Esoteric Christianity

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Esoteric Christianity

By Annie Besant

Prayer

[Much of this chapter has already appeared in an earlier work by the author entitled. Some Problems of Life].

WHAT is sometimes called "the modern spirit" is exceedingly antagonistic to prayer, failing to see any causal nexus between the uttering of a petition and the happening of an event, whereas the religious spirit is as strongly attached to it, and finds its very life in prayer. Yet even the religious man sometimes feels uneasy as to the rationale of prayer; is he teaching the All-wise, is he urging beneficence on the All-Good, is he altering the will of Him in "whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning? "[S. James, i, 17. ] Yet he finds in his own experience and in that of others "answers to prayer" - a definite sequence of a request and a fulfilment. [Page 239]

Many of these do not refer to subjective experiences, but to hard facts of the so-called objective world. A man has prayed for money, and the post has brought him the required amount; a woman has prayed for food, and food has been brought to her door. In connection with charitable undertakings, especially, there is plenty of evidence of help prayed for in urgent need, and of speedy and liberal response. On the other hand, there is also plenty of evidence of prayers left unanswered; of the hungry starving to death, of the child snatched from its mother's arms by disease, despite the most passionate appeals to God. Any true view of prayer must take into account all these facts.

Nor is this all. There are many facts in this experience which are strange and puzzling. A prayer that perhaps is trivial meets with an answer, while another on an important matter fails; a passing trouble is relieved, while a prayer poured out to save a passionately beloved life finds no response. It seems almost impossible for the ordinary student to discover the law according to which a prayer is or is not productive.

The first thing necessary in seeking to understand this law is to analyse prayer itself, for the [Page 240] word is used to cover various activities of the consciousness, and prayers cannot be dealt with as though they formed a simple whole. There are prayers which are petitions for definite worldly advantages, for the supply of physical necessities — prayers for food, clothing, money, employment, success in business, recovery from illness, etc. These may be grouped together as Class A. Then we have prayers for help in moral and intellectual difficulties and for spiritual growth — for the overcoming of temptations, for strength, for insight, for enlightenment. These may be grouped as Class B. Lastly, there are the prayers that ask for nothing, that consist in meditation on and adoration of the divine Perfection, in intense aspiration for union with God — the ecstasy of the mystic, the meditation of the sage, the soaring rapture of the saint. This is the true "communion between the Divine and the human", when the man pours himself out in love and veneration for THAT which is inherently attractive, that compels the love of the heart. These we will call Class C.

In the invisible worlds there exist many kinds of Intelligences, which come into relationship with man, a veritable Jacob's ladder, on which the Angels of God ascend and descend, and above [Page 241] which stands the Lord Himself.[Gen- xxviii 12,13 ] Some of these Intelligences are mighty spiritual Powers, others are exceedingly limited beings, inferior in consciousness to man. This occult side of Nature - of which more will presently be said [See Chapter xii ] — is a fact recognised by all religions. All the world is filled with living things, invisible to fleshly eyes. The invisible worlds interpenetrate the visible, and crowds of intelligent beings throng round us on every side. Some of these are accessible to human requests, and others are amenable to the human will. Christianity recognises the existence of the higher classes of Intelligences under the general name of Angels, and teaches that they are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister",[Heb., i, 14] but what is their ministry what the nature of their work, what their relationship to human beings, all that was part of the instruction given in the Lesser Mysteries, as the actual communication with them was enjoyed in the Greater, but in modern days these truths have sunk into the background, except the little that is taught in the Greek and Roman communions. For the Protestant, "the ministry of angels" is little more than a phrase. In addition to all these, man [Page 242] is himself a constant creator of invisible beings, for the vibrations of his thoughts and desires create forms of subtle matter the only life of which is the thought or the desire which ensouls them; he thus creates an army of invisible servants, who range through the invisible worlds seeking to do his will. Yet, again, there are in these worlds human helpers, who work there in their subtle bodies while their physical bodies are sleeping, whose attentive ear may catch a cry for help. And to crown all, there is the ever-present, ever-conscious Life of God Himself, potent and responsive at every point of His realm, of Him without whose knowledge not a sparrow falleth to the ground, [S. Matt, x, 29] not a dumb creature thrills in joy or pain, not a child laughs or sobs — that all-pervading, all-embracing, all-sustaining Life and Love, in which we live and move.[Acts, xvii, 28. ] As nought that can give pleasure or pain can touch the human body without the sensory nerves carrying the message of its impact to the brain-centres, and as there thrills down from those centres through the motor nerves the answer that welcomes or repels, so does every vibration in the universe, which is His body, touch the consciousness of God, and draw thence responsive [Page 243] action. Nerve-cells, nerve-threads, and muscular fibres may be the agents of feeling and moving, but it is the man that feels and acts; so may myriads of Intelligences be the agents, but it is God who knows and answers. Nothing can be so small as not to affect that delicate omnipresent consciousness, nothing so vast as to transcend it. We are so limited that the very idea of such an all-embracing consciousness staggers and confounds us; yet perhaps a gnat might be as hard bestead if he tried to measure the consciousness of Pythagoras. Professor Huxley, in a remarkable passage, has imagined the possibility of the existence of beings rising higher and higher in intelligence, the consciousness ever expanding, and the reaching of a stage as much above the human as the human is above that of the black-beetle. [T. H. Huxley. Essays on Some Controverted Questions Page 36] That is not a flight of the scientific imagination, but a description of a fact. There is a Being whose consciousness is present at every point of His universe, and therefore can be affected from any point. That consciousness is not only vast in its field, but inconceivably acute, not diminished in delicate capacity to respond because it stretches its vast area in every direction, [Page 244] but is more responsive than a more limited consciousness, more perfect in understanding than the more restricted. So far from it being the case that the more exalted the Being the more difficult would it be to reach His consciousness, the very reverse is true. The more exalted the Being, the more easily is His consciousness affected.

Now this all-pervading Life is everywhere utilising as channels all the embodied lives to which He has given birth, and any one of them may be used as an agent of that all-conscious Will. In order that that Will may express itself in the outer world, a means of expression must be found, and these beings, in proportion to their receptivity, offer the necessary channels, and become the intermediary workers between one point of the kosmos and another. They act as the motor nerves of His body, and bring about the required action.

Let us now take the classes into which we have divided prayers, and see the methods by which they will be answered.

When a man utters a prayer of Class A there are several means by which his prayer may be answered. Such a man is simple in his nature, with a conception of God natural, inevitable, at the stage of evolution in which he is; he regards [Page 245] Him as the supplier of his own needs, in close and immediate touch with his daily necessities, and he turns to Him for his daily bread as naturally as a child turns to his father or mother. A typical instance of this is the case of George Müller, of Bristol, before he was known to the world as a philanthropist, when he was beginning his charitable work, and was without friends or money. He prayed for food for the children who had no resource save his bounty, and money always came sufficient for the immediate needs. What had happened ? His prayer was a strong, energetic desire, and that desire creates a form, of which it is the life and directing energy. That vibrating, living creature has but one idea, the idea that ensouls it — help is wanted, food is wanted; and it ranges the subtle world, seeking. A charitable man desires to give help to the needy, is seeking opportunity to give. As the magnet to soft iron, so is such a person to the desire-form, and it is attracted to him. It rouses in his brain vibrations identical with its own — George Müller, his orphanage, its needs — and he sees the outlet for his charitable impulse, draws a cheque, and sends it. Quite naturally, George Müller would say that God put it into the heart of such a one to give the needed help. In the deepest sense of the words that is true. [Page 246] since there is no life, no energy, in His universe that does not come from God; but the intermediate agency, according to the divine laws, is the desire-form created by the prayer.

The result could be obtained equally well by a deliberate exercise of the will, without any prayer, by a person who understood the mechanism concerned, and the way to put it in motion. Such a man would think clearly of what he needed, would draw to him the kind of subtle matter best suited to his purpose to clothe the thought, and by a deliberate exercise of his will would either send it to a definite person to represent his need, or to range his neighbourhood and be attracted by a charitably disposed person. There is here no prayer, but a conscious exercise of will and knowledge.

In the case of most people, however, ignorant of the forces of the invisible worlds and unaccustomed to exercise their wills, the concentration of mind and the earnest desire which are necessary for successful action are far more easily reached by prayer than by a deliberate mental effort to put forth their own strength. They would doubt their own power, even if they understood the theory, and doubt is fatal to the exercise of the will. That the person who [Page 247] prays does not understand the machinery he sets going in no wise affects the result. A child who stretches out his hand and grasps an object need not understand anything of the working of the muscles, nor of the electrical and chemical changes set up by the movement in muscles and nerves, nor need he elaborately calculate the distance of the object by measuring the angle made by the optic axes ; he wills to take hold of the thing he wants, and the apparatus of his body obeys his will though he does not even know of its existence. So is it with the man who prays, unknowing of the creative force of his thought, of the living creature he has sent out to do his bidding. He acts as unconsciously as the child, and like the child grasps what he wants. In both cases God is equally the primal Agent, all power being from Him; in both cases the actual work is done by the apparatus provided by His laws.

But this is not the only way in which prayers of this class are answered. Some one temporarily out of the physical body and at work in the invisible worlds, or a passing Angel, may hear the cry for help, and may then put the thought of sending the required aid into the brain of some charitable person. "The thought of so-and-so [Page 248] came into my head this morning", such a person will say. "I dare say a cheque would be useful to him". Very many prayers are answered in this way, the link between the need and the supply being some invisible Intelligence. Herein is part of the ministry of the lower Angels, and they will thus supply personal necessities, as well as bring aid to charitable undertakings.

The failure of prayers of this class is due to another hidden cause. Every man has contracted debts which have to be paid; his wrong thoughts, wrong desires, and wrong actions have built up obstacles in his way, and sometimes even hem him in as the walls of a prison-house. A debt of wrong is discharged by a payment of suffering; a man must bear the consequences of the wrongs he has wrought. A man condemned to die of starvation by his own wrong-doing in the past may hurl his prayers against that destiny in vain. The desire-form he creates will seek but will not find; it will be met and thrown back by the current of past wrong. Here, as everywhere, we are living in a realm of law, and forces may be modified or entirely frustrated by the play of other forces with which they come into contact. Two exactly similar forces might be applied to two exactly similar balls; in one case, one other force might [Page 249] be applied to the ball, and it might strike the mark aimed at; in the other, a second force might strike the ball and send it entirely out of its course. And so with two similar prayers ; one may go on its way, unopposed and effect its object; the other may be flung aside by the far stronger force of a past wrong. One prayer is answered, the other unanswered; but in both cases the result is by law.

Let us consider Class B. Prayers for help in moral and intellectual difficulties have a double result; they act directly to attract help, and they re-act on the person who prays. They draw the attention of the Angels, of the disciples working outside the body, who are ever seeking to help the bewildered mind, and counsel, encouragement, illumination, are thrown into the brain-consciousness, thus giving the answer to prayer in the most direct way. "And he kneeled down and prayed ......... and there appeared an Angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him". [S. Luke, xxii, 41, 43.] Ideas are suggested which clear away an intellectual difficulty, or throw light on an obscure moral problem, or the sweetest comfort is poured into the distressed heart, soothing its perturbations and calming its anxieties. And truly if no Angel were passing [Page 250] that way, the cry of the distressed would reach the "Hidden Heart of Heaven", and a messenger would be sent to carry comfort, some Angel, ever ready to fly swiftly on feeling the impulse, bearing the divine will to help.

There is also what is sometimes called a subjective answer to such prayers, the re-action of the prayer on the utterer. His prayer places his heart and mind in the receptive attitude, and this stills the lower nature, and thus allows the strength and illuminative power of the higher to stream into it unchecked. The currents of energy which normally flow downwards, or outwards, from the Inner Man, are, as a rule, directed to the external world, and are utilised in the ordinary affairs of life by the brain-consciousness, for the carrying on of its daily activities. But when this brain-consciousness turns away from the outer world, and shutting its outward-going doors, directs its gaze inwards; when it deliberately closes itself to the outer and opens itself to the inner; then it becomes a vessel able to receive and to hold, instead of a mere conduit-pipe between the interior and exterior worlds. In the silence obtained by the cessation of the noises of external activities, the "still small voice " of the Spirit can make itself heard, and the [Page 251] concentrated attention of the expectant mind enables it to catch the soft whisper of the Inner Self.

Even more markedly does help come from without and from within, when the prayer is for spiritual enlightenment, for spiritual growth. Not only do all helpers, angelic and human, most eagerly seek to forward spiritual progress, seizing on every opportunity offered by the upward-aspiring soul; but the longing for such growth liberates energy of a high kind, the spiritual longing calling forth an answer from the spiritual realm. Once more the law of sympathetic vibrations asserts itself, and the note of lofty aspiration is answered by a note of its own order, by a liberation of energy of its own kind, by a vibration synchronous with itself. The divine Life is ever pressing from above against the limits that bind it, and when the upward-rising force strikes against those limits from below, the separating wall is broken through, and the divine Life floods the Soul. When a man feels that inflow of spiritual life, he cries: "My prayer has been answered, and God has sent down His Spirit into my heart". Truly so; yet he rarely understands that that Spirit is ever seeking entrance, but that coming to His own, His own receive Him [Page 252] not. [S. John, i, 11. ]"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him". [Rev., iii, 20. ]

The general principle with regard to all prayers of this class is that just in proportion to the submergence of the personality and the intensity of the upward aspiration will be the answer from the wider life within and without us. We separate ourselves. If we cease the separation and make ourselves one with the greater, we find that light and life and strength flow into us. When the separate will is turned away from its own objects and set to serve the divine purpose, then the strength of the Divine pours into it. As a man swims against the stream, he makes slow progress; but with it, he is carried on by all the force of the current. In every department of Nature the divine energies are working, and everything that a man does he does by means of the energies that are working in the line along which he desires to do; his greatest achievements are wrought, not by his own energies, but by the skill with which he selects and combines the forces that aid him, and neutralises those that oppose him by those that are favourable. Forces that would whirl us away [Page 253] as straws in the wind become our most effective servants when we work with. them. Is it then any wonder that in prayer, as in everything else, the divine energies become associated with the man who, by his prayer, seeks to work as part of the Divine?

This highest form of prayer in Class B merges almost imperceptibly into Class C, where prayer loses its petitionary character, and becomes either a meditation on, or a worship of, God. Meditation is the steady quiet fixing of the mind on God, whereby the lower mind is stilled and presently left vacant, so that the Spirit, escaping from it, rises into contemplation of the divine Perfection, and reflects within himself the divine Image. "Meditation is silent or unuttered prayer, or as Plato expressed it: ' the ardent turning of the Soul towards the Divine; not to ask any particular good (as in the common meaning of prayer), but for good itself, for the Universal Supreme Good". [H. P. Blavatsky.Key to Theosophy, p. 10. ]

This is the prayer that, by thus liberating the Spirit, is the means of union between man and God. By the working of the laws of thought a man becomes that which he thinks, and when he meditates on the divine perfections he gradually [Page 254] reproduces in himself that on which his mind is fixed. Such a mind, shaped to the higher and not the lower, cannot bind the Spirit, and the freed Spirit leaping upward to his source, prayer is lost in union and separateness is left behind.

Worship also, the rapt adoration from which all petition is absent, and which seeks to pour itself forth in sheer love of the Perfect, dimly sensed, is a means — the easiest means — of union with God. In this the consciousness, limited by the brain, contemplates in mute ecstasy the Image it creates of Him whom it knows to be beyond imagining, and oft, rapt by the intensity of his love beyond the limits of the intellect, the man as a free Spirit soars upwards into realms where these limits are transcended, and feels and knows far more than on his return he can tell in words or clothe in form.

Thus the Mystic gazes on the Beatific Vision; thus the Sage rests in the calm of the Wisdom that is beyond knowledge; thus the Saint reaches the purity wherein God is seen. Such prayer irradiates the worshipper, and from the mount of such high communion descending to the plains of earth, the very face of flesh shines with supernal glory, translucent to the flame that burns within. Happy they who know the [Page 255] reality which no words may convey to those who know it not. Those whose eyes have seen "the King in His beauty" [Is., xxxiii,17] will remember, and they will understand.

When prayer is thus understood, its perennial necessity for all who believe in religion will be patent, and we see why its practice has been so much advocated by all who study the higher life. For the student of the Lesser Mysteries prayer should be of the kinds grouped under Class B, and he should endeavour to rise to the pure meditation and worship of the last class, eschewing altogether the lower kinds. For him the teaching of lamblichus on this subject is useful, lamblichus says that prayers "produce an indissoluble and sacred communion with the Gods", and then proceeds to give some interesting details on prayer, as considered by the practical Occultist. " For this is of itself a thing worthy to be known, and renders more perfect the science concerning the Gods. I say, therefore, that the first species of prayer is Collective; and that it is also the leader of contact with, and a knowledge of, divinity. The second species is the bond of concordant Communion, calling forth, prior to the energy of speech, the gifts [Page 256] imparted by the Gods, and perfecting the whole of our operations prior to our intellectual conceptions. And the third and most perfect species of prayer is the seal of ineffable Union with the divinities, in whom it establishes all the power and authority of prayer; and thus causes the soul to repose in the Gods, as in a never failing port. But from these three terms, in which all the divine measures are contained, suppliant adoration not only conciliates to us the friendship of the Gods, but supernally extends to us three fruits, being as it were three Hesperian apples of gold. The first of these pertains to illumination; the second to a communion of operation; but through the energy of the third we receive a perfect plenitude of divine fire .... No operation, however, in sacred concerns, can succeed without the intervention of prayer. Lastly, the continual exercise of prayer nourishes the vigour of our intellect, and renders the receptacle of the soul far more capacious for the communications of the Gods. It likewise is the divine key, which opens to men the penetralia of the Gods; accustoms us to the splendid rivers of supernal light; in a short time perfects our inmost recesses, and disposes them for the ineffable embrace and contact of the Gods; and does not desist till it raises us to the [Page 257] summit of all. It also gradually and silently draws upward the manners of our soul, by divesting them of everything foreign to a divine nature, and clothes us with the perfections of the Gods. Besides this, it produces an indissoluble communion and friendship with divinity, nourishes a divine love, and inflames the divine part of the soul. Whatever is of an opposing and contrary nature in the soul, it expiates and purifies; expels whatever is prone to generation and retains anything of the dregs of mortality in its ethereal and splendid spirit; perfects a good hope and faith concerning the reception of divine light and in one word, renders those by whom it is employed the familiars and domestics of the Gods". [On the Mysteries, Sec. v, ch. 26 ]

Out of such study and practice one inevitable result arises, as a man begins to understand and as the wider range of human life unfolds before him. He sees that by knowledge his strength is much increased, that there are forces around him that he can understand and control, and that in proportion to his knowledge is his power Then he learns that Divinity lies hidden within himself, and that nothing that is fleeting can satisfy that God within; that only union with the One, the Perfect, can still his cravings [Page 258] then there gradually arises within him the will to set himself at one with the Divine; he ceases to vehemently seek to change circumstances, and to throw fresh causes into the stream of effects. He recognises himself as an agent rather than an actor, a channel rather than a source, a servant rather than a master, and seeks to discover the divine purposes and to work in harmony therewith.

When a man has reached that point, he has risen above all prayer, save that which is meditation and worship; he has nothing to ask for, in this world or in any other; he remains in a steadfast serenity, seeking but to serve God. That is the state of Sonship, where the will of the Son is one with the will of the Father, where the one calm surrender is made, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, 0 God. I am content to do it; yea, Thy law is within my heart". [Ps., xl, 7, 8, Prayer Book version. ] Then all prayer is seen to be unnecessary; all asking is felt as an impertinence; nothing can be longed for that is not already in the purposes of that Will, and all will be brought into active manifestation as the agents of that Will perfect themselves in the work. [Page 259]

 

 

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