[This post is the fourth in a blog series on prayer. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you read the previous three posts first, beginning with Learning How to Pray.]
Before I launch into this week’s theme on prayer, let me tell you an old Zen story.
Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
I love that story because it reminds me that I can never see the big picture enough to judge whether something is “good” or “bad.” Things that at first seems like hardships can end up opening the way for blessings, and vice versa.
Accepting the limitations of my knowledge is important for me when I pray, because if I’m praying for a specific outcome I may not fully understand the ramifications.
Before I go any farther, let me say that because of the way I see Reality, as a unified whole in which all things participate, I actually do believe that what we pray for matters, that our thoughts are a form of energy that interact with the field of possibility, so I believe it’s important to be mindful of how I pray and what I’m praying for.
Which is why when it comes to praying for a specific outcome, I always have to pause and ask myself what part of me desires that outcome. Is it the part of me that’s afraid, that wants to hold onto something, or grasp for something? (Ah, the many forms fear can take!)
If so, it’s an indication that my ego is directing the prayer. The ego wants to have things under control because it lives in a world of fear, and it may approach prayer as one of the ways it can stave off uncertainty.
When you dig down deeply enough you will always find that the ego’s fear arises out of its belief in death in some form or another, and since in Reality death doesn’t exist, the ego’s prayers are meaningless.
All of this comes back around, as the spiritual life always seems to, to doing our own inner work of ego release, which begins with being able to recognize the ego for what it is and becoming aware of what it’s clamoring for. If I remain unconscious about all of that, I will blindly follow its lead.
So getting back to prayer, if I’m aware that I’m praying for a particular outcome because my ego is afraid, then I would do better placing that fear in the “prayer bowl” of the moment, allowing it to dissolve in the boundless Love in which all things exist. It’s sort of like letting the clouds of fear dissolve in the light of Love until the sky of my being is clear, spacious, open.
But what about those times when we really do sense that something wants to manifest that isn’t an expression of the ego’s fear, something that is aligned with a divine intention arising out of our true Self? That’s when prayer can become tremendously potent, and I’ll talk about that next week.
susan wargo says
the ego. what a challenge! patricia, have you and richard rohr been having long conversations?? as always, your posts are challenging and yet comforting and hopeful. thank you.
Patricia Pearce says
Richard Rohr and I have never met, but from what I know of him it’s clear we’re on the same path. I hope someday we’ll meet face to face.
I’m glad the posts are helpful, and thanks so much for taking the time to respond.