Gavin W. Allan, C.S.B., of Toronto, Canada
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The following lecture entitled "Christian Science Illumines Prayer" was delivered a number of years ago by Mr. Gavin W. Allan, C.S.B., of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and is being reprinted at the request of many readers.
Mr. Allan, a member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, spoke substantially as follows:
Whether one is affiliated with one of the Christian denominations or not, whether one accepts, is indifferent to, or rejects the teachings of Christianity, one thing is almost certain — he has prayed. He may not have called his mental attitude or effort prayer; he may not have thought of it as prayer; he may resent any implication that he has ever prayed; and yet it is almost certain he has prayed.
In its most primitive form prayer is doubtless a cry for help — just a cry. Let me illustrate. Suppose a child has been warned by his father not to do a certain thing. Suppose the child disregards this warning and gets into a predicament from which he cannot free himself, his first impulse is to cry for help. It may be just a cry, a cry addressed to no one in particular; or, it may be a cry to his father, the very person whose warning he disobeyed. In other words, when the child becomes aware that he is in trouble, when he feels or fears he cannot get out unaided, his first impulse is to cry for help.
So it is with us, children of a larger growth; when we find ourselves in difficulty and see no way of extricating ourselves, we cry for help. This is illustrated a number of times in the one hundredth and seventh Psalm. You may remember the Psalmist's description of the wanderers in the wilderness: "Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble." Also his description of the sailors in a storm: "They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble."
Is not this all too frequently the case, that men pray only when they are driven to it by fear? Men who, when their affairs are running smoothly, when their business is flourishing, when their health is good, attribute their successes to themselves and rarely acknowledge the presence of a higher power; when reverses come, when courage fails, when they are "at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the Lord." This has ever been the experience of humanity; that reverses, troubles, distresses, and misfortunes which shake men out of the ruts or habits of living and back to their native impulses almost invariably drive men to prayer of some sort. Such being the case, prayer must be regarded as one of the native impulses of humanity, and as such is more primitive than the most primitive creed; because, you see, the creed only attempts to formulate or explain what prayer instinctively assumes.
But there is a higher form of prayer than the self-pitying cry for help. Let us turn to the illustration we used a few moments ago. Suppose the child had listened to the warning of his father. Suppose that he really desired to comprehend his father's point of view and to bring himself into complete harmony with it. Would not such a desire of itself illustrate a kind of prayer? Indeed, would it not illustrate a higher form of prayer than the impulsive cry for help? Would not an eager listening on our part for the voice of God to direct us be a higher form of prayer than an impulsive cry for help when we find ourselves in trouble? Would not a yearning on our part to understand good be a higher form of prayer than a cry to be extricated from the meshes of evil? In other words, would not listening for God's voice be a higher form of prayer than crying to God?
Now the fact of the matter is that each one of us is always in the attitude of listening. Two streams of thought seem to be ceaselessly coming our way: one erroneous, the other true; one unreal, the other real. One presents suggestions of fear, poverty, sickness, unhappiness, or sin. The other offers peace, abundance, health, happiness, and purity. To which are we listening? Which group of qualities would we prefer to experience? The good, of course. How can we make these experiences ours? We may begin by listening. And then our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, tells us the next step. In the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (p. 261), she writes, "Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts;" that is listen for the good, "hold thought steadfastly" to the good, and you will experience the good. Could anything be more reasonable?
But some one may say: Does God really speak to men? Can we hear His message? Just here let me say that there is a hearing that is keener than that of the human ear, a mode of hearing each of us possesses; and the message of Truth can always be heard if we but listen. It may come to us through the counsel of a friend, the words of a book we are reading, a remembered poem, or a passage of Scripture. How frequently have men been lifted out of the darkness of despair by the words of Elihu, as recorded in Job. "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life"! What numbers of people have been brought back from invalidism to health and vigor through heeding the message of truth in the "scientific statement of being" as given in our textbook (p. 468): "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual"!
In the Christian Science textbook (p. 323) Mrs. Eddy speaks of Christian Science as "the 'still, small voice' of Truth uttering itself," and adds, "We are either turning away from this utterance, or we are listening to it and going up higher." And in one of her poems (Poems, p. 14) she has pointed out the true attitude, one which she herself maintained through many years. She says:
"I will listen for Thy voice
Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
All the rugged way."
It was this listening attitude which enabled our Leader to fulfill her mission as the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science and unfolded to her the By-Laws of The Mother Church which continue to safeguard the Christian Science organization. One lone New England woman's listening for the voice of God and willingly obeying! With what result? Effects beyond the power of human mind to compute.
Let us look at another phase of the subject. Perhaps no misconception of prayer is more common than the belief that it is a means of getting God to do our will, much as a willful child endeavors to persuade his parent to give him what he wants, regardless of whether it may be good for him. Such a concept of prayer is, of course, based on a belief that God is changeable, and that His purpose or His reluctance may possibly be changed by our entreaty or importunity. In this connection I should like to quote a sentence from Archbishop Trench. He has written, "We must not conceive of prayer as an overcoming of God's reluctance, but as a laying hold of His highest willingness." In other words, he saw that prayer is not begging or demanding; rather it is accepting.
The highest prayer is not endeavoring to bend God's will to ours, it is not persuading God to alter His plans, or make exceptions in our favor, neither is prayer a quantitative thing, depending upon numbers — a spiritual tug-of-war, as it were, in which if we can only get enough people to pull, and to pull long enough, we may expect to get the powers of the universe over to our side. Rather is it a lifting of our thought to a realization of our unity with our divine source, to the recognition of the fact that we are the sons of God now, with all that term implies of God's provision, God's protection and God's perfection.
But some one may ask, Does not prayer, or what is called effectual prayer, produce a change? It surely does, but not a change in God. However, even though prayer cannot change God, it may still be effectual — it may change us. It may clear away some of the obstructions which have been preventing our receiving or accepting the good that is ours. It may awaken in us a keener awareness of God's nearness, of His love for us, and of His abundant provision for our need.
Strange as it may seem, there are some things God cannot do for us without our cooperation. Paul expressed the necessity for effort on our part when he wrote to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation." From the standpoint of the absolute it is perfectly true that "now are we the sons of God," as John has declared, but from the viewpoint of human experience our ascent to the realization of that fact demands not only desire and effort, but also receptivity and acceptance.
To illustrate, suppose, for example, that you desire to give your son an inheritance. You are equipped to do it, you have ample means, and you are anxious that your son should have it. Suppose, also, that your son does not appreciate your generosity, does not desire your gift, will not accept it. Can you give him the benefit of it? No matter how eager you may be that he should have it, all you can do is wait, until he desires it, until he is ready to accept it, until he is ready to claim it as his.
But suppose that after some months or years of opposition to your beneficent plan for him, there awakens in your son an appreciation of your kindness, an understanding of your generosity, a desire for the inheritance awaiting him. Would this change of mind on his part, would this desire to receive, and eagerness to accept, his inheritance change you? No, but it would clear the way for the consummation of your plan. It would not change in the slightest degree either you or your plan, but it would change completely the effect of your plan. So our prayers do not change God, but our desires for spiritual good, when sufficiently sincere to enable us to understand and to be receptive to God's will, enable us to conform to His will and thereby experience the blessings He bestows.
You may remember in one of Jesus' parables, the younger son, the one frequently referred to as the prodigal, made two requests of his father; the first "give me," the second, "make me." Between these two in the life of the young man was a period of self-indulgence, followed by its inevitable punishment until self-will had been to some extent overcome. The first request or demand expressed self-will, my will be done; the second expressed self-renunciation, "thy will be done." The request "make me" showed a desire on the part of the lad not only to be ever near his father, but also to be obedient to his every command and to accept gratefully his father's provision.
Let us apply this to ourselves. Are we accepting what God has given us? Let us use a very common illustration. Suppose, for example, that you are contending with an illness of some sort. Now, Mrs. Eddy has told us (Science and Health, p. 411), "The procuring cause and foundation of all sickness is fear, ignorance, or sin." By what means are you going to attempt to destroy the sickness and restore a sense of health? Is there any medicine that is supposed to be capable of destroying fear, or ignorance, or sin? No, there is no material remedy for these evils, these causes of sickness. In your search for relief the words of the apostle James may come to you, "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." What is this healing prayer? Is it beseeching, entreating, or imploring God to heal? Would such a desire bring to you any more of God's power than you have at present? Let us see what the Bible teaches on this subject. Through Christian Science we are learning that the Bible teaches that God is the only cause, the only creator; that He made man in His image, a mental or spiritual being; and that He maintains man in His likeness; that all God made is good; and that God governs the universe, including man, and governs it perfectly. If we accept these premises, the only logical deduction about man's health is that man is well now. Are we taking these statements of Scripture and applying them to ourselves? Are we reasoning about ourselves from the basis of "perfect God and perfect man?" Are we accepting what is eternally true about ourselves?
In the first chapter of John we may read, "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." Commenting on this, Mrs. Eddy has written (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 182): "'As many as received him'; that is, as many as perceive man's actual existence in and of his divine Principle, receive the Truth of existence; and these have no other God, no other Mind, no other origin; therefore, in time they lose their false sense of existence, and find their adoption with the Father; to wit, the redemption of the body. Through divine Science man gains the power to become the son of God, to recognize his perfect and eternal estate." The question is, Are we accepting what is eternally true about ourselves?
In answer to a question, "Is it wrong to pray for the recovery of the sick?" Mrs. Eddy replied (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 59), "Not if we pray Scripturally, with the understanding that God has given all things to those who love Him; but pleading with infinite Love to love us, or to restore health and harmony, and then to admit that it has been lost under His government, is the prayer of doubt and mortal belief that is unavailing in divine Science."
A moment ago we referred to the Scriptural teachings regarding God and man, and the relationship which exists between them. These being true, man desires, and can receive from God only what God has given, and God has given only what is godlike. God's gifts are spiritual only, never material. Were men to pray for money or property, they would not be praying aright. God can give only what is like Himself — His ideas, His qualities, and it is only as we desire and are ready to accept these spiritual gifts that we are praying aright.
Our Leader, Mrs. Eddy, gained so clear an understanding of God, and of Jesus' method of prayer, that she was able to pray in a similar manner. She desired only what God gives. She did not pray for materiality, for personal profit or personal gratification. Her desire was to know and do the will of God, and her prayers were answered. When our prayers become a fervent desire to know the will of God, to accept it and obey it, the kingdom of heaven will be ours; for heaven is the government of God realized and accepted.
But some one may say, Did not our Master leave us a very definite promise that we should receive all we asked for, when he said, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them"? Yes, he did. But there are two words in that statement which are very significant. They are, "pray" and "receive." Prayer is the very opposite of selfish or material desires. Such desires cannot properly be called prayer. Only a desire for the things of God can properly be called prayer. The other condition Jesus named is, "believe that ye receive them," or, as the Revised Version has it, "believe that ye have received them." In other words, believe that they are yours now;
Humanity entertains a belief amounting almost to conviction that behind and governing all natural phenomena there is a law of some kind, and modern thought is ceaselessly endeavoring to discover or restate these laws. These natural laws are nothing more nor less than statements of how things regularly occur so far as men have been able to observe them. They are confined solely to the realm of the physical or material.
But there is a higher law than the statement of how things seem to occur, and our Master understood this spiritual law so fully that he proved himself completely master of what are called natural or physical laws: he walked on the water, stilled the tempest, fed the multitude, healed the sick, and raised the dead.
You will remember an incident in the New Testament (recorded by no less than three writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke), namely, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue. You will remember that when Jesus arrived at the house and told the people gathered there that the girl would arise, "they laughed him to scorn." Why? So far as they had been able to observe, any one who died, remained dead. This was their sense of the law of life, and they were certain that Jesus was wrong. Jesus, however, had a much higher sense of life. He knew that God is the only real Life and that, as Mrs. Eddy has expressed it (Science and Health, p. 306), "man cannot be separated for an instant from God, if man reflects God."
Speaking of his mission on earth Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." And Mrs. Eddy has said regarding our Master's acts of power, or what have been called miracles (Science and Health, p. 134): "A miracle fulfils God's law, but does not violate that law . . . The miracle introduces no disorder, but unfolds the primal order, establishing the Science of God's unchangeable law."
The healing of sickness through prayer is no more a violation of the law of life than is the correcting of a mistake in arithmetic a violation of the law of numbers. In either case the process is mental, and requires strict obedience to the principle involved. In solving a problem in mathematics one begins with the conviction that there is a correct solution, there is a correct answer; that it exists now, and that an intelligent adherence to the principle of mathematics and an application of the rules involved will reveal the answer. So in the healing of sickness, prayer begins with the conviction that man's every righteous need is already supplied by God, and if one intelligently conforms to the rules of metaphysical healing as laid down in the Christian Science textbook, if he accepts the government of divine Principle, thus utilizing God's ever present law of harmony, the answer to his prayer will be revealed. He will prove that man is well now. Through true prayer he will be able to prove that the Christ heals today, as surely, as naturally, and as inevitably as when our Master utilized God's law to meet men's needs centuries ago.
True prayer, then, is not a recitation of human woes, is not urging one's unsolved problems upon the attention of Deity; it is giving the lie to evil and error in all its forms; it is affirming and realizing the good and the true; it is keeping one's attention upon the truth by which his problems are solved; it is declaring, acknowledging, and accepting the spiritual facts about God and man; it is utilizing God's ever present law of harmony.
In our textbook (Science and Health, p. 111) Mrs. Eddy defines the practice of divine metaphysics as the "utilization of the power of Truth over error." This could also be used as a definition of prayer. But let us use our Leader's words, as they appear in one of her other writings (No and Yes, p. 39): "Prayer is the utilization of the love wherewith He [God] loves us."
On one occasion, as recorded by John, Jesus began his prayer with "Father, I thank thee." On this occasion he gave as his reason for speaking aloud his gratitude, that it was "because of the people which stand by"; those who did not understand, as did he, the Science of being. And may not Jesus' statement be properly construed as applicable to us today? At least we may profit by looking upon it in that light. He who understood God's allness did not wait until his prayer had been answered, did not wait until he had seen the desired good manifested, before he thanked God. His prayer began with thanksgiving. On another occasion, as recorded by Matthew, Jesus gave thanks before he began to feed the multitude. He did not wait until the people's need had been met. Most of us find it is more or less easy to say "Thank you" after we have received some manifestation of kindness, but Jesus, looking away from things temporal, expressed his gratitude for that which has always existed, God and His goodness. He left for our example, not a prayer of self-pity, but one of gratitude and thanksgiving. He showed us that joy and gratitude are vital components of prayer.
To learn to be rightly grateful is just about as essential as to learn to be honest. But someone may say, it is quite easy to be grateful when one has everything, but how can he possibly be grateful when he feels that he is in great need? Just here I might say that if his desire is to have that need supplied, gratitude is one of the most effective healing agencies. But let us examine the case further. Can you imagine one's being so placed that he has nothing for which he should be grateful? Almost impossible, is it not? Surely everyone everywhere has some cause for gratitude. Let us enumerate some. Are we grateful that God is, that He is good, that He made man in His image, and that He governs the universe in perfect harmony? Are we grateful for the life and example of Christ Jesus, that he left us not a doctrine, nor a reasoned argument about God, but that he left us an example of a life lived in unity with God? Are we grateful that he marked out a path and traveled it himself to a goal attainable by each one of us? Are we grateful for love? Or if, perchance, we are under the impression that no one loves us, are grateful for the opportunity and joy of loving, by far the greater happiness of the two. Are we grateful that we can think and reason; that we can differentiate between right and wrong, and choose and follow the right? Are we grateful for sight and hearing; for home and friends? Are not these blessings we are too apt to take for granted and forget to acknowledge with gratitude?
This reminds me of an incident which occurred a few years ago. A woman called on a Christian Science practitioner, and for the first several minutes she related, one after another, things that were going wrong, until it might seem that nothing was right. After listening to her story, the practitioner said: "Isn't there anything going right? Isn't there something for which you are grateful?" After thinking awhile she said, "Yes, there is one." Then the practitioner got her a pencil and she began to write down, at first slowly, then more and more quickly, one after another, blessings for which she was really thankful. After writing for some time, she looked up and said: "What has happened? When I came in everything seemed dark. I could not see a bright spot at all. Now everything looks bright." What had happened? A sense of gratitude for some recognized good had caused her to see and appreciate other blessings which had long been hers but had not been recognized. Gratitude for the blessings she possessed awakened her spiritual perception to see that all good was hers by right, and she went away with an entirely different outlook. Is it any wonder that our Leader, who knew so well that value of gratitude, tells us that under certain circumstances (Science and Health, p. 3) "the only acceptable prayer is to put the finger on the lips and remember our blessings"?
Few have expressed their gratitude as fully or as practically as our Leader, Mrs. Eddy. When she was relieved, in the winter of 1866, of injuries caused by an accident, she recognized that the healing was of God. Her first desire was to understand how it had taken place, not for herself alone, but for the sake of all who needed restoration to health. It was this selfless purpose which drove her to search for the divine Principle of healing. Do not imagine that this was the work of a day or a year. "For three years," she tells us in our textbook (Science and Health, p. 109), "I sought the solution of this problem of Mind-healing, searched the Scriptures and read little else, kept aloof from society, and devoted time and energies to discovering a positive rule. . . . I knew the Principle of all harmonious Mind-action to be God, and that cures were produced in primitive Christian healing by holy, uplifting faith; but I must know the Science of this healing, and I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason, and demonstration." Mrs. Eddy's gratitude was expressed in deeds, in a self-effacing life of ceaseless labor for us.
Let us never cease to be grateful for the discovery in this age of the Science our Master so fully demonstrated, a Science which reveals the utter powerlessness of evil, and the ever-presence and ever-availability of God, our Father-Mother.
It has been the experience of many that they came in touch with Christian Science for the first time through attending a Christian Science testimony meeting. Such meetings are held every Wednesday by every Christian Science church. After the meeting is opened by hymns and readings from the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, a half hour or so is devoted to testimonies. If it has been your privilege to attend meetings of this kind, you will have noticed the many expressions of gratitude for the healing of physical ills, and also for the spiritual understanding which has come to the speakers through their study and application of Christian Science.
For our guidance in the giving of such testimonies Mrs. Eddy has left in the Church Manual the following By-Law (Art. VIII, Sec. 24): "Testimony in regard to the healing of the sick is highly important. More than a mere rehearsal of blessings, it scales the pinnacle of praise and illustrates the demonstration of Christ, 'who healeth all thy diseases' (Psalm 103:3). This testimony, however, shall not include a description of symptoms or of suffering, though the generic name of the disease may be indicated." How wonderfully wise was our Leader to protect these meetings and those who attend them from pictures of suffering! Humanity, you know, is very apt to dilate on its ills! Such over-emphasis is prohibited in these meetings; the dominant note is gratitude. These midweek meetings are not merely prayer meetings; they are answered-prayer meetings. If you have never attended one I should advise you to do so.
Let us look at another phase of the subject. One of our hymns (Christian Science Hymnal) begins thus:
"Prayer is the heart's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast."
Two words in that stanza are very significant: "sincere" and "fire." "Prayer is the heart's sincere desire." Sincere means genuine, true, real. The other word is "fire." Have our prayers been really burning desires? Have we been really in earnest? Would not the word "fog" more accurately describe our attitude in some times of prayer? However, the hazy indifference, the mental laziness, the lack of fervency, which have characterized many of our periods of prayer, have had their reward — nothing. It was all they deserved.
But some one may ask, "Did not Jesus tell us we should receive if we should ask, . . . seek, . . . knock"? Yes, he did. But he did not say "wish" or "dream," which better expresses the want of vigor in many of our prayers. The laziest human being you can imagine may, and perhaps does, wish for a million dollars, but such a wish has no real relation to prayer. Even an eager desire for material things or for self-gratification could not properly be called prayer, for prayer is a yearning for what really belongs to us as "sons of God." Any prayer which does not measure up to this standard is really powerless.
There have always been a few persons who have believed that God could cause evil as well as good; could harm as well as heal His children. For example, you may remember an ancient writer's prayer for his adversary as recorded in the Old Testament: "Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow." An evil desire that Deity would bring evil to pass! Such a desire could not properly be called prayer. It has no relation to prayer.
Have you ever been tempted to wish evil upon others? Have you ever been tempted to believe that others desired to wish evil upon you? Then remember such desires have no relation to prayer. They have neither God nor any real power back of them. The evil-wisher punishes himself only, and will continue to do so until he ceases his evil-wishing.
Prayer is, as I said before, a yearning for what belongs to us or our fellowmen as "sons of God." Any prayer which does not measure up to this standard is really powerless. Your understanding of this fact will operate as your complete protection from any invocation intended to harm you.
But to return to the phase of the subject we were considering. Mere desire is not sufficient. As Mrs. Eddy has pointed out in our textbook (Science and Health, p. 13); "If we are not secretly yearning and openly striving for the accomplishment of all we ask, our prayers are 'vain repetitions' such as the heathen use. If our petitions are sincere, we labor for what we ask."
The question is, Are we doing our utmost to attain the good we desire, or are we only wishing for it? Prayer that is not a fervent desire is too weak to accomplish much. Jesus referred to this intensity of desire as hungering and thirsting. He said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Here is one definition of a perfect prayer; hungering and thirsting after righteousness. And not only so, but it also contains our Master's assurance that it will be answered.
Let us get away from the notion that prayers are something to be said. Our prayers are not what we say; they are what we are.
In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians he exhorts his readers to "pray without ceasing." If prayer necessitated a repetition of words, unceasing prayer would be an impossibility; but since prayer is a mental or spiritual attitude, Paul's command can be obeyed. In this connection let me quote a sentence from our textbook (Science and Health, p. 4). "The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer." You see, the mental attitude of always desiring good, always striving for it, always willing to obey its demands — such an attitude is, of itself, prayer.
In another passage in our textbook (p. 15) Mrs. Eddy has written, "Self-forgetfulness, purity, and affection are constant prayers." Here Mrs. Eddy has named three qualities which the human mind is not eager to adopt, but qualities which outstandingly characterized our Master.
"Self-forgetfulness." How well does this word describe our Master's attitude! "Not my will, but thine be done" was his prayer. He forgot self in remembering God and his fellowmen. It may not seem easy to drop our sense of self, to lay down all sense of self-importance or self-depreciation, all desire for self-ease or self-gratification. The carnal mind seems to insist upon the necessity for a selfhood apart from God. That is its only dwelling place, and it is disinclined to move out. But it is doomed to ejection from human consciousness. And in the measure that we put off the old man and put on the new, in the measure that mortal mind gives place to that "mind . . . which was also in Christ Jesus" we shall acquire self-forgetfulness, and our prayers will be increasingly efficacious.
"Purity." This is a spiritual quality, and it is not difficult to see the very close connection which exists between it and prayer. On page 150 of Miscellany Mrs. Eddy describes a phase of prayer which would be beneficial to each of us. She writes, "in speechless prayer, ask God to enable you to reflect God, to become His own image and likeness." Is not this what we really desire, when we take time to think quietly? If it is our real desire to be a pure reflection of God, it ought to have more than a momentary place in our thought. Let us keep it before us more and more until it becomes our dominant desire, our constant prayer.
"Affection." Let us not be backward about adopting, or ashamed of manifesting, the tender qualities of Mind: affection, kindness, forgiveness, and love. In I John 3:18 we may read, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." No writer in the Bible has more to say in defense of the right sense of love than John, and you remember his answer to the argument that it is possible for a person to love God and hate his fellow man. He said, "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Impossible!
What an affection Jesus had for mankind! How he yearned to bless his fellows! His affection went out to all to gather them to the truth of their spiritual manhood, and this pure affection was a constant prayer. As we come to know through Christian Science, what we are, and what our neighbor really is, that pure affection will develop and be manifested in us — an affection which may properly be called prayer.
Between praying and the saying of prayers there may be a wide gulf. Many of our best prayers have never been put into words. They have been a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. They have been "the heart's sincere desire . . . unexpressed," as the hymn we quoted a moment ago puts it. Because praying is a thought-process, because prayers are mental, no one can be deprived of the privilege of praying when or where he chooses, whether it be in the midst of the crowd, in the stress of business, in the adjustment of some difficult situation, or in the quiet of his room. As Mrs. Eddy has written in our textbook (Science and Health, p. 12), "In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as 'a very present help in trouble.'"
In every service of the Christian Science church a time is set apart for the silent prayer. Each attendant at the service has therefore an opportunity to pray in his own way. The only rule governing these times of prayer (and this rule is for the guidance of members only) is a By-Law in the Manual of The Mother Church, by Mrs. Eddy (Art VIII, Sect. 5): "The prayers in Christian Science churches shall be offered for the congregations collectively and exclusively."
But some one may say, If prayer is not repetition of set phrases, or if prayer is not the putting of our desires into words, how is one to know when he is praying aright? In answer to that question I may say, If the beginner in Christian Science will learn through his study of the Bible and the Christian Science textbook what God is, what man is, and the relationship which ever exists between God and man, I doubt if it would be possible for an honest, sincere and loving heart to pray wrongly.
In Hymn 410 of the new Christian Science Hymnal you will find a more adequate description of the nature and effect of "silent prayer." This is it:
No mortal sense can still or stay
The flight of silent prayer,
Unceasing, voiceless, heart desire
That seeks God everywhere.
The heart's own longing lifts it high
Where words can never reach,
Though human lips may never form
That glory into speech.
The voices that are worldly wise,
With mortal modes in tune,
Are mute in that transcendent hour
When God and man commune.
You will remember on one occasion Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them to pray. Such a request surely implies that the disciples believed prayer to be much more than the mere wishing for something, much more even than the formal or accurate wording of their desires. It implied a yearning on their part to know what Jesus knew: the truth about God and man's relationship to Him — a knowledge they had seen evidenced in the marvels wrought in their presence but a few days before.
Beginning his instruction on this subject, Jesus first told them what prayer is not. He told them that prayer is not the saying of some selected sentences over and over. This no doubt pretty accurately described a concept of prayer not uncommon at that time, but Jesus called it "vain repetition" and warned his disciples against it. He told them further that prayer was not doing something by which they would appear unto men to pray, something to be seen or heard by others.
Then he told them what prayer is. He said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." He implied that prayer is so intimately personal that it is not intended for others' eyes or ears; that it belongs to the realm of consciousness alone; that the whisperings of the carnal mind should be silenced in order that the "still small voice" of Truth might be heard; that prayer is a thought-process based upon an understanding of Truth, and yearning for a deepening of that understanding, a recognition of God's allness and His ever present availability to meet man's every need.
He then gave his disciple six brief sentences which have since come to be known as the Lord's Prayer. This, however, does not imply that Jesus' prayers were always a repetition of these words, nor that he intended that they should be used as a formula to be endlessly repeated in the belief that the number of repetitions would add to their efficacy. Rather were they a few words aimed to instruct thought in the ever present availability of God's eternal goodness.
Just here I should like to repeat this prayer, clause by clause, giving also, clause by clause, the spiritual interpretation of that prayer as given in the Christian Science textbook (pp. 16, 17):
Our Father which art in heaven,
Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy kingdom is come; Thou art ever-present.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Enable us to know, — as in heaven, so on earth, — God is omnipotent, supreme.
Give us this day our daily bread;
Give us grace for today; feed the famished affections;
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And Love is reflected in love;
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;
And God leadeth us not into temptation, but delivereth us from sin, disease and death.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
For God is infinite, all-power, all Life, Truth, Love, over all, and All."
[From a newspaper clipping, probably The Marion County Mail of Indianapolis, Indiana, date unknown.]