Prayer is a way to recenter one’s life on an energy beyond success, money, or recognition. “Prayer moves us back to the center.”
Q: I’ve been going to a spiritual counselor for a while. She encourages me to pray to God for help. Sometimes she prays with me during our session. I don’t really know what to think about prayer or whether it has anything to do with coping with my problems. Do you use prayer in your sessions? Do you think if your patients pray to God their prayers will be answered?
Because I am approached often by people who want a spiritual approach to therapy, I get questions like yours frequently. A patient said to me recently, “Prayer doesn’t work—I pray for things and I don’t get them, so I don’t believe in prayer anymore.” I told him there is a way to pray that works every time. I discovered a metaphor for that kind of prayer while making the pond at the center of the garden in our backyard.
The guy at the pond place said that before I dug anything I needed to place cinder blocks around the pond’s perimeter that were level with each other all the way around. This would ensure that when I eventually dug the pond and filled it with water it would not be full on one side and six inches low on the other.
For a while, I puzzled over how to get 43 cinder blocks placed around a circle 20 feet in diameter exactly level with one another. Then I realized that all I needed to do was put one block at the center of the circle and level every other block off of that one.
After finishing this part of the project, I got to wondering what I place at the center of my life to measure everything else against. The more I thought about it, I realized that my ego (or what Thomas Merton called the false self) and the broader culture keep trying to put things like success, money, or recognition in the center. Whenever those false-self gods are in the center, the circle of my life gets out of whack. For me, prayer has become a daily way to recenter my life on an energy bigger than my ego-self. The only answer I need from this kind of prayer comes through the recentering itself and through what follows: living from my true large Self instead of my false small self.
Maybe St. Paul counseled “pray always” because life is always giving us reasons to get off-center: a minor annoyance, depressing headlines, feeling rushed or stressed, or comparing ourselves to others. For me, a longer period of recentering the circle of my life on a Source of love much larger than myself in the morning needs to be followed up with shorter boosters during the day. These can be as brief as a single slow breath that symbolizes my connection to an ever-flowing Source and Center of my being.
Maybe St. Paul counseled “pray always” because life is always giving us reasons to get off-center: a minor annoyance, depressing headlines, feeling rushed or stressed, or comparing ourselves to others.
Leveling the circle of 43 cinder blocks gave me a metaphor for a centering prayer. Now the center of that pond has a bubbling fountain to symbolize what I find when I return to center in meditation or prayer. Every hour the 4,000 gallons of water in the pond are recirculated, gushing moment-by-moment up through a pile of rocks in the center of the pond and cascading back into water.
You didn’t mention the kinds of problems for which you are seeking counseling. Our problems are generated and maintained by a smaller sense of self that is prone to lots of dark energies. So, to answer your question, I’d say yes: Prayer can help us with problems in or out of therapy, but not if we remain in our small self and just wait for answers. Instead, prayer moves us back to the center where we find the bigger-than-me energies we need to live compassionate, loving, purposeful lives.
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