21. Meditation and Prayer
I have been reading lately about brain waves. Scientists can measure the frequency of the electrical vibrations in our brain by an Electro Encephalograph. When these vibrations get below a certain frequency (say, fifteen per second) you normally drift into a light sleep, full of dreams. At lower frequencies, a deep and dreamless sleep. Lower still, coma, such as is produced by an anesthetic. Some remarkable people, such as Yogis, have trained themselves to remain conscious during these low-frequency brain states. They can induce anesthesia on themselves, and undergo major surgery, fully conscious but without feeling a thing. Probably you and I cannot do this, but it is fairly easy to retain consciousness when you would normally be in a light sleep and dreaming. You are then outside time and space, no longer bound to your physical body, but in close touch with your subconscious.... Emanuel Swedenborg could induce a state of coma on his physical body, and be fully conscious in the Spiritual World, among people who had died as to their physical bodies but who were very much alive in a non-physical environment. In this region of "life after death," love and thought are the basic substance of reality instead of the atoms and molecules of physical matter. There is an appearance of time and space, but this is derived from states of love and thought and their sequence.
I am not suggesting that the ordinary run of people will ever be able to handle these very low-frequency brain waves, but all of us can slow ourselves down to the dream state and still remain conscious. We do it in day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is often mere self-indulgence and can be a waste of time, or worse! However, kept under discipline, the day-dreaming state can be the most creative and productive time of our whole lives. You relax yourself completely, and allow your bodily functions to slow down, including your breathing. Gradually your consciousness slips out of time and space into the inner spiritual dimension. Keep a careful watch over it, and see that it does not slip back again. This is not easy for most of us. It is surprising how few people, in this restless age, ever really sit still! Here is something for us to work on. Relax all tensions in stomach, throat, eyeballs. Imagine you are sinking into the ground, or floating in a sea of nothingness.
In this state you can be in direct touch with the wonderful computer in your subconscious mind which controls so much of your normal waking life, and you can program it as you wish, clearing it of the undesirable promptings which cause your bad habits and unwholesome tendencies, and implanting suggestions which will bring you health and joy. Also, your brain is operating at its most creative level when you are in this hyper-relaxed state, and will produce solutions to problems which baffled you when you were consciously struggling with them.
More important is the fact that, in this condition of semi-drowsiness, if you send out waves of hatred, resentfulness, jealousy, revenge, or contempt, they will boomerang back onto yourself, by an immutable law, as Jesus Himself taught when He said: "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again." On the other hand, if you send out waves of love, sympathy, healing and peace, these also will boomerang back onto yourself by the same law, and you will have a blessing....
I have still to mention the most important use to which this meditative state can be put: it can help us to draw near to God, and thus greatly enrich our prayer life. Meditation and prayer are not the same thing. People who do not believe in God, or who think they themselves are divine, can meditate but cannot pray. On the other hand, prayer is ineffectual without meditation. God is within us, deep down inside us, the "Ground of our being," as Tillich says. Therefore, we can hardly expect to reach Him in prayer unless we meditate. But for this purpose our meditation must be God-centered. So often it is merely an escape from the hard realities of life. Our minds drift into self-appraisal, self-glorification. We think of our past with nostalgia, especially remembering incidents in which we figured prominently; and look forward to our future, planning this and that, imagining what we shall do and be. God is upstaged, even forgotten. We say we will "confess our sins," but still it is our precious self that we are analyzing, our own weaknesses, mistakes, humiliations. We say we will give thanks unto the Lord, but still it is our own happiness and pleasure that we are glorifying, not God's generous love. If our meditation is to help us in our prayer life, it must be focused entirely on God; and, if God is in focus, we ourselves and everything around us will be out of focus and slightly blurred - which is what you have in a good photographic portrait.
Prayer must be concentrated on God. If you were with the President of the United States, or the Queen of England, or some other great and famous personage, you would not waste time babbling away about yourself; you would be thinking about the important person you were with. So it must be if we are meditating in the presence of the Lord. You must lift yourself up into nearness with Him; let Him hold you and support you. Only when you are completely concentrating your attention on Him can you really communicate with Him: and prayer, as Swedenborg defines it, is "talking with God" - communicating with God and receiving enlightenment from Him. Etymologically, "to pray" means to ask for something, as when people used to say "I pray thee, give me this," or, "I pray thee, do this." But it is a mistake to think that prayer is asking God only for material things. God's blessing is what we want, the infilling of our hearts with His love and our minds with His wisdom. We need His guidance for the better living of our lives, and His strength to bear what comes to us. There is no harm in praying for material things, of course; you can ask your heavenly Father for anything that is important to you. But if you meditate deeply in your prayers, your requests will tend to be on that spiritual level, and material things will cease to be important.
Obviously meditation is necessary for intercessory prayer, prayer for other people. You must get through to them first! Go into the silence, and then concentrate your thoughts on someone you love, or for whom you feel compassion. Picture him in your mind's eye, and visualize him looking towards you and seeing you. Then lay your hands gently on him, holding him. Pray earnestly to the Lord to bless him, to give him the very best that he needs; and the Lord's life will flow through you as a channel to your friend for whom you are praying. And, of course, you will be blessed also in the doing of it....
When I was in South Africa, our little New Church Mission of 5,000 members seemed to be stagnating, neither going backward nor forward. I felt it needed a spiritual shot in the arm. So my wife announced at the next annual Women's League Conference that she was starting a "Prayer Sisterhood." The members should undertake to pray for the Mission every Thursday morning at 6 a.m. Stamped postcards were to be handed out, and those who were prepared to take on this prayer commitment were to put their names on these cards and mail them to Headquarters. After my wife's speech, one of the African ladies came to the front and burst into tears. Asked what was the matter, she said they were tears of joy; this was the first time she had ever heard of a white person who understood about prayer! That was in November, 1960. In January, 1961 an indigenous African Church that I had never heard of before, applied to join our Mission. Others followed, and by the end of 1961 we had a total membership of 30,000 and a new vitality had come into every aspect of our church life. I could tell you much more but this is not the place for it; I mention it now merely to illustrate the point that when a large number of people are praying together for the same objective, no matter how scattered they are geographically, conditions are created in which miracles can happen. Not that we can force the hand of God - obviously! - but we can give Him a greater opportunity to work for His Kingdom in this heavily resistant mass of humanity which we call mankind.
Spiritual power is like atomic energy. It comes from God, and it is always available, but hidden from our everyday consciousness. Use it wisely, with love; do so in the immediate presence of your heavenly Father who is love itself, and your influence for good will be incalculable. And what a joy, this daily period of meditation and communion with God! There is nothing more calming and restorative than prayer.
It is like climbing Mt. Sinai, as Moses did to receive from God the Commandments of the Law, and to mediate between God and his fellow human beings. "And it came to pass, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the two tables of testimony in his hand, that the skin of his face shone." And thereafter he became the most practical, efficient and influential servant of God in recorded history, who took an undisciplined horde of ex-slaves and welded them into a nation under God which endured for centuries.
Meditation and prayer are not enervating; they are restorative, invigorating, revitalizing. The three disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration could not stay up there indefinitely; they had to come down into the plain, and bring their newly enlarged spiritual consciousness into their future relations with their fellow men. You cannot truly love God without serving your neighbor, and you cannot truly serve your neighbor without loving God. Prayer and activity, labor and rest. Filling and emptying out. Both are necessary for the satisfactory life. Which do you find most difficult in your present stage of development? In our culture, "doing" is generally found to be easier than "meditating." Concentrate, therefore, on meditation and prayer and you will find yourself experiencing the joy of heaven, even here in this world of sin. The Lord gives heaven to all who come to Him for it: who ask, seek, knock. Thank you, Lord!