Religious Prayer Rituals: Love requires Presence

Many of us seek to practice a religion because we want a relationship with God, Christ, inner nature or the enlightened mind.

My experience with religion has shown me that the religion into which I was born actually had me engaging in rituals that had the opposite effect from deepening my relationship with God.

I refer to the effects of ritualistic daily prayer. By ritualistic I mean the articulation of the same prayers repeated over and over, at the same time daily, constantly for years on end.

Prayer in this instance being the repetition of religious verses, sequences of words uttered invariably in a flat, often uninspiring, monotone.

I first became aware of the possible deleterious effects of this practice while staying at the home of my paternal grandparents. As a child, I recall my natural response to hearing my grandparents utter morning prayers for what seemed an interminable amount of time, was to slide down into the bedding further for warmth and there wait for them to finish so that the day and the business of life could begin.

I recall walking to the neighbouring village with my grandfather one summer morning. As I held his hand, I was enjoying the strength of his physical presence and a feeling of safety and protection as his large hand cradled my own. I was aware of the fragrance of summer and the lovely bright colours of the wildflowers in the hedgerows as we walked along together.

This was all brought to a sudden and abrupt end when the local church bells chimed out 12 noon. My Grandfather withdrew his hand from mine, closed his eyes and began to mutter incomprehensibly and quietly to himself.

“What are you doing, grandad?” I asked quizzically, disconcerted by his sudden withdrawal from our lovely walk together. “Shhh!” came the tetchy response.

It felt like he had totally left both me and himself and a coldness descended on what had been a quiet and pleasant moment of togetherness. When the chimes ended, he took my hand once again and we continued to walk to the village. I noticed that he felt different – now cold and distant. I asked why he did that and he explained it was to pray to God.

However, it didn’t feel right to me.

In the evening, dinner had to be served and eaten before 6pm because there were then more prayers, which had to start at 6pm sharp. These prayers included a list of names uttered by one person while the rest of the family responded with the same phrase over and over.

We visiting grandkids could not sustain the super rapid pace of the adults in the room and spent our time looking wide-eyed at each other, wondering what this was all about. It was such a relief when the prayers finally ended and we could all go to bed. The stillness of the night, the fragrance of the night flowers and the gentle humming of insects were all a soothing balm after the racing prayer ritual.

But what really struck me about all these prayer sessions, as well as the formal religious practices on Sundays and other times, was how much people lost themselves, how they left themselves behind. They had their eyes closed to block out distractions, but their words were harsh and rushed, and they seemed to be disconnected from themselves: they had lost their warmth and presence in those moments.

I could feel the prayer ritual was literally causing people to completely lose their sense of presence. I sensed that they had checked-out completely.

I saw many go directly to the pub after visiting their place of worship and the sense of relief was palpable. In all other social settings, the hospitality and sense of welcoming all as family was, and is, legendary. So then why the switch to coldness and distance when the situation is about relating to God?

For me – what I value and what feels right to me – is a sense of connection with myself. The more I am with myself, the more warmth, affection, and love I feel for myself and for everyone else also. I find I can neither feel nor express love if I do not have a sense of connection and presence with myself.

Now most religions assert that God is Love, something I feel also.

But if God is Love, then why do these religions encourage, even insist, on their followers engaging in practices, like ritualistic prayer, that cause them to lose presence and hence the ability to feel love or warmth within themselves, and, as a consequence, to lose the ability to feel love or warmth for someone else?

What purpose did it serve for my grandfather to transition from being a warm and loving adult, enjoying the company of his young, beautiful granddaughter, into a cold and distant, even fearful man, who had lost his presence?

Why is the predominant view of God one of exclusivity and isolation, so that as you commune with your version of God, you must withdraw from yourself and from your loved ones? Is not Love naturally expressed outwards from how one feels it within?

Why do institutionalised religions seek to cause this loss of presence with these religious rituals when it is presence that is the pathway to what they assert God is… Love?

It made no sense to me as a child and it makes no sense to me now, as an adult.

Why do institutionalised religions practice such rituals and seek to disengage presence?

God is Love: Love requires Presence.

By Coleen Hensey, Tamborine Mtn, Australia

Further Reading:
The Way of the Livingness: Understanding True Religion
Religion
My True and False Experiences of God

672 thoughts on “Religious Prayer Rituals: Love requires Presence

  1. Perhaps these ritualistic prayer practices are implemented by organised religions in order to keep people distracted away from connecting to their own body and thus with their souls that reside within, where they could so easily feel God’s presence through connecting with their own presence. Then they would not need any church or priest to be the conduit to God anymore, eliminating the need for those controlling false institutions.

  2. Your final question is a good one Colleen. But it’s not just institutionalised religion that is like this. I feel we have made our lives so busy that life itself is this way. We become busy with work and everything becomes about work and any interruption to work can bring frustration, because we are focusing on what is to be done. What your blog does is assist us to explore and expose what we think religion is. I feel what is being offered here is that we have disconnected from its true meaning being that of our relationships with one another and with God.

  3. It seems like these prayers are more used as an outer ‘tick-box’ system so you can be called religious when you do it, rather than that it is true religion. I noticed this in many parts of my own life, where I tried to keep up the image of me doing something and being a good student whilst actually deep down knowing I was not truly going there and truly bringing into practice what I knew was necessary. Even though we can fool ourselves and others as long as they are willing to be fooled in truth we are just buying time, delaying and not getting closer to the truth doing this.

  4. When our view of God is one of exclusivity and isolation, then this reflects to me that our version of God comes from a belief that God is outside of us. This is what I fell for growing up, but when I was offered by Serge Benhayon to participate in the Gentle Breath Meditation, there was no doubt whatsoever that God was sensed within and around me, as the Gentle Breath Meditation supported me to surrender and connect to myself, to my essence and hence to everyone and everything.

  5. A ritual can be a beautiful thing, but only if it is infused with love, feeling, immediacy. When it becomes a rote it is worse than meaningless as it actually withdraws you from the present moment much as this example with your Grandfather shows.

  6. “Why is the predominant view of God one of exclusivity and isolation, so that as you commune with your version of God, you must withdraw from yourself and from your loved ones?” It’s bizarre really when you think about it but it’s a part of many religions to be like this to the point that monks, priests and nuns must remove themselves from family and community to withdraw to God. Like you felt as a child and state in your blog, love is something felt within that’s expressed outwardly. Both Jesus and Buddha, for example, were out with people and expressing outwardly. I also appreciated from your blog the simplicity of truth that is observed and felt by children, they are amazing sources of clarity and truth

  7. When I read this blog I felt sad, sad that religion has been portrayed in this manner, people became stoic in the name of God and who requested this? Someone who knew no differently.

    God resides in all of us and we don’t need to pray or attend a building, burn incense, wear certain clothing or carry any particular jewellery either. God is simple, humans complicate it with their flavours.
    Coleen it was great at a young age you observed the shift in your grandfather when in one minute he was totally himself and the next the change when he had to pray.

    I’m building a different relationship with God and I’m loving it, the ‘good’ the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’.

  8. Its a good question Coleen, and I tend to the generous side… that these practices first start with good purpose, something as simple as its good to have three times a day which are markers and an opportunity to connect to God or dedicated to God if the connection has dropped in between. Problem is that over time it becomes ritualised, a set of rules with which to beat yourself or judge others (as being less pious). The walk is a classic example – if your Grandfather was fully connected in the walk as you were, then prayer time comes and his response can be ‘way ahead of you, already in deep connection with my granddaughter, myself, the day and the Universe’. Check in complete!

  9. No matter what role, but when we take on a role solely we are gone from the connection with ourselves. This feels cold and inhuman, sometimes monster like, whether we are a religious person, a mom, a professor whatever, we are no longer ourselves if we take up the qualities of an ideal and lose the connection with ourselves.

  10. ” God is Love: Love requires Presence.” yes this is so true , for in presence you can be only who you are, the expression of the love, one is.

  11. God is Love and holds all humanity in His embrace of Divine Love and not someone or something sitting in perpetual judgement demanding repeated empty words in order to buy a place in Heaven.

  12. When we are not connected and present with love so we are neither with God or anyone else; we are not in prayer. In such void faith and empty ritual become a substitute without substance. Such is much of what is considered to be religious although being religious simply means to be connected with the all that we are.

  13. Thank for such a clear exposé of the separation that orthodox religions create when they espouse the opposite and also that the repetition of prayers becomes doggerel. For many years I practiced Tibetan Buddhism and would sit for long periods of time chanting prayers in Tibetan not knowing what I was saying. With hindsight it now appears bizarre.

    1. Reading this blog and my comment again I realise it was a way of hiding from responsibility – handing myself over to someone to give me the answers to/for life like a child expecting the parent to provide.

  14. As a child I never understood the prayers I learned and at times had to pray either before sleep, lunch or in church or for penance after confessing something that I also didn´t understand as a wrong, but was considered as such by the teachings. Even today some of the words or verses come to mind now and then and I am still wondering what it is actually saying, especially because the prayers were spoken in a monotone pulp of words. None of these prayers ever connected me with God but for sure disconnected me from myself.

    1. When words are meaningful they can support us to connect deeper within ourselves, but as I remember and you described Alexander: “the prayers were spoken in a monotone pulp of words.” It is like some words are said without feeling the meaning of the words or connection to ourselves, just to tick the box and be religious but it is worth questioning what we are truly doing when we do this.

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