Helicopters are not fun!
They are noisy, cramped and very uncomfortable. They are even worse when they have engine problems.
A loud bang woke us and we all stiffened as the helicopter lost altitude. Looking up I could see smoke filling the cabin. We were twelve rough and tough offshore oil workers on the way home. I knew most of the lads better than I knew my own family. I knew most of them were atheists.
All of them were praying now!
What prayer means
Luckily, we managed to limp into Aberdeen Heliport. When I asked the guys about their sudden faith in God, all of them were embarrassed, most had forgotten that they had made deals in return for their lives. To be honest, this schizophrenic attitude to the idea of ‘prayer‘ is not really their fault.
In the UK over 53% of the population have no religion. Whilst over 80% consider themselves to be atheists.
The Arch Bishop of Canterbury himself doubts the existence of God. Despite the fact, that most people deny any spiritual connection and even the top Christian in the UK is not even sure what it means, it is interesting that in a life or death situation most people reach inside toward something bigger than themselves!
The white noise
As a Life-Coach and Empathic Councillor, I’ve noticed that the biggest obstacle preventing my clients from achieving their personal goals is an inability to make any sense of their inner life.
In today’s modern world, for most people, their feelings and thoughts are just like a wall of sound – like white noise – they assume that this overwhelming wave of sensation is their ‘self’. My first task, as their ‘spiritual guide‘, is to help them start to make sense of this mess.
For most of us brought up in the post-Christian west, our understanding of prayer was inherited from the Church. In the New Testament, the Greek word ‘Proseuchomai‘ is used to describe prayer and in Greek implies an ‘exchange’ or a ‘wish’. When this word was translated into the Latin, it became ‘Precari‘ which means to ‘beg’ or ‘entreat’.
This view of ‘Prayer’ has not contributed to its popularity (except in Scottish helicopters due to their frightening habit of crashing). Begging or making deals with god never seems to work out. It’s a bit like trying to contact the Facebook help centre, you hardly ever get an answer and when you do it’s obvious that they didn’t really understand your question.
I’ve heard so many of my clients say that they had prayed to God to save their child/wife/husband and despite all their prayers that person was taken away. I know for a lot of people, who have been brought up within Christianity, this form of prayer may bring some kind of comfort in the short-term but ultimately it is a threat to the foundation of your life. Because, unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want!
Listening is a great tool
I have found that the original Hebrew word for ‘Prayer’ is much more useful. ‘Mitpallel‘ means to ‘Judge oneself’ or ‘to change oneself’. When the Jesus of history said, ‘Prayer’ this is what he meant. Contemporary Hebrew thought at this time, particularly in the Galilee, sought to change our mind to be in harmony with God’s rather than trying to change God’s mind to suit our own desires. This is also reflected in the word, Sh’ma from the daily prayer popular at this time and still practised today.
This Sh’ma requires that the student master the ability to just ‘listen’.
The trick is to bring the mind to rest on one thing. To become single-pointed. What most people find strange is that way they notice just how their thoughts emerge out of their feelings and like a strange onion, reasons lay within reasons.
Eventually we begin to see that we are NOT our feelings and our thoughts. The true self lies beneath those sensations.
It is this clear lake of pure consciousness that we turn to when we are frightened or desperate. ‘Prayer’ is not an abstract concept that one can choose to adopt as part of your cultural upbringing, it is a fundamental part of the inner life of all living beings.
As I saw in Aberdeen, in prayer we connect to an eternal feeling of clarity and love, particularly when we are in a helicopter with engine problems!