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
My True and False Experiences of God

652 thoughts on “Religious Prayer Rituals: Love requires Presence

  1. A very revealing experience of how institutionalised religion has become about obeying rules and dogma and forgotten how to feel the presence of God within oneself by connecting to our own inner-most love.

  2. We are always in a relationship with God whether we choose to be aware of it or not, we cannot but be as we are, as we all are, the sparks of God forever held in its all-encompassing embrace. We simply have chosen to walk away from this truth. Through our connection to who we are within, our Soul, we are able to deepen and explore our eternal relationship with the ever-present magic of God, nature, the universe and each other, as all are an integral part of the inescapable and magnificent whole we belong to.

  3. True – whilst we all have our right to seek God in whatever way we choose there has to be some form of resemblance of what God truly is. If God is love which I feel he is then being love in all that we do, seems like a great way to get closer to him.

  4. Its amazing how certain moments from childhood are memories that we remember every single detail of. This was a very profound one for you Coleen. I think as children we are still very open to asking questions. My opinion is that as adults we become socialised to no longer question, but just manage our lives, accepting our lot and believing ‘this is it.’ I am very grateful for the children and adults around me who still have that curiosity and keep asking the questions that I may not think to ask.

  5. “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?” Interesting questions Coleen. God is in everything we do and we are all sons of God, so there is no need to separate ourselves from humanity.

  6. I remember that palpable sense of relief that would come from everyone present after they came outside of church after a religious service when I was growing up and I also remember thinking that surely that cannot be quite right that we would all feel more at ease with ourselves, with each other and with God outside the building and religious ceremony than we ever did inside of it.

  7. Well said Coleen, it is crazy how many Religions forget the true meaning of God and love and instead spend endless hours reciting prayers and ‘doing good’ when in fact they are polluting the world with more separation and lovelessness. To live who we truly are and to embrace love and everyone equally would be a great starting point before we began to pray and then our prayers would have a loving imprint and quality that would benefit humanity enormously.

  8. It’s interesting how religion can be viewed as something separate from life, as something special and those who administer it, so to speak, special and ourselves only special when we are connecting to this religious source. The illusion created here fosters dependency and takes us far from the love and truth that is intrinsic to our very nature. This nature expressed for example by a grandfather and grandchild walking together hand in hand .

  9. I have always felt bemused by the ritualistic nature of prayers and the speed with which they are repeated which is very excluding of everyone else. The lack of equality and the expectation that repeating them somehow makes you good/better didn’t make sense to me growing up and I rejected religion for many years and it was not until I was introduced to The Way of The Livingness that I could connect to religion in a way that made complete sense and felt like coming home because it is about how I live my life in every moment and not just reserved for ‘special’ times.

  10. Ritualistic prayer fosters lack of presence and in that a religion has more hold over its adherents and this is at the root of the evil that religion propagates.

  11. Wow Coleen you have hit the nail on the head with this blog. Exposing the true purpose of most religions – that is to disconnect instead of connect to self and God.

  12. An astute revelation on how we have rituals that are done in the name of ‘religion’ but that actually serve to dis-connect people rather than unify. Something may on the surface claim to be religious or a way of bringing us closer to God, but if it takes us away from our natural presence then I would ask if it truly has anything to do with religion or God at all…

  13. It is makes no sense to me too that God is out or up there in the sky as is the belief of institutionalised religion I was taught in Sunday school for in God being outside of me means I am separate to him so whenever I find myself following a belief, something which is outside of myself I am without a shadow of a doubt disconnected to God and therefore to love and have lost all presence to myself, everyone and everything.

  14. “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”.
    Doing anything over and over, without any conscious presence with the body, is the fastest way to be ‘living from the head’ rather than from the innate body wisdom. A sure way to the beginning of the energetic steps towards dementia.

  15. This blog just brought me back to feeling the responsibility we all share in being totally present in everything we do. Rituals can easily become an automatic response where we are actually not required to be with ourselves to perform them. This kind of checking out is a withdrawal from the real world and what is happening to us and around us.

  16. There is much to ponder on here in this article . It has brought up for me the fact that in my life I have known a few people who lived predominantly from their essence. What stood out in them was their unwavering warmth, and how they held it always, for all. This I now know is to be living in from their essence, their connection with God. None of these people in my life lived with a mainstream religious belief, much here to be considered.

  17. What kind of a loving relationship would expect the other party to repeatedly focus their attention and reel off statements by rote however grand the words might sound? This picture to me is indictment of the arrogance in man that seeks other people’s subordination and adoration, and makes me think of the pomp and the exclusivity especially at top levels of religious institutions.

    At no point do I see the way prayer is promoted as anything connected with God. I can not ever communicate clearly and fully with anyone if I am not present with myself – this is no different when I commune with God.

  18. “what I value and what feels right to me – is a sense of connection with myself.”
    When connected to myself I would say the same, and this connection has been growing over the last few years with the support of Universal Medicine’s presentations. However as I read that particular line I thought ‘wow it would be great to value that above everything else’, in a tone that says ‘I can’t, don’t have that in my everyday life, And yes I don’t live every moment with that value as being my highest value in life but I don’t feel that I can’t, it just takes practice and choosing to value how my presence feels compared to the disconnected moments.

  19. The falseness of the religious practices is to me that they are there to take us away from ourselves and our togetherness, that we have to pray to a god that is outside of us and that we have to pray to connect to him and show that we are good christians, muslims or any other religion you can name while god is simply inside each of us and constantly with us unconditionally.

  20. I think this is a great expose of a consciousness that says that we need to withdraw from ourselves and others or that we need to do a certain ritual in order to be in communion with God – which is the opposite of bringing us closer to God and our Divinity in my experience.

    1. Yes definitely exposing Fiona, and starts a conversation of why is this allowed to be? I feel it is to delay us from knowing who we are and where we are from and that we are all equal Sons of God.

  21. When we seek God outside of ourselves and also place him higher than ourselves, we need to disconnect from who we are and from others. And togetherness is then replaced by coldness and distance. This is what I always experienced while visiting the church on Sundays. Connection with other visitors could be felt but always only after the mass when we joined together on the church square relieved the mass was over.

  22. I often sat and listened to the humdrum of the Lord’s Prayer when I went to chapel. The dull and boring sound I would join in because everyone else was saying it but there certainly was a part of me that questioned its purpose. (I wonder how many of us were reciting because another was doing it?) I was attached to the belief that I had to say the Lord’s Prayer to get closer to God but when I felt the presence of God in every cell of my body and in every cell of the body of another at a workshop presented by Serge Benhayon there was no doubt I felt God and it was not from reciting the lord’s prayer or any other ritual but by simply focusing on my breath (The Gentle Breath Meditation) supporting me to let go of that which was outside of myself and surrender to be present with me and my body.

  23. Coleen your blog has been a big reminder to me of how wise and aware children are and how sensitive they are to what they see and feel in every day life. We can learn much from a child’s observations and their ability to lovingly be present and connected to who they are, who they are around and what they are doing.

  24. Your beautiful honesty and innocence of a child is felt in your blog Coleen, I am deeply touched because with expressing in this way you are undoing and exposing the grip this form of ‘being religious’ or ‘connecting to God’ has on so many. Reading what your Grandparents would do each day, and many many others, felt awful and almost abusive to themselves like they had done something wrong and needed to make up for it… which many religions endorse. But, then I realised how as mothers or fathers or bosses or teachers etc, we can be one way as a human being and then walk in a particular role and become it and lose ourselves, and can feel the very same coldness and detachment as you felt as a child from those around us.

  25. What a fascinating study on the effects of ritualistic prayer Coleen, and how unappealing it seems. There is certainly a mindlessness to what you describe, in the sense of a lack of questioning by the devotees of the rituals you witnessed as to the effects it had on others and themselves – and what seems to be a blind acceptance of a practice handed down from who knows where and created by goodness knows who.

  26. What you have exposed here Coleen, about the rituals and expectations of institutionalised religions, does not make sense. How is it that so many people just ‘follow along’; follow along with something that disconnects them rather than connects them to themselves and to God. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your wisdom Coleen, there is much to ponder here.

  27. As I read this it occurred to me how we have this picture of needing to be serious with God. As a child there is much beauty that we experience in the moments of life and the playfulness that also goes with this. To me, those moments are a moment with God. The formalising of God is something that lacks divinity and separateness people from their relationship with God.

  28. People know that there is more to us that our body, that there is a greater power, but in their desire to know that they look outside rather than within.

  29. Love does indeed require presence, never have I felt the warmth and love within me and from God or anyone else while disconnected. However the love expressed by another has been able to catch my attention and reignite the fire within me.

  30. Life through the eyes of a child, it’s a refreshing view. Children tuned in to what is love and presence and what lacks all of the above…if we want to know if something is true of not all we have to do is imagine a child’s view on it and it becomes very clear, very quickly.

  31. Ritualistic prayer has no heart in it, no connection to the love we are, and no connection to life, instead it becomes a duty something to obey, a form that lacks and quality of presence, God and love.

  32. This is a great blog exposing from the innocence and clarity of a child, the harmfulness of such rituals.

  33. I keep forgetting – but I actually went to a Christian kindergarten. I do not remember any of the prayers or hymns, but I remember feeling told off every time we got together at a hall. They could all talk about God and love and all that, but any child will know when there is none of that.

  34. The example you offer of you and your grandfather holding hands and him withdrawing it, sums up the disconnection one chooses when they search for God outside themselves. It’s drop everything including you fellow brothers, you can’t help but ask where is the love in that?

  35. ‘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.’ When we connect to nature it brings us closer to God than any prayer can bring us. it is the magic of God and there is no magic in a prayer as you’ve described here.

  36. The word prayer conjures up feelings of heaviness and a chore. But what is prayer – communication with God. There is no heaviness or chore in this – it is pure joy.

    1. I agree Nikki. And with this there is no difference from one movement to the next as with every breath, wherever we are or whatever we are doing, we are simply being true selves, in union with God.

  37. This blog has a beautiful revelation: when someone goes into prayer in a religion that does not honor the body, the being, and provides no real connection to God, the body of the person changes for the worst energetically speaking. This gives away everything that such ‘religion’ is in truth.

  38. It is a grave illusion to we think that our relationship with God can be found in what we do. Where in-truth, well before whatever we do, resides within us our essence, the spark of God we are, through which we were born knowing religion. This quality within remains true, unchanged and unalterable however it is our relationship with this quality that does and has changed. As such it is in our surrender to our beingness that we are in a constant relationship with God, through which all that we do can essentially be in prayer, in communion with God, with life, and with our innate Divinity.

  39. A religious movement is one in which we have connected to our bodies universal intelligence and then move from there, this then connects us to God and all which unlike religious prayer only stops us accessing this divine quality and separates from this universal way.

  40. You pose some really poignant questions Coleen. The image of your grandfather withdrawing his hand to pray and becoming cold and distant is striking, and you’re right, it makes no sense if the prayer is supposed be about love and bringing this to the world.

  41. Reading this reminded me of the time I spent 3 days at a silent Buddhist meditation retreat where all you did was meditate. After a few hours my body ached and I wanted to connect with the other people on the retreat but we had to follow the ‘rules’ and not speak, it felt totally unnatural and everyone seemed so miserable it was clear to me from this experience that this was not the way to live and move in life.

  42. What was held as religion to me when I was growing up was certainly not fun, no laughing or even smiling, extremely serious and rigid. Who knew this was nothing to do with what religion truly is and now I am holding little of those ‘hard’ times. The saying of the same thing over and over was like some type of lock down that would have you almost assume a certain position as well. Everyone has the freedom to choose what they want to do in this world and so I understand more of what this means and I choose to live what I truly see as free and religion is something I freely live, within me and not a rigidity of repeating something over and over in the hope it will do something.

  43. Coleen, your blog is so beautifully written and exposes how disconnecting, cold, separative and loveless these religious rituals and prayers are. God is love, so when we practice or express anything that is void of love we are already disconnected from God and ourselves.

  44. “God is Love: Love requires Presence.” It is our connection to presence that
    connects us to the soul and then also connects us to the all. We confirm all by connecting to who we are and then moving with that presence. Our movements then express the divine quality of God that then beats within us all.

  45. Some very pertinent questions are asked here. The extent of the cold, separative feeling that one can feel in organised religion is actually immensely scary, for in this separation, we cannot feel the uniqueness of each person, we cannot hold another in and with the love that they and we are, and in such a space, we are able to judge another, or compare with another, we also allow jealously to be directed to another. It is with these energies that wars are begun. When one looks at the number of people that are a part of organised religion, one can become very sober, as the realisation of what they have instigated in our world is felt.

  46. I remember saying the rosary over and over as a child trying to get it over and done with, prayer was also used as part of penance for sins committed, not only did we go into practise with no heart in it at all but we were told we were unworthy and so pray was some sort of pleading with God to forgive us or a trying to appease a vengeful God all this was absolutely devoid of any presence and love, separating us further away from God.

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