She begins to pray. She invokes another conviction, that the good Spirit of the universe has no such intention for her child. She recalls some of the great passages of religious inspiration, the words of the saints who have been sure of a power outside ourselves, as well as in ourselves, making for righteousness. Thus gaining the prayer mood, she then reminds herself that she must be the channel for bringing this good-will into the life of her child. She replaces the picture of failure, which threatens to become fixed in her mind, with a more vivid and living picture of success. With all the love and sympathy and imaginative fire she possesses, she pictures to herself her petition being granted—the new attitude on the part of her child, his awakened interest in his studies, his liking for his teachers, his expectation of success. She prays intensely, with all her desire, through and in this mental picture.
This act is exceedingly difficult; but, if done, it changes the whole atmosphere of the home. The very face of the mother as she meets the child is magnetic of success for the child instead of being prophetic of failure. In the thousand ways, known and unknown, in which the mother's mind touches the mind of the child, encouragement, expectation of achievement, faith in his powers now flow in upon the will of the child. In petitions of this nature, the whole personality is stirred; desire, intellect, and imagination are at their highest point of efficiency, that she may become a conductor of God's good-will. She concludes her prayer with thanks-giving to God that the prayer has been granted, a supreme act of faith.
There is all the difference in the world between the man who says, 'I am going to give up my bad habit,' and the man who says, 'I have given up my bad habit.' So there is between feeling that God may answer the prayer and that God has answered it. The latter is the act of faith that the answer will be hindered only by the defect of the channel. The answer is granted; the flood of happiness and success is forcing its way through the narrow and obstructed channel of the mother's personal influence upon the child. Prayer has substituted such an influence for the previous, almost unconscious, suggestions of failure. There is no dogmatism in such prayer as to the method of the of the answer—that is left to the infinite possibilities of actual experience. The claim is simply made on the universe for the happiness of the child, and in the making of the claim the psychological machinery is set in motion for its being honored by the universe. And this effort to organize unsatisfied desire not only has its influence upon those for whom we pray, but tends to purify and enlighten the desire itself, so that, when the petition is granted, it may be on a much higher plane than when it was first offered. Yet it is the same prayer. The desire is always satisfied. But it often is sublimated in the process of satisfaction.
In the face of the impending death of her child, a mother who has so practised prayer on lesser matters has great powers. Her very face in the sick-room as the child dimly sees it, is on the side of health and life. And who can tell in what numberless ways the minds of those who love touch one another, all unseen even by the argus eyes of science. Miracles occur, and the tide of life returns into sluggish veins, when the desire of life is kindled through the touch of kindred minds.
Many objections will occur to one who reads for the first time this theory of prayer. Does not this explanation of prayer, it will be asked, run counter to the practice of One who said in his prayer, 'Not My will but Thine be done'? This phrase has been greatly misused. It has been misused so as almost to justify the Irishman's type of prayer, before mentioned. Rousseau best expressed a prevailing interpretation of it thus: 'I bless God, but I pray not. Why should I ask of Him that He would change for me the course of things, do miracles in my favor? I, who ought to love, above all, the order established by his wisdom and maintained by his providence—shall I wish that order to be dissolved on my account? As little do I ask of Him the power to do well. Why ask what He has already given?'
But God's highest will is carried out only through human wills working at white heat. Prayer is not asking God to change the course of things, but asking Him to help me to be a part of that course of things. I become so, not in spite of my will, but through my will. The Master used this phrase, not before He had exerted his own will, but after the great drops of the sweat of desire were falling from his brow to the ground. The phrase is no idle excuse for listless praying; in it we see the sublimation of desire taking place. Idle prayers, which place this phrase, misused, in the forefront, will ever excuse injustice and sickness and unhappiness as the will of God. Justice, happiness, health, surely these are the will of God for all; as to the detailed method of their coming, our desires in prayer are ever being enlarged and enlightened by the inflow upon us of the cosmic desires of God.
Again, it will be asked if this theory will not lend itself to the idea that, if you want a purse of money, you must imagine it very vividly lying on the pavement outside your house, and then go out and find it. A father heard his little girl praying for the red doll in the window of the corner store, and told her she ought not to pray for things like that; she ought to pray to be a good girl, or for the heathen. The fact was that she did not want specially to be a good girl in the father's meaning of that phrase, and she did not care about the heathen, but she did want the red doll. Why make a hypocrite of her at the start? So it is with money. If that is what you really want, pray for it. If you pray sincerely, you will receive an answer which will satisfy you. Possibly not the pocket-book, but an ability to get up earlier in the morning, or to keep awake between meals, or to reduce your expenditures. The answer always comes and abundantly satisfies anyone who dares persistently to carry out the art of praying. But prayer always initiates effort.
Prayer is a hard task without the mystic sense of the personality of God. In all the lesser problems of life it is easy enough to look upon it as the simple demonstration of a natural law. But when the storms are out and the floods let loose, when one has done all one can by action and has done all one can by prayer, then life is hard and cruel, indeed, unless one can feel, behind all the laws and beneath all the principles, in higher reaches of spiritual communion, a love that understands and forgives.