Medieval mysticism prepared the way for spiritual science; prayer prepared for medieval mysticism. Today the essence of prayer has been misunderstood. Prayer is intended to produce the divine spark, the special life of the soul. For this, we must understand both the soul and the soul in relation to the future set before us by world wisdom.
17 February 1910, Berlin
Translated by Henry B. Monges in 1952; edited by Gilbert Church, Ph.D. in 1961
In my recent lecture on mysticism I spoke of the particular form of mystic absorption that appeared in the Middle Ages between the time of Meister Eckhart and that of Angelus Silesius. This type of mysticism is distinguished by the fact that the mystic seeks to become free of all the experiences aroused in his soul by the external world. He seeks to acquire the feeling that proves to him that, even when everything of the everyday world is removed from his soul and it withdraws into itself, a world of its own still remains within it. This world always exists but is outshone by the experiences that work so powerfully on man from without. Thus, it generally appears as a light so faint that most men do not even notice it. The mystic usually calls it “the spark.” Yet, he feels sure that it can be fanned to a mighty flame that will illumine the source and foundation of existence leading man along the path of his soul to the knowledge of his origin. This may, indeed, be called “knowledge of God.”
In the same lecture we saw how medieval mystics held that this spark, constituted as it is at the moment, must grow by itself. In contrast, we pointed out that modern spiritual research calls for a conscious and controlled development of these inner soul forces, so that they can rise to higher forms of knowledge, designated the imaginative, the inspirational and the intuitive. This medieval absorption is thus the beginning of true higher spiritual research that does indeed seek the spirit through the development of the inner being but, through the method of approach, is led beyond it to the source and foundation of the existence of all facts and phenomena, and of our own souls as well. Mysticism, therefore, appeared as a sort of first step to true spiritual investigation. If we have the ability to sink ourselves in the fervor of a Meister Eckhart, to recognize what an immeasurable force of spiritual knowledge it brought to Johannes Tauler, to see how deeply Valentin Weigel or Jacob Boehme were initiated into the secrets of existence by all that they attained through such absorption even though they passed beyond it, or to understand what an Angelus Silesius became through its means, how he was enabled not only to gain an illuminating insight into the great laws of spiritual order but also to utter with glowing rapturous beauty all sorts of sayings about world secrets, we shall then be able to realize the depth and force of this medieval mysticism and to see what an enormous help it can be to anyone who wants to tread the path of spiritual investigation.
Medieval mysticism thus appears to us, particularly as the result of that lecture, as a great and wonderful preparatory school for spiritual research. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? After all, our own object is simply to develop the spark of which the mystics spoke through its own inner forces. They believed that they might surrender themselves in the peace of their souls to the little glimmering spark, so that it might begin to burn ever more brilliantly of itself. Spiritual science, however, is convinced that, for the growth of the spark, we must use the capacities and forces that are placed under our control by the wisdom of the world.
This mystical attitude, then, is a good preparation and guide for spiritual science, and the soul activity that may in the true sense be called prayer is a preparation for this medieval absorption. Just as the mystic is enabled to attain a state of absorption because he has, even though unconsciously, trained his soul to have the right temper for such mysticism, so if we want to work our way through to this absorption, treading a path that shall end there, we shall find a preparation in true prayer.
In the development of the last centuries, even from a spiritual aspect, the essence of prayer has been misunderstood in many ways by various spiritual currents or thought. Thus, it will be difficult for us to get a true understanding of it. If we remember, however, that the last centuries have been associated particularly with the appearance of egoistic currents of spiritual thought that have laid hold of all sorts of people, we shall not be surprised to find that prayer has been dragged down among the egoistic wishes and desires of men. In fact, prayer can hardly be more misunderstood than when it is permeated with some form of egoism. In this study we shall try to consider prayer entirely and without prejudice from the point of view of spiritual science.
To get some preliminary understanding of prayer we might say that, while the mystic assumes the existence in his soul of some spark that his mystical absorption can brighten and illuminate, prayer is intended to produce that spark and special life of the soul. Whatever leads to prayer displays its efficacy just in this stirring of the soul, so that, if it lives there, even though hidden, we either gradually discover the spark, or else we kindle it. To study the need for, and the essence of, prayer, we shall have to enter on a description of soul depths of which the words of Heraclitus are only too true: “You can never fathom the boundaries of the soul even though you tread every path, so all-embracing is it.” Thus, even if in prayer we seek only for the secrets of the soul, it is true that these inmost feelings that are stirred in prayer teach even the simplest of us something of the infinite expanses of soul life.
We must comprehend this soul as it lives in us and carries us forward in life somewhat as follows. This soul that is in process of living evolution does not merely come from the past and progress into the future, but at every moment of its life it carries within itself something of the past and, indeed, also of the future. The actual moment in which we are living is penetrated by both the effects of the past and the effects that come from the future. Anyone who can see deeply into the life of the soul will feel that there are two streams continually meeting in it, one rising from the past, the other from the future.
Possibly in other spheres of life it might seem mere folly to talk of the approach of the events of the future. It is, after all, easy to say that the events of the future do not yet exist, thus preventing us from saying that what will happen tomorrow approaches us. But it is possible to say that what happened in the past stretches its effects into the present — a standpoint that is easy enough to establish. Who would dispute that our lives today are the result of our lives yesterday, or that we are today under the influence of our activity or idleness of yesterday or the day before? No one will deny the penetration of the present by the past. Yet, we ought no more to deny the reality of the future since we can see in the soul the reality of such intrusion of future events before they happen. There is, for example, such a thing as fear or anxiety of something that is to happen tomorrow. Is that not a sort of feeling or perception that we direct to an as yet unknown future? Every moment the soul experiences fear or anxiety it shows by the reality of its feelings that it reckons not only with the effects of the past but also that it vividly allows for what is coming to it from the future. These are, of course, trivial indications. They will show, however, that even a casual observation of the soul contradicts the logical abstractions that proclaim the future can have no effect because it does not exist. This is proved in living reality when we study immediate soul life.
In our souls, then, the past and the future unite and produce there, as everyone who observes himself would admit, a sort of whirlpool comparable to the confluence of two streams. Observation of what lives in our souls from the past shows that they come into being under the impression of our experiences of the past. The way in which we have used those past experiences has made us what we are, and we bear within us the legacy of our past doing, feeling and thinking. We are what we have become. If we look back from today's standpoint to our past experiences, particularly those in which we were ourselves concerned in their actual happening and in the judgment of them, if we allow our memory to play over the past, we shall be driven to a judgment of ourselves. We shall realize that today we have attained a certain quality of character. With that as our basis we shall find we are not in agreement with a good deal that happened in our pasts because we have acquired the capacity to be opposed to, even ashamed of, some past actions.
If we thus measure our pasts against the present, we shall come to the conviction that there is something within us that is far richer, far more significant than what we have made of ourselves by our will, consciousness and individual forces. If there were not something stretching beyond what we have made of ourselves, we should be unable to reproach ourselves or even to know ourselves. There must, then, be something within us greater than all that we have employed to form ourselves from the past. If we allow such a judgment to be transformed into a feeling, we shall be able to observe what is known and visible to us in our past deeds and experiences. This will lie as clearly before us as memory can make it. Then we shall be able to compare this clear vision with our souls, and we shall see there something bigger seeking to work itself out, urging us to set ourselves face to face with ourselves and to judge ourselves from the standpoint of the present. In short, we shall feel something projecting beyond ourselves when we observe the stream flowing into the soul from the past. This sense of something greater is the first glimmer of the inner feeling of God within us, a feeling that there is something within us that is greater than our own will. So we are enabled to see something leading beyond our limited egos to a divine spiritual ego. Such is the impression of an observation of the past that has been transformed into feeling and perception.
What is the message, then, of what we may call the stream of the future, when we transform it into feeling and perception? This speaks even more emphatically and definitely to us. In looking back over the past, our feelings assert themselves in the form of a judgment of rejection, of regret or shame, but only after the event. In relation to the future, however, we deal at once with the feelings of fear and anxiety, hope and joy, but the actual events to which these feelings refer are not yet existent. We cannot see through to them and it is thus easier in this case to transform the idea into a feeling, something the soul does of itself. As it can, in relation to the future, give no more than the feeling of reality, these feelings exist as something born from an unknown stream of which we know only that it may have different effects and bring different hopes. If we can transform into a right feeling what comes so surely to us from the lap of the future, and if we experience its course into our souls and the way in which our own perceptions meet it, we shall realize how our souls are always being kindled anew by the experiences approaching from the future. Here, above all, we feel how our souls can become richer and more comprehensive. Even now in the present we can know that in the future our souls will have an infinitely richer and mightier content. We feel ourselves akin to the future. We must feel it. We must feel our souls to be equal to everything the future can give.
Such an observation of the streaming together of the future and the past into the present will show us how the life of the soul grows beyond itself. When, in looking back over the past, the soul observes the important things that play on it and of which it does not feel itself to be equal, we shall understand how it can unfold a basic attitude and feeling in relation to the outcome of the past. When the soul, whether in judgment or in shame and regret, feels something great flow into itself out of the stream of the past, it creates within itself what we may call a devotion toward the divine. This devotion toward the divine that looks down upon us from the past and that we can imagine as something acting upon us, although our consciousness cannot take it in, is produced by one of two forms of prayer that lead to an intimacy with God. If the soul surrenders itself in inmost calm to these feelings about the past, it will begin to wish that the mightier thing it left unused and that has not permeated its ego may become present in it. The soul will know that if it were possessed of this greatness, it would be different, but the divine did not belong fully to its inner life and that is why it has failed so to form itself that it can approve of all that it is. When the soul experiences this, it can overcome the feeling by asking itself clearly how it can make truly part of itself what has lived unconsciously in all its actions and experiences, how it can draw into itself this unknown that its ego has failed to grasp. When the soul holds this attitude, either in feeling or in word and idea, we have the prayer to the past and thus seek to approach the divine through one of the ways of devotion.
Another attitude is held toward the divine gleam shining through the approaches of the future. To distinguish it from the one with which we have just been dealing, let us ask once again what it is that leads to prayer as regards the past. It is that we have remained imperfect even though we can feel something divine shining into us. We have not developed and unfolded all the capacities and forces that might have flowed to us, and we feel all the defects that make us less than the divine shining into us. What is it, then, coming to us from the future that makes us defective in similar fashion and restricts our ascent to the spiritual?
We have only to remember that feelings and sensations, fear and anxiety of the unknown future, gnaw at our souls. Is there anything that can pour some certainty about the future into our souls? It is what we may call the feeling of devoted acceptance of what enters our souls from the hidden future, and it can only work properly if it arises as an attitude of prayer. Let us avoid misunderstanding. We are not praising what here or there is considered to be acceptance, but a definite form, an acceptance of what the future can bring forth. If we look to the future with fear and anxiety, we strangle our development and hamper the free unfolding of our soul forces. Nothing so obstructs this development as anxiety about what may come to the soul from the future. Only actual experience, however, can judge the results of the right feeling of acceptance of the future. What does such devoted acceptance mean?
In its ideal form it would be the sort of soul attitude that would assure us that no matter what might come, no matter what the next hour or day might bring, were it unknown to us, we could not alter it by fear or anxiety. We should wait for it, therefore, in complete inner peace and utter tranquillity.
This experience, resulting from devoted acceptance of future events, means that anyone who can thus calmly and quietly meet the future and can yet prevent his energy and activity from suffering in any way, is able to develop his soul forces most intensively and freely. It is as if hindrance after hindrance falls away as his soul is gradually pervaded by this feeling of acceptance of the events that approach from the future.
This feeling, however, cannot be produced in our souls by some edict or arbitrary decision lacking foundation. It is the result of this second form of prayer that is directed to the future and the course of events, pervaded by wisdom, within it. To give ourselves up to the divine wisdom of events, to be certain in our thoughts, feelings and impulses that what will be must be and that it will have its good effects somewhere, to call forth this feeling in the soul and to live it in our words and ideas is the second form of prayer, the prayer of devoted acceptance.
It is from these feelings that we must acquire the impulses to what is called prayer. The soul possesses the urge, and fundamentally it attains the attitude of prayer when it raises itself even only a little above the immediate present. The attitude of prayer, we might say, is the upward gaze of the soul from the transitory present into the eternal that embraces past, present and future. Because to live looking upward from the present is so essential, Goethe has Faust speak these great and significant lines to Mephistopheles:
Were I to say the pleasing present should remain,
And that is what I truly meant ...
This is, if ever I could be satisfied with living merely for the moment,
Then you may throw me into chains,
And I will gladly seal my doom.
We might say, then, that it is the attitude of prayer for which Faust begs in order to escape the fetters of his companion.
Prayer leads to the observation of the limited ego that has worked from the past into the present. Upon examination, we see how much more there is in us than we have put to actual use. It also leads us to the study of the future, showing how much more can flow from the future into the ego than it has comprehended in the present. Every prayer must coincide with one of these attitudes. If we take this to be the spirit of prayer, and prayer as the expression of this spirit, we shall find in every prayer the force to lead us beyond ourselves. Prayer that is born in this way is nothing else than the kindling of the power that seeks to pass beyond what our ego is at the moment. As soon as the ego is seized by this striving, it already has this power of development. When the past has taught us that we have more within us than we have ever used, our prayer is a cry to the divine to come to us and fill us with its power. When we have reached this knowledge by our own feelings and perception, prayer becomes the source of further development. It is thus one of the means of developing the ego.
When we live in anxiety over what the future may bring, still lacking that submissiveness that prayer can give when it is directed to our future destiny, we can do something similar. By means of prayer we realize that the future is set before us by world wisdom. If we surrender ourselves to this feeling, we produce something quite different than we do when we meet coming events with fear and anxiety. These only restrict our development, pushing back from our souls what the future can give us. If, however, we meet the future with submissiveness and devotion, we draw near to it in fruitful hope and make it possible for it to enter our souls. Thus, submission, which seems to make us small, is a powerful force carrying us forward toward the future, enriching our souls and bringing our development to a higher level.
So we see prayer as an active force within us. We can also see in it a cause drawing with it as immediate effects the growth and evolution of our egos. We need not expect external results. We know that by prayer we have put within our souls what we may call a force of warmth and light — light because we free the soul in regard to what is coming to us from the future and prepare it to assimilate what the obscure future may bring; warmth because it helps to realize that even though in the past we have failed to bring the divine within us to full development, we have now permeated our feelings and sensations with it so that it can really work within us. The attitude of prayer that we attain from our feeling of the past produces the inner warmth of soul of which all those speak who can understand prayer in its true being. The effect of light appears in those who know the feeling of submission in prayer.
With this view of prayer we shall not be surprised that, in devotion to prayer, the greatest mystics found the best training for what they were seeking in mystic contemplation. They guided their souls by means of prayer to the point where they were able to ignite the spark previously mentioned. It is just the study of the past that can give us the deep intimacy that comes over us in true prayer. Experience and living in the external world really estrange us from ourselves, just as in the past they prevented the unknown and more powerful ego from coming to the surface. We are given over to external impressions, wasting our energies in the variety of external life, thereby upsetting our composure. It is this that prevented the higher and stronger divine force from unfolding in us. Now, when we unfold it in such deep intimacy with God, we no longer feel ourselves given over to the dissipating effects of the external world. Rather are we filled with that wonderful and ineffable warmth, as with an inner blessedness, that we really may call divine. It is the heat in the cosmos that appears in higher beings as physical inner warmth and it originally created the higher beings; the lower beings, of course, have the same body temperature as their surroundings. As this physical heat interiorizes a being, so the psychic warmth, born of prayer, can make a soul that is losing itself in externalities collect itself in inwardness. In prayer we are warmed in the feeling of God. We not only feel warmth but we find ourselves intimately within ourselves.
When we approach the external world, however, we always find it confused with what has been called “the dark lap of the future.” Upon close observation we always find that there is a germ of the future in whatever we touch of the outer world. We are continually thrust back when we still feel fear of what may befall us, and the world is like a veil before us. If we develop this feeling of submission in regard to all that may come to us from the future, we shall find that we meet everything in the external world with the same certainty and hope. This we have gained from our submissiveness. We know that in everything it is the wisdom of the world that shines before us. As a rule, in everything that comes to meet us, we see a darkness that passes into our feelings. Through our submission, however, we now see how the feeling arises in us that all the wisdom of the world shines through what we long for and desire as the highest. Thus, it is hope for illumination of the entire world that comes to us in the devotions of prayer. When darkness encloses us within ourselves and narrowness and confusion surround us even in the physical, when we stand in the gloom and black of night, we feel when morning comes and we meet the light as though set beyond ourselves. Yet this is not in such a way that we should lose ourselves, but as though we could transfer into the real world all our soul's truest longing and highest aims. Surrender to the world, estranging us from ourselves, is overcome by the warmth of prayer uniting us with ourselves. Then, too, the warmth of prayer becomes a light. We pass beyond ourselves and know that when now we unite with and behold the outer world, we are no longer disturbed and estranged by it. What is best in our souls flows from it and we are united with what radiates toward us from the external world.
These two types of prayer can be better comprehended in pictures than in ideas. Consider, for instance, the Old Testament story of Jacob and the bitter nocturnal struggle that seared his soul. It is as if we ourselves were given over to the manifoldness of the world in which our souls at first were lost and could not find themselves. When the striving to find ourselves begins, the struggle between the lower and higher egos follows. Feelings surge up and down, but we can work our way through this turmoil by prayer. As illustrated in the story of Jacob, the moment finally will come when, as the morning sun shines upon us, the inner struggle of our souls during the night is leveled out in harmony. That is really the effect of prayer in the human soul.
To think of prayer in this way is to be free of all superstition. It brings out the best in us and works within us immediately as a force. Prayer in this light is preliminary to mysticism, just as mystic contemplation is itself preliminary to what we know as spiritual investigation. From this discussion it should now be clear that, as has so often been emphasized, we continually err if we think we can find the divine, or God, in ourselves by mystic thought. This has been a common mistake of many mystics, and even of ordinary Christians in the Middle Ages, because at that period the attitude to prayer began to be permeated with an egoism that impels the soul to concentration on an ever-increasing inner perfection. It is fundamentally an echo of such an egoistic desire for inner perfection that impels a misguided theosophy today to assert that, if we will only turn aside from everything external, we can find God within ourselves.
We have seen that there are two types of prayer, one leading to an inner warmth, the other leading through a feeling of submission out again into the world to illumination and true knowledge. When we think of prayer in this way, we soon see that the knowledge acquired through ordinary intelligence is unfruitful compared to this other knowledge. When we come to realize the attitude of prayer, we become aware of the soul's withdrawal into itself, thus releasing it from the multiple world in which it has been dissipated. It gathers itself together and lives enclosed in itself, a complete self-being living above the momentary and what comes to it from the past and future.
When we know this feeling, when our environment becomes breathless and silent, when only our finest thoughts and feelings hold the soul together, when perhaps even these vanish and only a basic feeling remains directed toward the God who proclaims himself from the past, and toward the God from the future, when we know this and have learned to live in this feeling, then we realize that there are moments when the soul sees that it has turned away from, and disregards, all the cleverness it created by its own thinking. What it brought into being by its thinking and feelings, the ideals to which it had been educated and grasped in its will have all been swept away. It was given over to its highest thoughts and feelings, but even these were swept away, leaving only that last basic feeling. When we have come to feel this, we know that in the same way that the wonders of nature meet us when we look upon them with cleansed and purified eyes, these new feelings of which we were hitherto unaware shine into the soul. Impulses of will and ideals formerly strange to us rise up in it, germinating fruitful seeds.
In its best sense, then, prayer can give us wisdom that we are not yet capable of acquiring by ourselves. It can give us the possibility of feeling and thinking that we cannot attain by ourselves. If we go further, it can give us a strength of will that we have previously been unable to muster. In order to feel this, it must be called up by the greatest thoughts, the most splendid ideas and impulses living in the soul. Here we must refer again to the prayers that have originated in most solemn moments and that have been handed down to us from time immemorial.
In my pamphlet on the Lord's Prayer you will find an account showing that its seven petitions embrace all the wisdom of the world. It is no real objection to tell me that there it is said that these seven petitions can only be understood by those who know the deeper sources of the universe and that simple people have no real comprehension of their depth. This is not so. In order, however, that the Lord's Prayer should have come into existence, it was necessary that the all-embracing wisdom of the world should be set down in words that may indeed be said to express the deepest secrets of man and the world. Since this is what is contained in this prayer, it works through the words even if we are far from understanding the secrets. This can be understood when we rise to the higher stages to which prayer and mysticism are the prelude. Prayer prepares us for mysticism, mysticism for meditation and concentration, and from that point on we are directed to the real work of spiritual research.
Nor is it an objection to say that we must understand a prayer if it is to have its true effect. That simply is not the case. Who understands the wisdom of a flower? Yet, we can take pleasure in it. Even though we do not penetrate all its wisdom, nevertheless the soul delights in its contemplation. Wisdom was necessary that the flower might come into being, but it is not necessary to be aware of such wisdom to take delight in the flower. For a prayer to come into existence, the wisdom of the world is necessary. That it should possess warmth and light for the soul is just as possible without understanding its wisdom as it is in the case of the flower. If a prayer did not owe its existence to such wisdom, however, it could not produce such an effect. The mere effect of a prayer shows us its depth.
If one's soul is really to develop under the influence of such a vital quality within it, it makes no difference what one's stage of development may be. A true prayer can give everyone something. Even the simplest person, who knows nothing more than the mere prayer, can still feel its effect, which calls forth the power to raise him ever higher. But whatever height we may have achieved, we are never finished with a prayer. Our souls can always be raised higher. The Lord's Prayer can be simply repeated, yet it can also call forth a mystical frame of mind and even be the subject of meditation and concentration. This is also true of other prayers.
Since the Middle Ages, however, a sort of egoism has occurred that makes prayer and the attitude of prayer impure. If we use prayer in order to become more perfect in ourselves, to descend into ourselves, as was the case with the medieval Christians and perhaps still is today — if we do not look out into the external world with the illumination we have received, then prayer can only estrange and isolate us from the world. This has happened with many of those who have used prayer as false and seclusive asceticism. They have wanted perfection, not only as the rose, which adorns itself that the garden may be fair, is perfect, but for their own sakes that they might find blessedness in their souls. When we seek God in our souls and then do not pass to the other world the power we have thus won, we find that we are in a sense punished. Thus you will find in the writings of many authors who have known only the type of prayer in which inner warmth is to be found — even in the work of Miguel Molinos — remarkable descriptions of all sorts of passions and impulses, fights, temptations and wild desires that the soul has to experience if it seeks perfection by inner prayer and complete surrender to what it understands to be God. If we approach the spiritual world by seeking God one-sidedly, if we only unfold that feeling for prayer that leads to inner warmth and excludes illumination, this neglected other side takes its revenge on us.
If I look to the past only with feelings of regret and shame, realizing that there is something great in me that I have never allowed full play, thus failing to fill myself with this greatness so that I may become perfect, then, even so, to a certain extent a feeling of perfection does still arise. But the imperfection remaining in the soul becomes a counterforce that assails us with greater vigor in the form of temptation and passion. But as soon as the soul that has found itself in inner warmth and intimacy seeks for God wherever he is revealed and thus strives for illumination, it immediately comes out of itself and escapes the narrow selfish ego. The wild temptations sink down in calm and peace. This is why it is so harmful to allow an egoistic impulse to be mixed up in prayer or mystical contemplation or meditation. If we want to find God only to keep him in our souls, we exhibit an unsound egoism that maintains itself even into our soul's highest reaches. For this, we shall be punished. Healing is to be found only when, having found God in ourselves, we pour out unselfishly into the world in thoughts, feelings and actions what we have won.
We are often told today, particularly in the ideas of a falsely understood theosophy, and we cannot be careful enough of this, that we cannot find God in the external world because he lives within us. We have only to look within ourselves in the right way and we shall find God. I have even heard someone say in flattery of his audience that we need not learn or experience anything of the great secrets of the world. If only we would look within ourselves, we would find God.
But something must be added to this before we can reach the truth. To this, which may be true enough if it is kept within proper limits, a medieval thinker gave a true answer. Let us remember that it is not untruths that are most harmful. The soul will soon uncover what is false. Most harmful are those things that are true from one aspect but when applied on false assumptions produce grave falsehoods. It is true that in a sense we seek God in ourselves. Because it is true, it is the more harmful if it is not kept within its proper limits.
This medieval thinker said, “Who would seek everywhere in the external world for a tool he needed when he knows it to be at home? He would be a fool to do so. Equally is he a fool who seeks the instrument for the knowledge of God in the outer world when it lies at home within his soul.”
Bear in mind that he uses the words tool and instrument. It is not God we seek in the soul. He is sought by an instrument that we shall not find in the external world. It is found in the soul in prayer and genuine mystical absorption, and beyond that by meditation and concentration. We must approach the kingdoms of the world with this instrument, and then we shall find God everywhere. If we have acquired the instrument, he reveals himself in all worldly realms and at all stages of being. Thus, we find the instrument in ourselves but we find God everywhere.
Such observations of prayer are not popular today. Nowadays we are asked how on earth any of our prayers could alter the course of the world, which after all is guided by laws of necessity that cannot be altered. When we want to locate a force, however, we should look for it where it really is. Today we have sought the power of prayer in the soul and have found it to exist there, thus enabling the soul to progress. If we know that it is the spirit that works in the world, not an imagined, abstract spirit but a real, perceptible spirit, and that the soul belongs to the realm of the spirit, we shall also know that material forces are not the only forces working actively in accordance with external laws of necessity. Spiritual beings also are at work in the world even though the effects of these forces and beings are not visible externally to the eye or outwardly available to knowledge. If we strengthen our spiritual lives by prayer, we need only wait for the effects. They will certainly appear. No one, however, will seek the working of spirit in the external world who has not first recognized the force of prayer to be a reality.
When once we have admitted this fact, the following experiment will give evidence to support it. Consider a period often years during which we have scorned prayer, and another period often years when we have recognized its force. Compare the two periods. We shall soon see how the course of our lives was altered under the influence of the forces that poured into the soul with prayer. Forces become visible in their working, but it is easy to deny them when we shut our eyes to their effects. Who can deny the force of prayer if he has never let its force be effective within him? Do we believe we can know the Light if we have never developed or approached it? A force that is to work in and through the soul can only be discovered by its use.
The further effects of prayer, I am willing enough to admit, cannot yet be discussed today, however unbiased the discussion might be. Thus, to understand that a community prayer in which the forces rising from a praying community flow together, has an enhanced spiritual force and therefore an intensified effect on reality, cannot be easily accepted by the ordinary consciousness of today. So we must remain content with what we have discussed as the inner being of prayer. Indeed, it is sufficient since, if we have some understanding of it, we shall rise above many of the possible objections that are so easily raised against it.
We are told, for instance, that if we compare an active man who uses his powers to help his fellow men with one who withdraws meditatively into himself and works on the forces of his soul in prayer, then idleness is the only word that can truly apply to the one who meditates. You will excuse me if on the basis of spiritual science I tell you there is another point of view. I will speak bluntly, but there is good reason for it. Anyone who knows the interrelations of modern life will maintain that many journalists would do others a better service if they were to pray and work for the perfection of their souls. Would that there were people who were convinced that it would be better to pray than to write newspaper articles. This attitude is equally applicable to many other intellectual occupations today.
Further, we shall never understand the life of man in its entirety without the force that lives in prayer and that becomes particularly clear when we look at certain departments of higher spiritual activity. For instance, is it not clear that prayer, when considered not in a one-sided egoistic sense but in the broad sense in which we have discussed it today, takes its place as an element of art? Art, of course, also expresses the opposite attitude in comedy through the humorous feeling with which it rises above what it depicts, but there is in the ode and hymn, for example, a feeling of prayer. In painting we have what might be called a “painted prayer,” and surely in a massive, majestic cathedral a prayer in stone towers heavenward.
We need only to feel these things in relation to the whole of life in order to see that prayer, looked at in the right way, can lead us from the transitory finite of this world to the infinite. This was felt especially by those such as Angelus Silesius whom I have previously mentioned who passed from prayer to mysticism. He felt that he owed the inner truth and glorious beauty, the warm intimacy and brilliant clearness of his mystical thought, shown for instance in The Cherubinean Wanderer, to the training of prayer that had worked so powerfully on his soul. In fact, following this prelude of prayer, it is the feeling of eternity that streams through and illuminates all such mysticism. Everyone who prays has an idea of this, when in prayer he comes to true inner peace and intimacy and thence again to liberation from himself. It is something that teaches us to look from the passing moment to eternity, embracing in our souls the past, present and future. Whether we know it or not, whenever we turn in prayer to those sides of life where we seek God, the feelings, thoughts, and impressions accompanying us are permeated by a sense of eternity. It dwells consciously or unconsciously in every true prayer like some divine sweetness and aroma. It lives in the following lines of Angelus Silesius, which form a fitting conclusion to our discussion.
When I leave time,
I myself am eternity.
Then I am one with God
And God is one with me.