Transforming Prayer

That desire is the essence of prayer is an easy deduction from the fact that desire is the one element common to every form of prayer. It seems certain that of the innumerable kinds of prayer that men have used, each was adopted to make the expression of desire more simple or more effective; but many people come to consider the form of prayer of greater importance than the rightness or sincerity of the desire expressed, and this is clearly an evil. The Mongolian prayer wheel is an extreme example of such an evil. Another illustration is that of the priest or pastor who sometimes may be supposed to do the praying for his congregation. Christians do not consider the prostrate attitude of the Muhammadan an essential to prayer, but some may inconsistently assume that clasped hands, bowed head, or bended knee are necessary elements. Some who deny that an altar, candles, vestments, or other accouterments add to the efficacy of prayer, attribute power to many different forms of words.

The greatest error of formal prayer is the false concept of God which it includes; for formality is always limiting, restrictive, and arises only from a false estimate of God. A finite concept of infinity necessarily is erroneous. Relatively, formalism is a lesser error than idolatry, and this may explain why Moses commended certain forms to the people he led out of Egypt, where they had been tainted with idolatry, while the later prophets inveighed against formalism among the Israelites. It is the spiritual concept of God which they inculcate that has caused the Hebrew Scriptures to endure, and distinguishes them from other ancient writings. The pure spirituality of the New Testament affords no basis for formalism. By the power of Spirit Christ Jesus overcame the world with all its evil, sin, sickness, and death, with all its materialism and formalism. He teaches that God, Spirit, is ever present and that His perfect expression, the Christ, is equally so; but adherence to formality or materiality tends to obscure the spiritual perception that alone enables the seeker to realize unity with God.

Substance and Shadow
July 5, 1919

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