“Pray continually” (1 Thes 5:17)
- Paul of Tarsus
“Repetition of (the name of God) means reflecting on it meaning.” (YS 1:28)
“From that (repetition) comes the experience of Inner Being (God) as well as the elimination of impediments.” (YS 1:29)
All religious traditions and yoga use prayer as part of their spiritual journey (sadhana). There is a significant similarity between Christianity and Yoga, especially in reference to prayer.
Both Paul of Tarsus, the disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, and Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, agree that the spiritual path that leads to unity with God and to faith in a Supreme Being, the Ultimate Source of Life, is to repeatedly pray. One of our Center volunteers is proof of this.
But first, we need to look at some definitions.
“Praying” is the lifting of one’s heart and mind to the divine Source of Life, to that Being which is greater than our small sense of self, our ego. It means sending out an intention that is directed upwardly and inwardly. That intention is directed to a “Higher Being,” a Being or Reality that we consider greater than ourselves. In Christianity and in Yoga, this intention is also directed to our core being, the place where (as Christians believe) Christ resides and (as yogis believe) the Divine Source of Life (atman) maintains its dwelling.
Although not often thought of as prayer, any affirmation is prayer because that affirmation, whether intending healing or safety or hope, is directed to a reality that is beyond our current situation or thinking.
Secondly, what does Paul mean when “pray continually” and what does Patanjali mean when he talks about “repetition”? Paul is referring to the “Jesus Prayer,” which is the continued repetition of the phrase (which is really a mantra): “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” The word “repetition” in Sanskrit for Patanjali is “japa”. In yoga, a person “continually prays” when s/he sits in quiet meditation and repeats a mantra, a phrase of admiration and praise of one of the manifestations of the Divine Mother.
These affirmations, these repetitions, these intentions create mental patterns (samskaras) in our mind that bear the fruit of the repeated phrase. The Christian begins to know the loving and forgiving presence of Christ in his/her life and the yogi begins to experience the compassionate care of the Divine Mother, the Source of Life. These samskaras bring the one who prays joy and happiness and moves her/him into a positive direction in life. They also move us to the Divine Source of Life.
This experience of “praying continually” or doing “japa” bring a certainty (faith) to the person’s life. Finally, then, faith is the knowledge that something that originally can’t be seen or even thought of is actually REAL. Faith is certainty about what is invisible. It is the proof that there is a spiritual world. The proof that a Being of Life and Truth exists and cares about all of us.
Now, let’s get back to my friend and Center volunteer. I will call her Abigail.
Abigail was struggling with great anxiety and apprehension about her purpose and value in this world. She felt estranged from a number of her family members and struggled greatly with holding a job that didn’t trigger the confusion and pain of her PTSD diagnosis.
Despite the difficulty in stilling her self-abusive mind, she began to meditate using positive affirmations, like “I am safe.” “I am loved and respected by all life, especially God.” She posted these affirmations all around her house and in her car so that she was forced to recall them. She put herself to sleep at night saying these affirmations. They became japa (repetitive mantras) in her life.
Well, to make a long story shorter, Abigail now has decreased anxiety. She is able to accomplish work tasks with clarity and precision—no self-doubt. She is finding herself happier and happier. She is beginning see a brighter future for herself and her family relationships are improving.
Constant prayer (japa) has helped Abigail believe again that all will be well, even though that total wellness is still a future hope.
Continually praying has built her faith.