Do you belong around here?

This is a continuation of the series Why People Commit To Your Church

3. Prayer builds bonds of affection and confidence

I do not know of any denomination that is critical of people for the way they pray, except Unity. That "you can get in trouble today in Unity for praying to God" was conveyed to me two weeks ago by a well-known, highly-respected Unity minister.

But, according to Stark and Finke, people won't commit to a church unless people pray. The form of prayer is not relevant; what matters is that people have a faith or hope that there is a personal God who hears. They write:

"Prayer builds bonds of affection and confidence between humans and a god or gods."

"Prayers may be silent or spoken out loud, impromptu or regular, formulaic or spontaneous, mandatory or voluntary, and they may express need, praise, hope, joy, or even despair ... But, in all cases, prayers are meant to be heard ... prayer is ostensibly a manifestation of a personal tie with the transcendent ... and constitutes an act of faith or hope that it will reach it's mark" (p.109).

As I explain below, many people now feel inadequate and unwelcome in Unity, sensing that they don't fit in because the language they use in prayer isn't good enough.

What Unity teaches about praying to God

 

The video you see to the left is segment eight of On Wings of Truth, which was produced by Unity sometime in the 1990's.

None of these Unity leaders make any mention of the language or the words we use in prayer. There is no caution about talking to God. On the contrary, Sharon Poindexter and Jim Rosemergy use very traditional language in these clips: "Praying, often, for me is my talking at God, talking to God" (Poindexter); "Through prayer we give ourselves to Spirit and we are then like the clay that the Father can then work with" (Rosemergy).

Prayer is not about the words we use, it is not about the language.  What matters in prayer is who we become. It's all about the consciousness from which we pray. And, ultimately, it's about the character that is expressed. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, your language is irrelevant.

Listen to the audio clips below. These clips show that our founders taught that we ought to pray to God from a consciousness of God's good. Unity teaches that you and I are a Christ, an expression of God, and that we should call God forth through that expression. Calling God forth is talking to God.

From Myrtle Fillmore:


Clip #6 from Healing Letters.

You remember the spiritual inspiration that Paul had, an inspiration that is also ours as we claim the light, power and love that are God's expression through us. If the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his spirit that dwelleth in you ...

From James Dillet Freeman:


Clip #6 from Angels Sing In Me.

I wrote this when my first wife was dying and I went to pray in the Silent Unity Prayer Room and as I prayed I heard a voice, an audible voice like mine is now. I'm always listening for an inner voice but that morning I heard a voice that was not mine. And this is what the voice said to me. Do you need me? I am there. ...

From Martha Smock:


Clip #2 from The Healing Ability.

When we pray in the name and through the power of Jesus Christ, is it the mere pronouncement of the name that heals, that transforms, that blesses? No, it is what we experience when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said 'where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them. When even one person prays in the name of Jesus Christ he invokes the living presence of the loving Christ. We're not alone when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, he is with us. His presence and power are with us and the power that is of God flows through us...

From May Rowland:


Clip #3 from I Feel The Presence Of God.

If you feel disturbed, restless and perhaps fearful, this is the time to listen to that ever-present one within you saying "Be still and know that I am God" ... Feel and realize that this is God talking to you. A great peace and calm will come over you and you will be assured that God is looking after you. Feel the presence in the quietness of your own soul then you will feel his presence always with you and about you.

From Eric Butterworth:


Clip #110 from Practical Metaphysics.

What this says is, in its simplest possible terms is while you may be involved in praying to God, the ultimate reality is God is praying for you. Understand that? The Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, the Allness has but one intent as far as you're concerned, that is to perfect itself and to express itself in and as you. ... This is why I say so often, "don't pray to God but pray from the consciousness of God ... Be still and know that  ... God is present, not absent ... and I allow that infinite process to do its perfect work ... it has no other intent as far as I'm concerned except to heal me, to guide me, to direct me ...

From Ernest Wilson:


Clip #4 from Master Class Lessons.

That prayer is not only asking, you see, but more deeply it is knowing, knowing God as our unfailing supply and support. ... Eric (Butterworth) says prayer is not a position, but a disposition ... it is not flattery, but a sense of oneness. It is not asking, but knowing. It is not words, but feeling. Feeling is the secret. It is not will, but willingness. So, ask, believing that you have received, said Jesus, and you shall have it.

Unity's new language and getting dinged for praying to God

At some point, Unity's teachers began to focus, not on the consciousness from which we pray, but on the language used in prayer. The "current thinking in Unity" declared that precision in language produces power.

During class discussions, students are often "asked" to "repharase things", and they are then asked "do you feel the power?" I don't recall any student ever responding "no, I don't." But I do recall many feeling frustrated, inadequate and having lost their ability to freely pray in a Unity setting. A minister friend of mine remarked that he had to "get out of integrity" in order to pass some of the classes.

I don't think this new focus on precision encourages "a manifestation of a personal tie with the transcendent ... and constitutes an act of faith or hope." I don't think that precision "builds bonds of affection and confidence between humans and a god or gods." Precision discourages prayer. Precision is the intellect driving the heart-centered process of prayer. It doesn't work. 

Jesus warned the Pharisees that the words they used, however grand, were no substitute for a pure heart. We need to reconsider what we're doing today. Here's how the wheels come off when we emphasize precison over consciousness ...

She was a sweet, country gal ... early-20's ... married to a Marine who was at that time stationed in Iraq. Although raised Baptist, she attended the rural Unity church because that's where her brothers and sisters attended; family was important to her. She came to SEE-In-The-Field in the Austin area, a five hour drive from home, because she wanted to know more about Unity. I don't know what she wrote in her paper. I suspect that it had a fair amount of evangelical language because that's the religious language she knew. Regardless of what she may have written, I was told later that when the paper was graded and came back to her, it came with the final comment, "Are you sure you belong in Unity?"

"Are you sure you belong in Unity?" So much for unity. So much for oneness.

Here's the point: language does not reveal consciousness. Language is the way we communicate. Language reveals culture, not character, not consciousness. There is no correlation between language and maturity. One cannot tell from the words we use if we are in fact working from "embedded" theology (whatever that means). Do you listen to 1950's rock and roll? If so, does that mean you really yearn to be somebody's baby?

So let's get over it. Truth transcends culture and Unity is bigger than nit-picking spiritual elitism.

I am open to the defense that this is all a misunderstanding, that I have misinterpreted things. If you have another interpretation, then leave a comment below. In fact, I'd like nothing more than to acknowledge here that I have been all wrong about the criticism of people who use the same language as Charles, Myrtle, James Dillet, Martha, May, Eric and Ernest.

As I said at the beginning of this series, the purpose here is not to arrive at Truth. Rather my purpose is to explore how to grow a church. I am dealing with "the human side of Unity" from the perspective of a sociologist, not as a theologian.

I don't see how we can build a thriving Unity movement when teachers criticize people who pray in a certain way. It seems to me that when we do that we are really asking "do you belong around here?"

To be continued ...

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Comments

Submitted by John Poppino on

Mark, great research. Modern Unity is all about language. How dumb are these guys? I am in a progressive UMC context where we do not use language control tactics. I cannot tell you the personal dislike I feel for the modern Unity Village language police. They are so unlike the Unity founders. But they run things now. I wrote to a prof at the Institute about the ignorant, insensitive prayer terms they force on students. No answer. Who are they anyway to tell us what words to use? What they are doing is creating deep hostility to modern Unity in average people. That has consequences. Hey, they may change for financial reasons... Unity's founders could not graduate from a modern Unity academic program today; they don't belong here either.

Submitted by Mindy Audlin on

Mark, Once again I am totally impressed by the work you are doing and the light you are shedding on topics like this. I agree with you completely. For a philosophy that so values the "many ways to know God," there is often an air of righteousness about the way affirmative prayer is taught.

If God is unlimited, then so is our ability to communicate with God. God is within. God is everywhere. Whether I pray from God as me, or I pray to God "out there," it's the faith in our "Amen" that seals the deal ("It is done!").

I do understand the value in the these teachings as it relates to raising awareness about our own cultural identity for God. Becoming aware of our "embedded theology" gives us the freedom to consciously choose the relationship we want to have with our Source. I think this kind of inquiry can be extremely meaningful as long as it doesn't make alternative or more traditional paths 'wrong' or "less enlightened."

Thank you for your thorough research and profound insights into the topics you put before us all.

Submitted by John Zenkewich on

Mark
Unfortunately I agree with you.
Keep up the good work!

Submitted by Jackie Austin on

Thank you, again, for these wonderful audio/video clips you are including in your weekly emails, Mark! For those of us who do not attend a Unity church, they are so treasured. Re: the language of prayer and how it has become so contentious. This brings to mind the advice Jesus gave to those who were asking him to rebuke others whose practices were not 'in line' (heretical?) with their understanding and practices. Jesus replied, "What is that to you? Follow thou me." Jesus used many types of prayer - some verbally spoken (even in a loud voice as when he called forth Lazarus from the grave), some in desperation ("My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?") and some in quiet seclusion as when he went away by himself to fast and pray. Words spoken or unspoken do not need to be phrased in a certain way in in a certain language (Greek? Japanese? Aramaic?) when God, who is SPIRIT, hears not by ear of man but through the connection established in prayer of our heart with His. I believe that is the point of Pentecost - that each heard God speaking "in his own language." When we become so self righteous that we think we can correct others on the language they are using in prayer, it is good to remind ourselves, "What is that to you? Follow thou me." (If this comment is a duplicate of one I sent earlier, my apologies. I did not know one had to type in the word verification in order to submit comment.) Thank you, Mark, for these weekly thought-provoking emails - they are a blessing to me!

Submitted by Michael Scales on

You are right, Jackie,
The specific words of a prayer are not what determine the efficacy of the prayer; it is the consciousness from which the prayer is offered.

Submitted by Michael Scales on

Is this kind of thing really going on up at the Unity Institute? Who are these instructors, and where were they educated? What kind of language to they say should be used in prayer? If we aren't to pray to God, to whom do they teach their students to pray?

Submitted by Ellen Debenport on

I don't know, Mark ... while I certainly agree that students have been scolded for addressing God as "you" or praying "to" God, I think language often does reflect consciousness. That's why we pay so much attention to words. A pleading, beseeching prayer to a God above who might intervene isn't just semantics. It indicates a consciousness of fear, worry and powerlessness. Sometimes we don't know what we're thinking til we hear ourselves say it. And sometimes words are a clue to embedded theology that no longer serves us.

Urging people to pay attention to the words they use in prayer gives them a structure to reconsider their understanding of what prayer is and what God is -- in other words, to shift their consciousness. The reason most people try Unity in the first place is that traditional theology and its language weren't working for them. We offer them an alternative with affirmative prayer.

But you're right that in our zeal for a new theology, we can become just as fundamentalist as those we're trying to escape! I also think we have to remember we're addressing people who grew up being graded in school and evaluated on the job and are desperate to do Unity "right." Some of the right/wrong judgments about language are coming from them, not the teachers.

Submitted by Michael Scales on

It's not just a matter of being overly zealous; it's a matter of being presumptions, as thogh one human being knows better how to approach God than does another. I must say that is quite arrogant. No one human being has the right or the power to determine the best way for another human being to approach God in prayer.

Submitted by Ellen Debenport on

The "best" way for someone else to pray, no. But Unity does offer specific methods of prayer that we have found effective, and it's our job to share them. When we tell people just to pray any way they want, we are leaving them at sea. I spent many years knowing traditional Christianity no longer worked for me, but I had no idea there were any alternatives until I got to Unity. I'm grateful to the teachers who showed me another way.

Mark, I think you've hit a nerve!

Submitted by Michael Scales on

I don't think it's our job to tell people not to pray to God. The bottom line is that whatever works works. I spent plenty of time in traditional Christianity, so I know that drill. I also happen to know plenty of traditional Christians who are very effective prayer practitioners because they believe their prayers will be answered. That's what makes a prayer work, not the specific words uttered, and certainly not refraining from using the term "God" in prayer.

Submitted by Rev. Steve Bolen on

Mark, thank you for addressing this important concept.I don't know this for a fact but I would make an educated guess that many if not most of the dynamic Unity churches in existence today are not encumbered by the current fad teaching that it is somehow incorrect to pray to God or in the name and through the power of Jesus Christ or in the Holy Spirit. I hear the argument that somehow this puts God "outside of us" when we pray to God. But the very name of our movement indicates Oneness - that in fact there is nothing outside of us.

My hope is that you and your readers will not consider what the teachers are teaching at the Institute or are asking be taught in the Field as "all" of Unity. It's challenging to me that a "well-known, highly respected Unity minister" would be convinced to the point of saying to you that "you can get in trouble today in Unity for praying to God."

Is someone going to come to our church and give me grief because we are singing or praying or speaking to God? If so, let them come and we will love them and they will have to bear hearing how much God loves them. To me, love is the essence of Unity just as it is the essence of God. When we are in love, in joy, in peace, we are apt to be aware of how we are in God and God is so in us.

I see these "weird imaginings" as a call for love, nothing more and our work is to forgive and to love and to feel this in the Presence and Power of the God of our understanding.

I have been around this movement for over thirty years now and I have seen fads come and go. Frankly I will be happy to see this one go but my spiritual understanding is that it will persist until this "call" is anwered.

You have lit the fire under me to do my part in the healing of this apparent rift. Thank you for this Mark and bless you.

In Love and Gratitude,

Rev. Steve Bolen, Unity Minister

Submitted by Michael Maday on

I must say that I am the SEE instructor for Life of Prayer at Unity Village for both the on campus and online classes. I also teach the Session C courses, Unity Prayer Techniques and Prayer for Unity Leaders, and I don't recognize myself or my classes in all this criticism. I emphasize in all these courses that there are four main ways to pray, methods that Robert and Janet Ellsworth identified 15 years ago or so that have become the basis of so much chaplain training in our movement. There is a place for Intercessary Prayer as in crying out for "Help, God!" when faced with an unexpected crisis. There is a place for Conversational Prayer where we build up a relationship with God, or ask for what we need. There is a place for Uplifting and Affirmative Prayer that is so basic to Unity. And there is place for Contemplative Prayer, for meditation in the silence, and surrender. In the Session C courses, the ones students take just before they graduate to become LUTs, we discuss in depth how important prayer is to our churches, how it is the way Unity people practice their principles, and it is probably the most effective way to grow churches. And, yes, we also discuss Linda Martella-Whitsett's book, How to Pray Without Talking to God. While I have my quibbles with it--which I have discussed with Paul Hasselbeck--it is an excellent book on prayer and DOES NOT contradict all that I've said above. What it does do is clarify how praying FROM our experience of divinity changes our consciousness and makes our prayers more effective. This is not a new Idea in Unity, as Myrtle Fillmore and Eric Butterworth have each made similar statements. But this emphasis is quite empowering, or so my students tell me. Now, I can't say that some teachers, somewhere, might be making statements that make people wrong for not praying a certain way, or that some students might feel that they are being forced to do things a certain way, but I have no experience of any of that in my classrooms.

Submitted by Michael Scales on

Thanks for this explanation, Michael. It is very reassuring. I am a LUT; I went through my training in the early 90s, and I certainly saw none of the coerciveness alluded to in other comments, but I haven't been back to Unity Village in a long time, and certain comments I'm hearing nowadays about a lot of things going on in the moverment have me very concerned. I hope and pray that the attitude you express above is indicative of the generall mindset at the Village. I've thought of taking further courses at the Institute, and I am a bit concerned still about some of the things I'm hearing, but I don't know how reliable these statements are regarding the general theological tone that currently prevails at the Village and the Institute.

Submitted by Rick Busby on

Mark:

First of all, excellent work, not just in the current article, but for everything you have given to bring the Truth Unity site to life. It is an outstanding resource for students and teachers of "truth and unity."

As for my response to the ideas and challenges you present here, my initial "reaction" was to say wholeheartedly, yes, I agree. How pretentious and arrogant of anyone to ask another "are you sure you belong here?" From the big view of "unity" as a truth idea, it undermines the very concept of universal inclusion directly implied by the idea of "unity" itself. Regardless of one's "embedded theology," when they arrive in a Unity class to explore truth, a Unity teacher has a responsibility to view the student as a seeker of "truth" and all manner of assistance should be be brought to bear to encourage and facilitate their individual process in their search for the "truth" of Unity principles. In this endeavor, criticism and judgment have no place.

This being said, from another point of view, the same question posed in a sincere, engaged manner by a Unity teacher to a student, can be very useful as a means of guiding the student to closer examine their own inner values to determine whether they really feel aligned with Unity and New Thought principles. To paraphrase "A Course In Miracles," the value of anything is in its usefulness as a learning device." So, if the same question were posed in a "useful" way that facilitated a conscious examination of one's deepest held personal beliefs, I do not get a charge on the statement.

In the same manner, for me, if it is useful for someone in prayer to envision a "personal" God to which they pray, and doing so provides them comfort and, most importantly, a sense of connection to God, then to me, there is no error. If they are diligent in their prayer and their seeking of Truth, then Truth will guide them to an understanding in their own time to the idea of praying "as" God, rather than "to" God.

In the end, and indeed throughout all time, the Truth is simply...true. Being Truth, it is impervious to attack of any kind, because nothing can change it from being Truth. If it could be attacked and ultimately vanquished, it was never the "Truth" at all. The Truth can be hidden from view, but it can never be vanquished. Therefore, there is no defense of Truth necessary.

As for your points about "affirmative prayer," or rather, the perceived rigidity of some Unity Village faculty over prescribed and explicit forms of such prayers, I can only say I have not experienced this first-hand, either at Unity Church of the Hills, Unity Village or any other Unity churches I have attended. However, I may have such opportunities over the next year as I go through the LUT curriculum towards my certification. Notwithstanding this, my thoughts about specific language in affirmative prayer is the same as a I stated above: if it is useful, it has value.

I will state for the record that, up until this moment, I have never considered myself effective at using "formal" affirmative prayer, especially when praying aloud. My prayers tend to be silent in little moments throughout my day, whether for myself or for others in need of prayer. However, I appreciate the "value" of formal affirmative prayers, as a teaching device, especially for those who embark on service to Unity as chaplains or ministers. In effectively serving, these individuals need a full tool kit, which includes a combination of formal affirmative prayer, in the moment prayers for individuals or in groups and many times, simply silent prayer, being present. All of these and more are necessary.

In this sense, I believe you would agree that "words" are powerful...in all directions. "I love you" and "I hate you" have two distinctly different energies and power. When using the "I Am.." statements, words are acutely powerful...in all directions. Whatever follows "I AM..." becomes manifest, for good or ill. Therefore, the value of any "formal" language used in affirmative prayers, to me, is directly related to whether they contribute to, or detract from, the five basic Unity principles.

While I appreciate your research and masterful effort in presenting your material, especially the research and resources provided from some of our major Unity thinkers on the idea of praying "to" God, I am a bit troubled by the more "anecdotal" evidence you give when building the case there is a controversy afoot. For example, the question on the student's paper viewed separate from the context and content of her paper is an incomplete analysis of all the facts that could be known to discern the truth of the events. Likewise, as a teaching device, asking students to "rephrase" their affirmative prayers, and even advising the use of "formal" language, until their language integrates with the Unity principles implied in affirmative prayer is the spiritual equivalent of taking batting practice for a baseball player or practicing scales for a guitar player. My very favorite Little League baseball coach, George Reese, taught me the importance of fundamentals long ago between the ages of 10 and 12. I have since learned that in order to "master" any subject or endeavor, we have to put in 10,000 hours of applied attention and practice to achieve mastery. To me, asking Unity students to practice the fundamentals is benign, and I expect to be taking my swings at the plate in the coming year without resistance. "Wax on, wax off...repeat as necessary."

I have already written longer than I intended, but it just goes to show how provocative is the idea you are communicating. I support wholeheartedly your mission to focus the discussion on "how to grow" Unity. It is an important mission and I am honored to be a participant. Like you, I am also attracted to the "human side of Unity." I am not by natural disposition inclined to just "bliss out into Nirvana" as a means of finding peace. I have a much deeper desire to be fully engaged in the world around me and bring my peace with me, especially when others around me are losing their minds.

To this point, I wish to challenge you on the ideas around language and consciousness near your conclusion. I agree language is the way we communicate, and many times, if not most, words and language are the least effective means of our communication. The variables are how effective is the communicator and how skilled is the audience in doing their own critical thinking for themselves. Many people in this age have altogether abdicated their own capacity for critical thinking, and instead put their blind trust in others outside of themselves. I agree language reveals culture, but, do you really believe language does not "reveal" character or consciousness? I am not sure, I do. Being stated as "absolutes" in your statements, they come across as, language "never" reveals "character or consciousness."

Once again, I believe words have power, an energy that can be calibrated and quantified. There are words and the qualities they correlate with that are of higher and lower frequencies. Love and Peace vibrate at higher frequencies than do Fear and Anger. Hawkins' "Power Vs. Force" and Emoto's "Hidden Messages In Water," among many other notable works, provide ample evidence of the "truth" in this. In this sense, language can reveal both "character and consciousness," and further, learning the effective use of language one can transcend potential "cultural" limitations. So, I am not sure you can "absolutely" defend the statements as written, but I am open to hearing more to further refine my understanding of what you are attempting to communicate with your language choices.

Please know, this is not intended as criticism, but rather as an opportunity for us to more effectively communicate precisely what we do mean. Because, to me, no organization, movement or idea can grow into anything of significance without effective and clear communication. It is not enough to simply know what one's values are, one needs to be able to articulate it for themselves, so they can lay hold of the power implied. For whatever limitations language may have, it is still effective and useful as a learning device...in all directions. We are all of teaching all the time, not always in the direction of the highest good, whether we are conscious of it or not. The variable is: what are we teaching with the use of our language?

I believe language does reveal character and consciousness and much more for that matter. It is much more than just simply a cultural device, or an accident of geography. At the beginning and the end of the day, my personal goal is simple: be the solution, not part of the problem. To me, it is not effective to criticize those I perceive as the "problem." It "is" effective to "demonstrate" the truth I know, regardless of what others may do or say. If I am following the guidance of the "Truth" implied by having my own direct connection with God, Divine Mind or whatever other name is applied to describe the One Source from which everything becomes manifest, I should never have to "fall out of integrity" to gain the approval of others, because my own Inner Truth validates my experience.

Feels like I could continue on and on, until I have written 5,000 words or more, but, that's all for now. The "paymaster" is calling. I look forward to hearing your thoughts if and when you find the time, and I continue to look forward to reading your future communications.

Peace,
rick

Submitted by Denise Ostendorf on

Prayer is not about words. It is about connecting with that spiritual feeling of oneness with God. It makes no difference what I call it and I would never say that the way anyone prays is wrong. We are all on a different path and can connect to the oneness of the Spirit in any possible manner. I call the presence God and it that works for me. To get caught up in terminology and the method of prayer is focusing on all the wrong things. A way to obtain that feeling of love and peace can come through so many unlimited ways. Why would anyone put a limit on how to access God.

Submitted by Cynthia Roberts on

I was so glad to see Michael Maday's comments. I recently took his class and finished my LUT certification Spring 2013. I was extremely pleased with the quality of teaching and the material that was taught at Unity Institute. I was introduced to Unity by my mother and have been reading Unity materials for 40 years. I think the Fillmore's would be pleased with the quality of education that is being given current LUT's. Michael Maday did indeed teach various approaches to prayer and listened respectfully to all that students had to share about the methods and experiences that each had in prayer practice. He stressed the importance of prayer to individuals & to churches. He was sincere and passionate about his belief in the efficacy of all prayer but did indeed teach that Affirmative Prayer was the method used by the Fillmores and is most often used in Unity churches. THANK YOU instructors at Unity Institute for your dedication and quality teaching. Thank you Michael Maday for your accurate accounting for your classes on Prayer at Unity of Institute.

Submitted by David Ridge on

OK, here's another opinion. Perhaps I'm "new old school" (or "old new school") in my perspective of Unity's teaching but the criticism SEEMS to come from the apparent prayer coaching that occurs at Unity Institute and SEEMS to arise from the common conflict that occurs between a person's habitual consciousness and a new consciousness to which he/she is exposed. Language IS important -- it is the frame from which and the lens through which we view and process ideas. Changing language is a powerful and necessary means of changing consciousness. As a high school athlete is subjected to a coach's feedback, there is sometimes a tendency on the athlete's part to think "I don't need to change -- I've hit the most home runs on our team this season. Doing it the new, unfamiliar way the last two days seems unnatural and it's not working." That athlete is not likely advance to college sports -- unless she/he changes her/his thinking. I teach a "ladder of prayer" where an essential element is the language we use reflects the consciousness from which we are praying (http://livingwaterunity.org/picks/Documents/Prayer_as_a_Tool_for_Spiritu...). No rung of the ladder is wrong but some rungs offer a greater perspective and power than others. The level of consciousness impacts the language we use and the language we use throttles our movement to a higher consciousness. When it comes down to it, isn't prayer about changing consciousness rather than the events of the world? The language we habitually use determines and is determined by the consciousness in which we reside. In the end, aren't we ministers and LUTs spiritual coaches? As coaches, aren't we charged with the responsibility to empower our team to be the best they can be?

You want to do it the way you've always done it? Stay in the consciousness in which you've always been. Want to change your consciousness -- release your limiting language and embrace empowering language. But in the end, it's your choice.

Submitted by Jackie Austin on

Interesting discussion! Thanks to everyone for their comments. Jesus the Christ instructed us that when praying to go into our 'closet and shut the door' and our Father, Who sees in secret, also hears in secret. Making rules for how to most effectively phrase our prayers overlooks the strength of the intention which comes, not from the correctness of language used, but from the heart of the one praying. Sometimes we are so beset by circumstances that words fail us and we must simply rely on the Spirit of God to intercede for us with sighs too deep for words. Jesus most often began prayer by thanking God that God hears him, which strengthens that spiritual connection which is the heart of prayer. We would do well to do likewise and trust that God hears the depths of our heart despite the phraseology used.

Submitted by John zenkewich on

Michael Maday: thank you for sharing the contents of your classes. What makes prayer effective can turn out to be a hornets nest discussion. I am reminded of a story about Martin Luther's friend who was deathly ill so Luther threw himself on the floor crying all night long to God and the next day He was healed. There is more going on here than body posture. I think it's what makes prayer what it is And if our students horizons aren't broadened by being in class then we should cancel the class.
Thanks again for sharing.

Submitted by Jarrett on

Mark,

I came across your website almost two years ago when I decided to leave the "standard brand church" (Progressive Presbyterian) and check out New Thought, primarily Unity. When I first checked out Unity services after reading books by Eric Butterworth (Discover the Power Within), H Emilie Cady(Lessons), and Charles Fillmore, (Prosperity) I left those Unity service confused. At one service, there was no prayer or meditation, the guest speaker played some sort of percussion instrument but gave no instruction during that time. One bookstore had none of the authors mentioned, in fact the person working in the bookstore never heard of any of the three I mentioned. I thought Unity was a generic name for a church and there was more than one kind of churches with Unity in it's name.

I live in Daly City California which is the city immediately south of San Francisco. There are two Unity within the city limits of San Francisco. The Unity I ended up joining was the location in Castro Valley. If you know the SF Bay Area at all, the driving distance between Daly City and Castro Valley it's about 35 miles as opposed to the 2.5 miles between my home and one of the SF Unity location. Why? Because of Castro Valley's commitment on it's emphasis on prayer, Bible, and quotes from the older Unity authors. What I later learned was an overall transition Unity was going through during the past 3 years on this "rebranding" itself.

Seems that I'm observing an impending split. Mark, you created this topic in order to grow a church based on principles from the Unity founders, while this re-branding is focused on the "marketing" per se. Growing a church and marketing are as different as apples and oranges. It's just that on the surface, the results may be the same. (increased attendance)

There is a reason why I avoided looking into the Unity Institute program and was looking more into Barbara King School and Johnnie Colemon Seminary instead.

Submitted by Tom Thorpe on

I am THRILLED to see so many participants and so many points of view expressed in this discussion thread. This is a discussion that has needed to happen and I'm happy it has begun. I pray the discussion continues and expands, and that everyone participating hears each other. May I suggest that each of you request time and space for this discussion at the 2014 UWM Convention in KC? I believe the movement would benefit more than any of us realize.

Submitted by John Poppino on

Tom, you are always the peacemaker. Always believing the best about people. I Corinthians 13: I need to read it again.

Submitted by Kathy O on

Thanks to Mark for alerting us to possible changes in teaching in Unity. I completed my studies for LUT in 2000, and my Prayer classes were my favorites. I was taught about "I Am" statements, and praying knowing that the answer is already here, but I don't remember my prayers in class being "corrected," rather I was lovingly supported. I felt empowered to find my own words in prayer, or to use prayers I liked.

However, during the past two years I took a couple of online metaphysics classes as a refresher, and did experience the question, "Do you belong here?" because I was questioning and trying to dig deeper into the theology. (After 20 years in Unity, it was odd to hear that!) I had to call the instructor and have a heart-to-heart conversation so she could understand who I was and where I was coming from. I gathered that Unity Institute is trying to standardize the teaching for newcomers, to ground them in the basics, and it did feel less "free" than my experience the first time around. If the concern is that we are becoming too "New Age," then some standardization isn't a bad thing. But if in the process we give people the message that they aren't allowed to think for themselves, then we've lost our way. I've always thought of Unity in the Fillmores' era as teaching people how to think, not what to think (per one of my favorite passages in Christian Healing by C.Fillmore), and I don't want to see Unity lose that.

Submitted by Rev Sam Bowman on

I have heard many of these ideas before and wonder if we may be missing the whole point of prayer. Prayer is a self-development type of experience from the way I have come to understand it. You pray with your consciousness as you understand the world and the situation you are addressing. Its all about me and my conscious awareness of the presence and power of God in my life. I pray with others as a chaplain so they may be encouraged to have their own experience of the presence and power of God. The issue is not about form or words but about awareness. So many good Unity people seem to think that form is essential. Its almost like a "Magic Spell" you cast to get what you desire, Its nothing of the sort, it's consciousness unfolding within us that makes all the difference in our lives. The Presence and Power of God is Supernatural. It reaches far beyond the physical, mental and moral confines of the thought we entertain as "our reality". The longer I work with the supernatural the more I feel I must pray " Lord make me an instrument of your Peace" and leave it there. Perfect love removes all fear, I desire to have Love do the perfect work in my consciousness. That in my opinion is the best I can do for myself and others.

Submitted by Valerie Netto on

I am totally floored reading this. I had no idea that anyone could change Unity! I was raised Unity. My Aunt Martha and Uncle Frank Guidici were ministers at Unity Village and I do not ever recall that kind of judgement. I do not know what to say! I was always told that "your word is your wand" but that intention and thought are the power, because words are a product of intention and thought they are important, but it is intention from which they come.

Submitted by Rev. Nita Strauss on

Mark, thank you so much for providing a space for this conversation. Our paths crossed a time or two over meals at Unity Inn during our LUT leadership development classes, and I recommend that all of my students bookmark your website, as it is such a rich and valuable resource.

I am one who has been tremendously served by the updating of language; I "knew" when I read our Unity teachings what was being taught, AND I will admit that I brought a great deal of baggage around the "traditional" language. It was a huge, huge feeling of "YES, THANK YOU!" when I landed in advanced metaphysics and our prayer classes and found that it really was okay to speak the language of my own heart, in contemporary words which reflected my highest understanding of the Fillmores, Cady, and our other foundational texts. I am also a great fan of Rev. Linda Martella-Whitsett's book, "How To Pray Without Talking to God". Her book truly made my heart sing.

All of that said, one of the most important things I have learned in my ministerial work (I am due to graduate from UWM's Field Licensing Program in March), is that I do not serve Spirit by requiring people to meet me where I am, but to meet them where they are. I have congregants who are very comfortable with "dear God please help me" language, and I have congregants for whom my own favorite term of The Infinite Field of Pure Potential resonates most strongly. It is my understanding that the name we use is simply the name we use. Whatever allows us to settle in to our knowingness is the best term for us. We pray the Lord's Prayer in my center because we have many congregants for whom it is not "church" without it. I remind everyone pretty much every week that they are free to use the name of God which resonates with them, and to join or not in the speaking of this traditional prayer as most serves them.

I have had a few folks who realized that they did not resonate with the Unity message- one woman was very distraught that I had used the term It when referring to God. She presented me with many quotes referring to God as He, Him, etc., and- while I did not seek to make her leave, we do not teach that God is a gendered entity. Myrtle teaches us that God is not a being with parts like a man, and Emilie Cady acknowledges that some will cry, Where have they taken my Lord? I had another gentleman who attended repeatedly and told me each and every week that I was "wrong" in various lessons. I finally had to tell him that I could respect his opinions, but that they were not in alignment with what I understand to be Unity principles. He said he didn't see how he could continue attending if I would not "correct" my message; I told him that he surely had my most sincere blessing, but that it seemed to me perhaps he would be better served elsewhere.

I do not think that updating our language is a barrier to inclusive, comforting, spiritually-uplifting community. We pray together, each of us speaking the language of our own hearts. As a Unity leader, I strive to be inclusive in my language, I strive to speak words which are in alignment with what the Fillmores taught, I use contemporary language, and I continually remind folks that there is no prayer-police monitoring the words they speak within their own hearts.

Unity has allowed me to reclaim my own relationship with Christianity, and to reconcile myself with our Master Teacher, Jesus. I think Jesus spoke in words that made sense to his congregation. and I think it is important that we speak words that make sense to our congregations. There are a whole lot of "flavors" within this movement we call Unity- my prayer is that we remember to appreciate those many flavors and not feel obligated to "choose one" and make all of the others somehow wrong.

What a blessing it is to be a part of an organization which allows (and actually encourages) this type of conversation! Thanks again, Mark.

Submitted by Bonnie Price on

Whom do we pray to if God is within us?
As C.S. Lewis said, "We are the fingers, muscles and cells of His body."
We have the Christ nature within us. We are born spiritual beings. We are part and parcel with God as the Trancendentalists said such as Emerson in his essay “Nature” he writes “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing: I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God”. Radhanath Swami wrote "The soul is part and parcel of the Lord simultaneously one with God and different from God." This is all according to the Bhagvad Gita as well since “Every soul is pure as it is part and parcel of GOD”.
If Christ is within, why are we praying without? In a way, as humans we are bifracated. We have part of us that seems to forget who we are, what the truth is for us. “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.” Is another quote I found that speaks to this (Elie Wiesel). The God nature in us and the ego or human nature with us can use prayer as a method of reminding us who God is and who we are. In Unity, the affirmative prayer is that remembering and connecting to the spirit of God within us. This is not narcissism as some might say as if praying to God, while God is within us and as us, is a method of self worship. It is an acknowledgement of Spirit as the source. From the abundance of that source we affirm the truth. This is the law of attraction that can allow us to imagine. We imagine the future as if it were the now. This kind of power is true affirmational prayer.
We do this remembering for ourselves and others. Prayer helps us connect with the spiritual dimension of ourselves and to see it in others. It is through us that God reveals Himself in the world. Even the Pope recently addressed the issue of prayer. Christians do not pray to a remote “cosmic god” but to the God who is our Father, Pope Francis said at Mass this morning. I think that this speaks to the relationship that we have with God. This allows for the conversation to begin. In the silence, we can release any negative thought and hold in the silence the truth of who we are.
In my life, I never understood prayer as it was explained to me. I could not wrap my head around why we would even bother if God already had some plan perfectly designed. Coming from a Calvinistic background, prayer was a tricky subject. I read the scriptures about praying and I heard the teachings of how prayer changes things (followed by the caveat that it was really changing the person praying). Once I put aside the notion that I was begging the God of the Universe from a position of lack and sin, I began to be freed in the area of prayer. When I came to Unity, I found the affirming prayer very logical and more important, more heart felt. I explored the idea of centering on my Christ nature in meditation. Both prayer and meditation became a way to focus my thought life (the thought stuff that the Fillmores mention), and to practice mindful imagination and the law of attraction. Prayer became not a beseeching, but an acknowledgement and an envisioning process.

Submitted by Cari on

I recently saw a person come to Unity because someone told her that her ideas were similar to Unity's. However, during her first class ever attended, as her use of personal pronouns referring to God brought uncomfortable laughter from the instructor, she never came back. I have attended 8 SEE classes so far, and have certainly struggled with whether or not I belong in Unity, but in my latest class I decided to stand up and say, "No. I'm not giving up my relationship with God nor am I going to pretend to in order for you to be comfortable." God is All That Is, and that All is my Source, and is expressing through me as me. When I pray, I pray from a connected place, from a God place, and sometimes that includes talking *to* my friend, companion, mentor-- God or some aspect of God. Jesus at times had a personal relationship with God, that's what I read, no matter how someone might want to interpret that away. I'm going to stand on my Truth. If that is not allowed or is looked down upon, then I don't belong in Unity.

Submitted by John Poppino on

Powerful and courageous. In the end, modern Unity is not any longer about a personal consciousness of God as Father, certainly not one through Jesus Christ. It seems to be more of a universal perception of Being. At one point, early Unity had a place for Jesus Christ as friend and guide, from what I read. I think this has been "cleansed" from modern Unity by language control. The new Unity is generic spirituality, and will remain so. Any attempt to change things will fail. Last night, I got this email from a top Unity minister who was concerned I was headed in the wrong direction personally, and I have decided that I am going to take his advice. This Unity minister, who has connections to the Village, wrote to me (and I quote), "John, there is no more inspiration in the Bible than there is in the Upanishads. Just a fact. We are not Christian, we are Unity. Unity is all spirituality, not just Christian. It is Hindu and Taoist. It is Unity of all faiths into its generic Truth. There are as many Unity ministers who read Tarot cards, and practice Astrology as read the Bible. And this is as Charles Fillmore would have wanted it. No, Unity is not for everyone. If you want to view the Bible as your guidebook for living, and Jesus Christ as your Shepherd-Savior, fine. But Unity is probably not the place for you, even if you enjoy metaphysical Bible interpretation. You won't be happy here. Jesus is not central to Unity. He is not central to the Bible itself, especially the Old Testament. There is nothing in the Bible that is not found in other religions, and often stated more clearly there. John, we are Unity. Not Christianity, though we quote from the Bible now and then. We have written back and forth for a while, and I am convinced that Unity is not likely to be for you. That is my advice. Stay put for now, and good luck." There it is Cari. Hope this helps you to think through the issues. It did me; I wont be posting on Unity sites anymore. Peace to all.

Submitted by John Poppino on

I have had private emails from others in Unity who still support a metaphysical Christian understanding of the Bible and the role of Jesus Christ, as central to Unity (as they see it). So the home team is still in the game, late in the fourth quarter. Very encouraging. Actually, I now think I may be seeing Unity being taken over by a "new breed" of generic minister. An everything is Unity, guy or gal. OM is ok. ACIM is ok. SD is ok. Astrology is ok. Whatever is ok. And, under their ministerial influence, the Unity membership must become chock full of such people until critical mass is reached. This, too, may be the action of the Spirit.

Submitted by Don Seiler on

Sorry Rick, but I have another anecdote. As a person in recovery, I pray each morning to a power that I call God that I will remain sober for one more day. I have said that prayer every day for 7,925 days. When taking a class during Spiritual Development, I was told that I was exercising "bad theology." Since I had 15 years of sobriety and nearly the same amount of time in Unity, I didn't take the admonishment too seriously. However, a similar story has been related to me by many other people--again, it's anecdotal but enough anecdotes signal a trend. The trend is to judge people by their language and that is a dangerous judgement. We have a chaplain that didn't have enough time in Unity to be a chaplain in my book ,but I refuse to judge her language. She asks for support and is open to ideas, so I expect we'll be fine. When she closed her first prayer at a Board meeting with, "in Jesus name we pray," I admit to be jarred. However, it's not far from the prayer I heard for my first 10 years in Unity--"we pray in the name and the nature of Jesus Christ, our wayshower."

It's an interesting topic and an important one as we continue into the rest of this century. Thank you for the important work you are doing.