A: This morning I was tidying up some papers and I came across an insert from the worship bulletin of a small local church. This particular church is a “one of a kind” group that’s blending ideas from Unitarianism, the United Church of Canada, Gnosticism, and maybe some Eastern ideas filtered through a New Age lens. I notice that I circled the group prayer and wrote in the margin, “How Not to Pray.” I wondered if you could go through the prayer with me and explain — from your angelic perspective — why this kind of prayer isn’t helpful.

J: Sure. Can you type the prayer here for reference?

A: Typing fingers coming right up. Okay. It says on this insert that the prayer is called the “Prayer of Transfiguration,” adapted from the Prayer of Abandonment by Charles de Foucauld. Here’s the text:

I abandon myself to the Light; Let it transform my life. Whatever it does, I am open; I am present to all, I accept all. Let the Divine will be done in me. And in all creation — I wish no more than this. Into the hands of Life I commend my spirit; I offer it with all the love of my heart. For I am Light, And so need to give my self, To surrender my self into Life’s hands without reserve, And with boundless confidence and gratitude, For we are all called — to Live in the Light!

A: I think a lot of people would find this prayer quite lovely, quite meaningful. However, I happen to know from personal experience that you don’t encourage people to pray this kind of prayer. Can you explain your thoughts, your reasoning?

J: Prayer is a messy topic. People of faith have a tendency to claim that all prayer is good, all prayer is helpful. But it’s not. From the point of view of angels — the angels who are tasked with looking after the human beings who live on Planet Earth — all prayer is not created equal. There are what I might call genuine prayers — the ones spoken with the soul’s own loving intent. There are also pseudo-prayers — words strung together with unkind intent and directed at God. Pseudo-prayers predominate, unfortunately.

A: Let’s talk more about the pseudo-prayers. Can you be more specific about the “unkind intent” you’re referring to?

J: When people try to speak with God, communicate with God through prayer, the words they speak are of little interest to God or to God’s angels. There are meaningful prayers that consist of only one word or one sound. The actual words are not that important.

A: Mantras. When you speak of prayers that contain only one sound, you’re talking about mantras.

J: Mantras work for some people. Not for everyone. But for some people. Mantras should not be recommended for everyone on a spiritual path.

A: Why not?

J: Because everyone’s soul is different. Therefore everyone’s learning style is different. And everyone’s communication style is different. There is no single form of communication with God that can recommended for all people. Each person has to find his or her own best path.

A: I’m not a mantra person. I’m definitely a word person. I have to talk with God in words.

J: I’m also a word person. It works for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Here’s one area where people definitely shouldn’t try to do what Jesus does. They should try to find their own best form of communication with God. There are many nuanced forms of conversing with your Divine Parents. Some people need to go outside and sit quietly in the sun. Some need to be actively engaged in the outdoor world of nature — maybe through hiking, camping, sailing, canoeing. Gardening is another big one. Some people can’t hear God unless the music is on really, really loud. Some people can’t hear God unless the room is very, very quiet. There’s no one correct way. They’re all equally valid, equally beautiful ways as far as God is concerned. God always meets you where your soul longs to be. So if your soul is the kind of soul that hears God when it’s very, very quiet, that’s when God will be speaking with you. God respects who you are as a soul. Therefore, God won’t try to “force” you to listen at a time that’s not good for you. God is nothing if not respectful.

A: None of the spiritual practices you just mentioned sound like traditional religious prayer. Why not?

J: As I was mentioning, it’s not the words that God listens to. It’s the intent. God pays no attention to rote prayer, to be honest. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time. Rote prayer isn’t about communication or relationship. Rote prayer is just a habit — a habit like making your bed every day or putting the toilet paper roll on the same way every time. It’s something you do because it helps you cope with daily stress. Or maybe it’s something you do so you won’t be punished by an authority figure who expects you to pray. But it’s not relationship between you and God. You can’t expect to recite the Lord’s Prayer every day and have it mean anything or do anything. The Lord’s Prayer has no special power in Creation, despite what many orthodox Christians would like to believe.

A: Define what you mean by “unkind intent.” Can you give specific examples of that?

J: Sure. Prayer directed at getting somebody cursed by God. Prayer directed at getting special favours for yourself at the expense of those around you. Prayer directed at cursing yourself for your own unworthiness before God. Prayer directed at getting healing for somebody else. Prayer directed at getting somebody’s soul saved. Prayer directed at getting somebody’s loved ones released from purgatory or hell. Prayer directed at being chosen to be among God’s elect. Prayer directed to saints. Prayer directed to holy relics. Prayer directed at getting somebody blessed by God.

A: So . . . pretty much all the most popular orthodox Western Christian prayers.

J: Yup. God doesn’t curse people. God doesn’t favour you over your neighbour. God doesn’t accept your self-pity, because God knows your true potential. God heals with or without anybody’s prayers, but it’s up to God to decide the right time and the right place. God hasn’t lost any souls, so God doesn’t need to save any souls. There is no purgatory and there is no hell, so God doesn’t need help freeing anyone. God doesn’t have any chosen children and there is no group of elect souls. All souls are created equal, so there is no hierarchy of saints or angels to intervene on anybody’s behalf. Praying to holy relics is occult magic, and it hurts your brain, so don’t do it. All of God’s children are equally blessed.

A: You don’t give an inch to tradition, do you? Not one tiny inch.

J: No. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and others didn’t go nearly far enough with their “protesting” reformation of Western Christianity. The work of reforming the church to reflect the core values of God the Mother and God the Father still remains to be done.

A: A make-work project for the church of the third millennium. Okay. I’d like to return to the original question about the “Prayer of Transfiguration” above. What about this prayer feels “out of synch” to you, if I can use that expression?

J: It feels out of synch with the values of the soul because of the underlying assumptions implicit in the prayer. To begin with, I take issue with the imagery of “light.”

A: Why? Haven’t spiritual seekers long equated good spiritual choices with “light”?

J: My point exactly. Nobody’s questioning the metaphor. People say, “Oh, the light, the light, we’re getting closer to the truth! Hurray! We’re making progress!” But if people are moving towards the light, what are they moving away from?

A: The darkness.

“Jesus said to them: If you fast you will bring sin to yourselves, and if you pray you will be condemned, and if you give to charity you will damage your spirits. When you go into a region and walk around in the rural areas, whenever people receive you, eat whatever they provide for you, and heal their sick. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth can defile you” (Gospel of Thomas 14 a-c). In other words, if you want to have a strong faith relationship with God, you have to give up the idea that God enjoys your displays of power, rote piety, religious ritual, and subjugation of others. Use your skills instead to help others find their own courage, faith, and humbleness. Photo shows a scarab commemorating Kushite victory over inhabitants of the Negev desert, carved from steatite, 25th Dynasty, c. 710 BCE. (On display at the Royal Ontario Museum. Photo credit JAT 2017.)

 J: Exactly. It’s an immature, dualistic claim. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. It’s so ingrained in people’s minds that they don’t even question the metaphor any longer. But let me ask you — what’s so bad about the dark? Is the night sky to be feared? Is the darkness of the ocean bottom to be despised? Why is light good and darkness bad? Why does “white” mean pure in Western culture, and “black” mean corrupt or evil? God’s Creation isn’t about good versus evil and light versus dark. Creation isn’t dualistic. So why have people recite a prayer that reinforces sloppy dualistic thinking? The human brain — the biological 3D brain — is kind of stupid at times, and it needs good guidance. It needs to be constantly reminded not to fall into overly simplistic thinking, which leads to overly simplistic “solutions.” A solid prayer of the genuine kind is a prayer that challenges people to acknowledge and respect the complexity of God’s Creation. A solid prayer does not speak of abandonment and surrender without first acknowledging the difficulty of this spiritual task (and spiritual task it is!). A solid prayer reminds people that they have an important role to play in Creation, even if they don’t fully understand that role. A solid prayer speaks of balance — both the difficulty of finding it and the difficulty of maintaining it. A solid prayer never speaks of people as empty vessels to be filled by pure Divine will. To speak of empty vessels negates the integrity of the soul. A solid prayer helps people remain humble yet at the same time courageous. The prayer typed above is a prayer of humility, not a prayer of humbleness. And you know what I think of false humility!

A: Yessiree. Do I ever! Any final words of advice for readers who want to be able to communicate clearly with God?

J: Yes. Don’t ever put yourself down while you’re engaged in prayer. Don’t ever say you’re unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness. Be honest about mistakes you’ve made, but ask God to help you learn from your mistakes. Be brave. Don’t whine. Remember you’re a child of God. And I mean that in every possible way. You’re a child of God, and nobody can take that away from you. That’s a pretty good starting point for finding the courage to make gradual changes in your life.

A: And yes, folks! You’re not listening to anything I haven’t had to listen to a thousand times myself. And yes! Angels really do talk this way. (Don’t you feel sorry for me?) And yes! Sometimes you just want to scream because your angels are so tough and so determined to help you make positive changes, and they’re so annoyingly dedicated to helping you be your best self! And guess what? YOU CAN’T MAKE THEM GO AWAY NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY. They stick to you like Velcro. SO IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM, YOU MAY AS WELL JOIN ‘EM. That’s my humble opinion, anyway.