The Contemplative Cycle
Q. Further into our investigations into prayer,somehow prayer seems to be in that place of first making sure we are able to 'be in the temple' so that God can work in us. And then offer that to whatever we meet. Prayer then seems much more inherently relational than I had ever considered . And your writings brought that up for me as well.
A. I think relationship is the essence of prayer--the attempt to be in relation to Somewhat. The nature of the ‘somewhat’ is the problem. Relationship is also a deliberately constructed dualism, which is its limitation. I’ve always found it troublesome, this split reality, one bit of it trying to ‘relate’ to another separated ‘entity’, and even less now as I am able to sense the seamlessness of the garment of creation. Which makes prayer tricky. What relates with what?
The following outline of how I see the three practices/approaches of prayer, meditation and contemplation is a bit simplistic, and far too hierarchical since they inter-mesh and re-cycle, but it’s a start.
In one sense I see prayer, in the ordinary understanding of it, as a beginning position. An objectifying which guides and focuses attention, determines behaviour etc. Fundamentalism aside, it is generally a Good Thing. At its best it trains awareness, develops emotional sensitivity and counters egotism, providing a centre around which to organise an aspirational and community life. It just needs some sort of God as a focus. And that God is real--by virtue of all those effects. It's God in action, in presence. Only the description is unreal.
But then, through the meditation phase, silence opens up a different kind of God, or access to awareness: a subtlety and sensitivity of a different kind. The contours of 'God' may dissolve. The sense of a separate ‘self-ness’ may become translucent, or come to be revealed as a temporary aggregate, and a state of unification with emptiness lead to those states of peacefulness, joy, simplicity. Then it makes no sense to start petitioning some separate divine Object in prayer--does it? It feels retrogressive to me.
However, there can be a stasis here; stuck in a meditation void. I think I see contemplation as resulting when meditation goes out and interacts with life, a matter of enquiring, seeing to the depths of, engendering insight so that life itself takes on a different contour, permanently. The image is of a grey, shimmering fabric of awareness including all things, all happenings, shot through with the all-seeing Eye. And 'relation' now doesn't come into it. Again: what relates with what?
Contemplation, in my view of it, induces understanding and insight, and the active nature of wisdom. There can be no stasis, for all is in movement and no -thing is permanent, and through contemplative vision, one actually Knows it. Prayer, and Meditation are included, not left behind: Meditation is the empowering silence, and prayer the relational aspect, the deep emotional base which holds all things together.
Which links back to the Vision of Harmony. (Investigating Prayer)
This ‘layer-cake’ view incorporates the idea that going 'higher' means simultaneously going 'lower'. Towards Essence means towards Instinct. Prayer is not left behind, it just transforms. The closer one is with the Essence (of being Human), the more in touch with one's Instinctive base (also of Humanity). Again, it is notable how instinctive is an urge to pray in a crisis; it’s the very first impulse, rising spontaneously from our humanly shared roots. ‘Help me, God’. Regardless of the form it takes or whether conditioning will permit it to develop further, the instinct is there. Call it fear, grasping at straws, fantasies of rescue, the instinct is there.
Q. I’ve also been thinking of invocation. Somehow most traditions work with invocation in some way, as a channelling of power. Is invocation close to prayer?
A. Invocation makes the mechanism overt, that of trying to summon a separate 'current' or 'force' or ‘deity’. Whatever the object of invocation, the forceful focusing of intent in oneself may produce a result. Whether it will make rain fall, or ensure a successful harvest is perhaps a matter of mystery and the interlinking of things. I wouldn't rule it out!
It may summon presence because it makes present.
I am conscious that whatever exploratory line one takes when investigating these matters leaves out other aspects. For instance, the issues of power and of efficacy, of result, is different from considering the state of being of the one praying, except in so far as that at a subtle level they may not be as separate as we think! All those studies of healing by concerted praying; directing intentional energy at a distance etc.
We face always the fundamental mystery of Intent and the inter-relationship of mind and matter. It is clearly a relationship which we do not understand with any rationalising faculty, but perhaps reflects the Vision of Harmony, where inter-relationships exist as Principles, if one has the education and the eye to discern them.