ONE of the most vivid memories from my childhood is coming out of a movie theater after a matinee. I would get so involved in the movie's place and time that it was a big surprise to see the sun shining brightly and people shopping and parking their cars. Sometimes I would adjust quickly and forget the movie by the time we reached the car. Sometimes the images or the plot stayed with me for weeks, even years. Recently I have begun setting aside specific time each day to pray. It's right around matinee time, and maybe that's why I've wondered if my prayer was a similar escape from the world. In other words, did I have beautiful prayers, and then when I finished praying did I return, essentially unchanged, to the world that was (to use television jargon) ``already in progress''?
If my prayer was just a nice break in the day with little value beyond that, it didn't really matter how transcendental or inspirational it was. The experience would still be somewhat comparable to reading an engrossing novel or seeing a good movie.
The motive of true prayer is far more than to have a personal moment of transcendence. Prayer seeks to understand, obey, and adore the one God, divine Truth, Life, Spirit, Love. It seeks to gain clearer views of our own and everyone's genuine identity as the spiritual, blessed image of God. When you stop to think, it would be rather demeaning to the infinite for us to attempt to use Deity as a stimulant, as stress therapy, or as an escape. It certainly wouldn't be worship.
A materialistic sense of prayer limits a ``good'' prayer to an emotional high, a strong feeling, a kind of ecstasy, because physical feelings are the only language this false sense understands. Without them, it thinks that nothing has happened. But an emotional high or ecstasy is not necessarily prayerful.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, writes in the chapter called ``Prayer'' in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``Physical sensation, not Soul, produces material ecstasy and emotion. If spiritual sense always guided men, there would grow out of ecstatic moments a higher experience and a better life with more devout self-abnegation and purity.''1
It's important that we respond in our daily routine to what our spiritual sense discerns in prayer, to what we're perceiving of God's goodness and man's inherent purity. The prayer continues with our continued efforts. The demand of prayer is not only to discern God's presence and direction but to obey that direction. As Christ Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: ``Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.''2
Another of my vivid childhood memories is the day a large dog came into our yard. Our mother cat thought the dog was too near her kittens, and with unbelievable fury she rose up, advanced, and scared the dog away. There was no hesitation or calculation, just as David showed no hesitation in running to meet the giant Goliath. In the cat's case, it might be called mother-love; in David's, love of God. But both show the connection between love and action.
In our quiet moments, learning about God and loving God, we may be deeply touched by God's power and nearness. And in our active times, we can be eagerly faithful to what we love, even when it involves a struggle.
1Science and Health, p. 7. 2Matthew 7:24, 25.