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October 7, 2012

As the topic of prayer has arisen, and offered itself as it were for meditation, it may be useful to follow this vein deeper into the mine of the literature while we simultaneously trace its path within the mine of our own feeling and understanding.

The idea is to point the way and illustrate a possible approach to penetrating the dense and daunting matrix of alchemical works (i.e. by taking a word or concept and investigating its use in depth throughout the reliable literature) while sensing within and attempting to verify the gold one thinks one may have discovered.

Prayer has become a difficult subject to discuss in modern society, overlaid as it is by so many diverse—and often adverse—associations for most of us. It takes quite an effort to disengage from those associations and look at the topic afresh. (The same applies to the word God, which is why in the commentaries on this site it is usually found in quote marks: ‘God.’) Without doing so, however, one will simply carry a huge mass of unexamined assumptions that will colour the investigation and bias its outcome.

A starting point for considering prayer could be the working definition that it is an orientation, a posture, toward something other than ourselves.

General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, author of Alchemy and the Alchemists, a dependable resource, says (in his Christ the Spirit, 1860, p. 205-206):

We have but a very superficial idea of the nature of prayer, when we see it merely in a form of words, petitioning God for something.
All effort is prayer. Every desire is a species of prayer. Every pursuit is a prayer, and every earnest pursuit is an earnest prayer. But in all cases the character of the prayer takes its complexion from the object of prayer. A prayer becomes divine when God is the object; or when the particular pursuit is followed with the idea of God as the law, within which the prayerful soul seeks what it seeks.
If this idea be not present, every pursuit is an unholy prayer—as if it were addressed to a false God.

It is unsettling to think that we pray constantly, especially when we realise what we are praying for, and how unworthy those objects are. When we do realise this, however, we can redirect our intentions toward more noble ends. Indeed, the very motto of our lineage is “Orare est laborare, laborare est orare.” – “To pray is to work, to work is to pray.”

General Hitchcock’s shocking assertion is supported by statements found elsewhere on this (Al-Kemi) site: “Prayer is not a petition for personal gain (superfluity), but rather the spontaneous expression of inherent human modalities (necessity, dependence, submission). Prayer is a channel of revelation and benediction” and “[Prayer] is a redirection and circulation of the light of one’s spiritual intelligence (Gr. Nous, Ar. Al-Aql). It can be referred to as a metanoia or ‘change of heart’ – a reversal of flow.”

In very slightly different language, the Cultivator of Realisation says:

The spirit of a human being is in the mind, and the trigger of the mind is in the eyes. Therefore when the function of the eyes is inside, the mind remains inside along with it. Not only does it remain there; it is also stabilized. Once the mind is stabilized, the fire of the heart descends while the water of the genitals rises. The mouth is filled with sweet saliva, the feet walk on fiery brilliance. There are subtleties to it that cannot be fully expressed in words.
If human beings have just one true mind, why do they stray into confusion? They seem to have awareness, but they have no self. Therefore it is said that if you know when you stray, then you won’t stray. When you need to let go, let go.
Sincerity eliminates falsehood, respectfulness eliminates conceit. When wandering thoughts occur in profuse confusion, don’t try to stop them, just look back at the mind itself—what is it that thinks? When you have recognized what thinks, you will attain tranquility on the spot.
Study of the Way has no special technique: constantly looking within is studying the Way, and when false thinking is no more, then this is the Way. Master Zhu said, “To the extent you are in possession of your mind, to that extent you find power within. If you keep it under close control and don’t let it chase things, how could you not succeed in correcting it?” This can be experientially proven in even half a month’s time.
(Taoist Meditation, p. 25)

This is prayer without using the term.

It may be useful to locate other quotes regarding prayer from this website or the books recommended thereon (i.e., in The Al-kemi Store — lest we waste time sorting the wheat from the chaff). By focusing closely on these quotes and questions they may spark, often we can find that glint of gold that leads us deeper, deeper into the literature and deeper into ourselves.

“Seek in reading
And you will find in meditation;
Knock in prayer
And it will be opened to you in contemplation.”
– San Juan de la Cruz

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