The Best Attitude for Prayer

It was a very interesting discussion amongst students on the path who are striving to tune themselves so as to be fit servants of the Universal Worship, and the talk was turning around a text by Hazrat Inayat Khan on the use of prayer. Of course, the word ‘use’ might suggest that we approach prayer with the aim of gaining something, but as is well understood, the real ‘use’ is to get rid of something, specifically to divest ourselves of our awkward, cumbersome and constantly demanding ego.

Hazrat Inayat Khan explains that prayer is really a conversation between our outer, limited self and the innermost place where we are one with the infinite. That point – not a physical location, of course – is central and sacred, and beyond all words and names, though we might call it God, or perhaps ‘Truth.’ As such a conversation is somewhat outside of our usual forms of communication, it takes an effort to re-orient ourselves, and in that connection someone in the group pondered, “What would be the right attitude for prayer?”

One attitude we may quickly dismiss is fear. It is true that some scriptures urge the faithful to ‘fear the Lord,’ but this refers to a deep feeling of reverence and awe, and not the unpleasant anxiety we experience when something threatens us. If, as we are told, God is love, then why should we feel anxious? But reverence and respect are always appropriate.

Another useful attitude, if we wish to pray sincerely, is gratitude. We prize our autonomy, our independence, and we would like to think we are ‘in charge’ of our world, but as Jesus noted, our claim to control isn’t worth much if we can’t alter our height by even a centimeter. The more we study life, the more we must recognize that very little is in our command and if we are happy, we should be deeply grateful to the One who has showered us with gifts.

But in addition to respect and gratitude, perhaps the best attitude, the one which will transform our prayer completely if we approach it in the right way, is that of hospitality. The Divine must be everywhere, but we are largely unaware of this invisible presence. Why not invite God, then, to appear as a sacred guest in our heart? To receive a guest that we love is a joy – for days or even weeks in advance we prepare – cleaning, cooking, beautifying, thinking about the best way to show welcome and to offer comfort. And then we wait, in nervous anticipation, until the guest arrives.

The one who treats their heart in this way will some day be rewarded – not immediately, perhaps, for God is most beautiful, and the essence of beauty is modesty and discretion – but when we show our sincerity, and our desire to really offer our home to our Guest, then certainly the moment will come when the sun will rise.

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