Mystics at Prayer
By Many Cihlar
Publisher: Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
This book is a reprint of a 1931 publication from the Rosicrucian Press. The term Rosicrucian (the Rose Cross) refers to a secret society of mystics formed in late medieval Germany. The compiler of this eclectic anthology of prayers, Many Cihlar (1888-1967), served as Grand Master of the Ancient Mystical Order Rose Croix, the modern organization of the Rosicrucian Order. From his home base in Vienna, Austria, Cihlar worked to spread the Rosicrucian teachings throughout central and western Europe after World War II. He also traveled to India where he became a devotee of Sri Bhola Nathji, an Indian guru and the founder of the World Prayer Day for Peace.
After a deep study of the prayers from a wide range of cultural traditions, Cihlar selected over one hundred prayers to highlight the characteristics of the prayers of mystics and show how prayer relates to mystical attunement and spiritual development. Some of the prayers in this book come from the personal and private writings of well-known figures in history, from ancient, medieval and modern times. Other prayers come from the liturgy or the scriptures of various religious movements. But Cihlar also chooses prayers from lesser-known figures of the 19th and 20th centuries. The book has an index and references to the sources of these prayers.
To give a sense of the breadth of this highly diverse selection, Cihlar’s anthology includes prayers from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, from St. Bernadine, a medieval Christian mystic, and from the modern Rabindranath Tagore. From the ancient Athenian philosopher, Socrates, we read:
Grant me to be beautiful within,
and all I have of outward things
to be at peace with those within.
From the Vedas, we read:
Out of the unreal, lead me to the Real.
Out of the Darkness, lead me into the Light.
Out of Death, lead me to Deathlessness.
The introduction by H. Spencer Lewis explains the purpose of Cihlar’s compilation, which is to show the similarities in the nature of and approach to prayer among those who aspire to mystical attainment, regardless of cultural differences. As Lewis points out, to the mystic, prayer is based on the conviction that God is present everywhere, aware of each individual’s inner state, and is merciful. He describes mystical prayer as a “meeting of the minds” and “the most intimate, personal contact that human beings can make with their Father, the Creator of all beings.”
This mystical approach to prayer can be found both in the writings of individual mystics and also in the liturgies used in some traditions. For example, from the Syrian Clementine liturgy, we read:
O God, who art the unsearchable abyss of peace, the ineffable sea of love, the fountain of blessings and bestower of affection, Who sendest peace to those who receive it. Open to us the sea of Thy love and water us with the plenteous streams of Thy riches of grace. Make us children of quietness and heirs of peace. Enkindle in us the fire of Thy love; sow in us Thy fear; strengthen our weakness by Thy power; and bind us closely to Thee and to each in one firm bond of unity.
Lewis contrasts the mystical approach to prayer with that of the average person, whose wrong assumptions lead him astray. Of the average person he says:
He assumes that the Lord is not only omnipotent in power, omnipresent and merciful, but that with all of His power, with all of His intelligence, with all of His mastership and control throughout the world, and with all of His attunement with the beings which He created, He is nevertheless ignorant of our wants and needs, and completely unacquainted with what we require in life to live abundantly and secure our everyday necessities.
The prayers in this book, on the other hand, point toward a different approach to prayer, as an occasion “not for personal petitioning, but for spiritual communion.”
By examining the prayers we will find that the Mystics always assumed that whatever might be their lot in life, and however the state of their health or the condition of the circumstances surrounding them, be they ill or fortunate, all things proceeded from God and were ordained by Him and, therefore, were just and in accordance with some law or principle that was merciful and necessary to human experience.
Of course, mystics do petition, but for mystic nearness to God. They pray for submission to his will: the medieval German mystic and Rosicrucian Jacob Boehme prays simply, “In Thee would we lose ourselves utterly; do in us what Thou wilt,” and Charles How, an American author, beseeches the Lord “to make the stream of my will perpetually to flow a cheerful and impetuous course, bearing down pleasure, interest, afflictions, death, and all other obstacles and impediments whatsoever before it, till it plunge itself joyfully into the unfathomable ocean of Thy Divine Will.” Mystics pray that they might please God: in the words of Psalm 19: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Or they beg for guidance, as when the Emperor Julian prayed, “Point me in the way that leadeth upward to Thee,” and Zoroaster prays to the “Invisible, Benevolent Spirit” that he might act with righteousness and wisdom, “that I may thereby bring joy to the Soul of Creation.”
But above all, for mystics prayer is an opportunity to draw close to the Lord in communion. John Scotus Erigena, the 9th-century Scottish philosopher, termed this seeking “feeling after Thee”:
O Thou who art the everlasting essence of things beyond space and time and yet within them; Thou who transcendest yet pervadest all things; manifest Thyself to us, feeling after Thee, seeking Thee in the shades of ignorance, yet seeking nothing but Thee.
Lewis writes in the introduction that the mystic approaches prayer humbly and not with any sense of having the right to demand anything. Mystical prayer is “approached with thankfulness in every sense.” The mystic often recognizes that he is the recipient of divine love far beyond his deserving, or even his capacity to appreciate. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a 19th-century American physician and poet, prayed, “Lord, what am I, that with unceasing care Thou didst seek after me?” It was with this same sense of overwhelming gratitude that the 11th-century philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol prayed:
In the flood of Thy love I have rapture eternal
And prayer is but an occasion for praise.
Book reviews express the opinions of the reviewers and not of the publisher.