Awakening to Spirit: Prayer and Meditation Heal and Free Us
Nov 30, 2015 10:25AM
By Richard Davenport
By its intimate connection with divine love, Spirit infuses human experience with qualities of amazing grace—unexpected clarity, vision, wisdom, peace, compassion, emotional release, inspirational epiphanies, deep understanding and comprehensive healing of mind, body and soul.
While society abounds with scientific research, products and practices that promise to enhance our mind or body and the mind-body connection, without Spirit in the mix, neither rises to its full potential. A heart open to a higher power exponentially multiplies the effects of this crucial connection.
“Just as a candle spreads light in a darkened room, people who are living in-Spirit give off a higher energy that can bring light to our hearts and minds. In other words, we can be inspired just by being in their presence,” according to renowned bestselling author Wayne Dyer, Ph.D.
Experiential, non-verbal and life-changing encounters with the unbounded power and presence of Spirit in prayer and meditation are difficult to analyze in the same way as mind-body science. However, Dyer points to the works and outcomes of Spirit as visible evidence of how it lifts us up.
We see individuals with rapturous hearts sending out signals that they love the world and everyone in it. Those that live in Spirit tend to see the world as a friendly place, are at peace with themselves, appear to be open and accepting rather than judgmental and harsh, and often report being healed of all sorts of diseases, relationship challenges, career fluctuations and questions of purpose and direction. They attest to how Spirit shines a triumphant light in the midst of dark nights of the soul, redefining the essence of life itself and declaring us worthy in our innermost reaches.
When a 19-year-old woman entered basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, and was undergoing initial medical and psychological screening, she was identified as having body and mind issues that would require her to be separated from the service. These problems included organ failures and spinal misalignment, as well as severe consequences of an emotionally abusive upbringing. It was determined that she could not handle the physical and mental demands of military life. Because the policy was to not treat such problems if identified upon entering the service, authorities allowed her to remain in training until her separation from the Air Force could be processed.
The woman was impressed and also distressed by the finality of the verdict and assessment tools used by mind and body experts among the medical staff. In talking with a chaplain on the base, she came to understand that she could choose to appeal her case to another jurisdiction, a “higher” court of Spirit. Focusing on the voice of divine love, she grew to see Spirit as more than a higher power. She saw Spirit as a higher authority. She surrendered to divine love’s authority as ultimate law, supremely qualified to reorder her whole being. She trusted that aligning with spiritual power could change her view of her identity and the seemingly inescapable consequences of genetics, environment and human history denying her desire to serve her country in this way.
Listening to a higher witness testifying on her behalf and identifying her authentic being as the magnificent expression of the magnificent Creator, she felt encouraged to the point that her mind and body stopped arresting her progress and became more effective servants, responding with greater freedom and joy. One limitation after another fell away, and the military and medical authorities seemed pleased with her progress as she neared completion of training. Finally, performing a mile-and-a-half run within a required time remained the only obstacle to graduation, and she was still 45 seconds too slow.
This helpful passage from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah became central to her prayer and meditation as she approached her last running attempt:
Young people will get tired;
strapping young men will stumble and fall.
But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.
They will soar on wings as eagles.
They will run—never winded, never weary.
They will walk—never tired, never faint.
~Isaiah 40: 30-31 (The Voice)
She passed her final attempt with 18 seconds to spare, running on eagles’ wings.
To feel Spirit’s presence, we must surrender our own sense of how it will work, its timeline and the impact on our ego or status quo. As with anything worthwhile, conscientious practice is essential.
So, how can we all discern such a divine witness to our original authentic being amidst loud testimony of all the voices and labels shouting in our head and body, including those imposed by others?
Prayer and Meditation
There are two approaches to listening to the voice within, whether we name it God, higher power, Spirit, grace, Eternal One, or divine love or Love. Complementary, rather than mutually exclusive, both approaches require a capacity, gained through patient practice, of quieting the inner and outer chatter and learning to hear that which calls us to be more than what human experience suggests is possible. It’s who we are in the eyes of grace.
Sanford C. Wilder, of Grafton, Illinois, author of Listening to Grace, offers personal growth and development programs through EducareUnlearning.com that encourage prayer and meditation that emphasize listening. He practices both approaches and makes distinctions between them.
“When I pray, I am directing my thoughts toward God, listening and often affirming what I know to be divinely true. I am yearning to surrender my will and affections in conscious connection with the divine such that I or another receives a blessing,” shares Wilder. In such prayerful listening, he hopes to gain something, often a new insight and corresponding manifestation.
“When I meditate, my intention is to sacrifice every thought, concept, image and feeling to God, the only consciousness. I trust that listening and observing with nonattachment helps me release conscious and unconscious conditioned thought patterns permeated by a human sense of self.” Through meditative listening, he hopes to release everything rather than receive anything, accepting that everyone is equipped and able to be open to, witness and experience nonstop blessings.
Helen Mathis has been an educator in the Philippines and Swaziland as well as the U.S., including an instructor of religion at Principia College, near St. Louis; she is now part of a Centering Prayer Circle in Stockton, California. She explains that centering prayer may be seen as a hybrid that embraces both prayer and meditation, nourishing what’s beneath the preoccupied self to awaken a deeper and vastly more authentic self.
Mathis appreciates what Cynthia Bourgeault explores in her book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, that, “This confusion between small self and the larger Self… [the] ‘True Self,’ ‘Essential Self’ or ‘Real I’—is the core illusion of the human condition, and penetrating this illusion is what awakening is all about.”
Like Bourgeault, Mathis believes that it’s not about the absence of thoughts so much as detaching from our thoughts, trusting that we can let go and be safe, consent to surrender human will and forgo personal agendas. Only then can spiritual sense come into play.
“The goal is to awaken to, open to and get in touch with our innermost being and Spirit,” Mathis affirms. “Clearly, centering prayer assumes we each have a spiritual awareness of the divine within us that acts, as Bourgeault puts it, as ‘a kind of interior compass whose magnetic north is always fixed on God.’”
We often approach a Spirit dimension with the attitude of “what it can do for me.” The higher practice that mystics and other deep thinkers of various faith traditions ultimately arrive at instead centers on transforming our whole self to align with Spirit’s purpose for us, which changes everything.
Reverend Dr. Michael Beckwith, founder of the New Thought Agape Spiritual Center, in Los Angeles, and a spiritual mentor to Oprah Winfrey, believes, “The relationship we have with the infinite is more about how we are to serve it than it is to serve us.”
Through conscious listening we discover that our true nature—as witnessed by Spirit—though sometimes obscured from view, is never altered from its original beauty and wholeness.
Beckwith describes three primary stages of realizing the power and purpose of divine Spirit expressed as our spirit. The first is that of a victim (feeling powerless, unable to effect change). The second is when an individual learns the existence of universal law that responds to our thinking, emotions and attitude; we learn how to use it to stabilize life structures and demonstrate health and well-being.
“Ultimately, in stage three, we become a vehicle of life in service to life. Instead of using the law, the law uses us. Life fulfills its own nature through us,” he says. “All of life is conspiring for our freedom, liberation, wholeness and health.”
He urges us not to stop and stagnate at stage two, using divine laws only to manifest personal conveniences, stuff and even people for our use; this can hijack views of abundance into materialism and consumerism. He quips, “We are not here to go shopping.”
Dwelling in Spirit
Grace and Spirit work in us, through us and between us, yet we can’t simply summon them up or outline their outcomes. To feel Spirit’s presence, we must surrender our own sense of how it will work, its timeline and the impact on our ego or status quo. As with anything worthwhile, conscientious practice is essential.
Life, defined by Spirit, gives fresh strength and impetus to mind and body. All three are vital elements of the dance of life.
Richard Davenport is a spiritual life educator (HigherGroundForLife.com) and the founding executive director of an inclusive nationwide Bible and spiritual life community (BibleAndSpiritualLife.org). Now based in St. Louis, MO, he is a retired Air Force chaplain, having served at Lackland and other U.S. Air Force bases on three continents.
FIVE WAYS TO PRAY FROM THE HEART
by Richard Davenport
Prayer from a heart willing to surrender, change, learn, grow and bless others works to keep us centered on pure motives like wellness, wholeheartedness and compassion. Such prayer can help us progress spiritually.
These five forms of prayer, found in the Bible, have a universal application to any spiritual practice. Although differing in their approach, all share the purpose of creating a fuller mindfulness of our true identity and relationship to the divine, while enhancing our capacity to bless all creation. If we are not feeling the desired breakthroughs using one form, perhaps the one most familiar or comfortable to us, we might do well to explore others.
Praise – a posture of adoration, honoring and surrender to a power, vision, and authority greater than our own.
Thanksgiving – or better yet, for its consistency and permeating of our whole self, thanks-living. The garden of our spirit is enriched by embracing a gratitude attitude in all we do.
Petition – a relational posture that opens our heart as we learn to ask for help, to seek perspective beyond a limited self, beyond a smaller, ego-driven orientation.
Intercession – praying for others; blessing, honoring and cherishing them as God sees them. When we feel burdened and blocked by our own trials, expressing empathy and compassion for others can unlock our heart and mind. We can lovingly witness the true nature of those that are seemingly tangled in forces blocking or opposing their higher good.
Affirmation – release and rest in divine authority, acknowledging the uni-verse as literally one song reflecting the singular harmony that Spirit knows and is unfolding in every moment to meet our need in forms we can see and feel right now.