Mysticism teaches that by a simple act of devotion, human consciousness may be elevated to momentary union with divine consciousness, and that this union bestows an inner strength which surpasseth understanding. This strength, which can be experienced but not explained, is the presence of God known in a mystery. ~Manly P. Hall
It might be well to introduce this subject with a brief summary of the concept of prayer, as this practice is to be found in the principal religions of mankind. A prayer is a formula of supplication, adoration, confession, or thanksgiving addressed to God, either directly or through intermediary powers, by an individual or a congregation. The words used may be fixed by traditional usage or may be completely informal, according to the mood or need of the supplicant. In either case, the words themselves must be spoken with the deepest sincerity and the fullest realization of the sacredness of the action.
Prayers of ancient nations are recorded upon surviving monuments, especially those pertaining to mortuary rites or public offerings in honor of remarkable events. Such prayers are similar to those in use today, and there has been very little change in the structure of prayer-formulas since the earliest recorded examples. Most of the temples dedicated to the superior deities preserved formulas for addressing the gods through petition or as an act of homage. Usually, the older prayers were less personal and more devotional and were part of an elaborate ritualism. The private citizen seldom addressed personal petitions to the divinities except in an extreme emergency.
Those mortals who felt that they had received some special evidence of divine intercession often brought to the temples gifts of real or sentimental value, and these presents were inscribed with appropriate words of appreciation. Inscriptions of this kind frequently took the form of testimonials. They were simple statements of the facts involved, the divine assistance rendered, and the gratitude of the recipient. In the larger shrines, these testimonials formed an impressive collection evidencing the benevolences of the deity.
Nearly all primitive religious worship included means for attracting the attention of superhuman beings or even the spirits or ghosts of illustrious mortals. Songs, dances, sacrifices of all kinds, rites, and ceremonies were performed so that the needs of the people might be more immediately known to the heavenly powers, or to acquaint evil or malicious entities with the sincerity and faithfulness of the people. The various demons would be unable to work their evil spells upon the tribe if the members thereof called upon good and all-powerful spiritual guardians. While the public mind has changed considerably in recent centuries, the prayer-formulas still in use retain most of the elements of the old spiritism in word if not in concept.
Since the Protestant Reformation, the practice of private prayer has increased among Christian nations. The ritualistic forms of the old church have been modified, and prayer has become an experience of intimate communion. Although some churches have maintained the form of congregational petition, the individual members of the church are invited to seek spiritual security, especially in time of stress, through the act of private prayer. Form and word are less important than the genuine statement of faith made either audibly or silently, and it is assumed that Deity, ever-mindful of the needs of his children, will be attentive to all honorable and honest petitions.
It is well known that philosophers and scholars not given to the acceptance of theological forms have practiced the act of prayer and recommended it to their followers and disciples. The transition between prayer as a ritual and prayer as a mystical experience has been accomplished gradually as the result of the increasing emphasis upon religion as a personal search for truth. Mysticism teaches that by a simple act of devotion, human consciousness may be elevated to momentary union with divine consciousness, and that this union bestows an inner strength which surpasseth understanding. This strength, which can be experienced but not explained, is the presence of God known in a mystery.
As the result of the mingling of tradition and instinct in the human soul, the impulse to seek solace in prayer is widespread even among those who are not nominally religious. This is clearly revealed in times of public disaster, war, and other general catastrophes. The human being is most aware of his own limitations when his character is subjected to special strain. When insufficient to his own needs, he is impelled to seek a larger source of security. It requires but slight consideration for him to realize that faith has brought courage and fortitude to other persons whom he has known, admired, and loved. Early religious indoctrination and association intensify the resolution, and the mind easily accepts the persuasions bestowed by impulse. There are very few who choose to walk dark and dangerous paths alone, and as the way becomes more hazardous, the benefits of spiritual communion become more evident.
Few modern institutions have escaped materialistic pressures, and the churches are confronted with decisions that require genuine dedication to truth. The act of prayer is too often involved in the gratification of personal and physical ambitions. The modern believer prays more for prosperity in this world than for security in the world to come. He is more concerned with the increase of his goods than with the increase of the good within himself. Several denominations have hit upon the idea that prayer is a magical force by which selfish members can advance their various fortunes by enlisting divine aid. God is called upon to intercede in real estate transactions, the fluctuations of the stock exchange, and in an assortment of personal trivia. Instead of approaching Divinity with songs of praise and thanksgiving, the prevailing tendency is to bombard heaven with requirements and demands. In many cases, we ask for that which we have neither the resolution nor the patience to earn by legitimate means. To the degree that prayer becomes a substitute for common intelligence and natural industry, the act of prayerfulness is mutilated and profaned.
Cabalistic Keys to the Lord’s Prayer
~ Manly P. Hall