself to be your own person, and yet the more clearly you recognize that you are the Lord’s.”
Divine Providence 42
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.
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.
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.