Monday, June 13, 2005

"Negativity" In Prayers

I believe that being aware of the problems around us helps us pray more effectively for ourselves and for world healing.

I also believe we must cultivate positive thoughts in order to create a more positive world.

So how do we keep a balance? How do we remain aware but not become mired in fears about the reality we see? How do we face the negativity in the world and maintain positive thoughts?

My answer has been through connecting with God and working to be a conduit for God's love and compassion. I maintain this connection through speaking positive prayers, through listening for the "still, small voice within" and by continually training myself to think thoughts that affirm positive outcomes and positive ideas about the people and world around me.

A fair question has been raised, therefore, as to whether contemporary prayers should include "negative" ideas. In other words, should prayer be limited to uplifting words without reference to the problems the prayer is being used to overcome?

My answer is: prayer is personal. The words that move me and define my deepest needs may not do the same for you. However, we do know that confession has been part of the prayer process for centuries - because it helps free us to accept healing - and admissions during confession are almost always viewed as "negative."

However, putting the phenomenon of confession aside, the inclusion of awareness of "the negative" - or problems - is not without example in prayer.

Consider the two most powerful, revered and well-known prayers we use today: The Lord's Prayer and The Prayer by St. Francis of Assisi.

In The Lord's Prayer - which I have used in times of peril for protection - we say:

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want."

Yet this is not totally positive. The statement implies and admits that want exists in the world.

Also, I think it is fair to say that people most often use this prayer when they are feeling the effects of want. They are experiencing scarcity, poverty or danger in their lives and are invoking God's power in getting out of it. People seldom say The Lord's Prayer outside of church unless they want something. And the feelings they have may be quite desperate.

That line is - by the way - the most skillful use of language, for both the negative reality and the solution are implied in: I shall not want. It states both the need and the answer.

Also, look at the statement:

"He leadeth me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death."

This implies we are in a place where death occurs and that we are perpetually - in the present moment - in danger of dying.

I do not believe it was written to merely imply that we live in a world in which death exists. Living in a place in which death is possible - and inevitable - implies we are at continual risk. And, truly, whenever I say The Lord's Prayer, I feel a sense of awe. I am brought to extreme awareness of how fragile my life is.

Is this, then, not a negative idea? That we are - even potentially - in peril every moment of every day throughout our lives?

Yet The Lord's Prayer is amazing prayer "technology" if you want to think of it in modern terms. There are many stories of people reciting this prayer in times of danger and coming through unscathed. It has certainly worked miracles for me. I believe part of its power comes from the fact that it has us admit this vulnerability - this reality - so that we may connect at the heart level with the One who can save us.

There are more lines I could comment on in terms of their including ideas of "negativity" but you get the idea, so let's switch to The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. This prayer is another miracle worker. Recite it over and over and positive change happens in your life.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your Peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

In each of the statements above, "the negative" is brought up first which is then followed by a solution which is positive.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal light.

Again, the lines above tell "how things are" - how we so often seek to be consoled or loved or to receive rather than the opposite. This latter paragraph points out human selfishness - and this is surely a "negative" idea.

My last example is Mother Teresa's incredibly powerful statement On Being Love and Light, which can be used as a prayer. It recognizes the state of the world and - through recognizing what we face - inspires us to rise above it.

Look at her first two line:

"People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway."

Is that not beautiful?

Look at her next two lines:

"If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway."

These are words that can change a life. But note, as beautiful as the words are, they still point out the negative to us - so we are aware of what we are trying to cope with and heal - before we are given the loving solution.

I believe part of the reason so much prayer is ineffective - and it is fashionable now for pundits to say, "Well, God is answering but he's just saying 'No,'" is because there is a lack of vulnerability in our prayers, a lack of real confession and admission of the problems and that we, ourselves, contribute to them.

God never says "No." God gives us what we hold in our minds and hearts. If we - on the deepest level - feel we deserve what we are asking for, we'll get it.

We cannot run from recognizing that negative exists side-by-side with the positive in our minds. By recognizing - not dwelling upon - the negative conditions of the world in our prayers, we affirm that we own them - as part of humanity - and are ready to heal the negative in our own minds for our sakes and the sake of the world.

When we do that, prayer creates miracles.


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