A Summary of the Ladder of Prayer: Based on The Song of Prayer, Chapter 1

by Robert Perry

The Song of Prayer is a supplement to the Course scribed by Helen Schucman in 1977. Its first chapter presents a model of the spiritual journey as a "ladder of prayer," in which our desire is our prayer and what we pray for ascends as we rise up the ladder to God. This model is filled with fascinating insights, yet how all the pieces get put together is not always easy to discern. This table, therefore, is my attempt to present the whole picture of the ladder. It may be of use if you haven't read The Song of Prayer, but I am hoping it will prove especially useful to those who have studied the supplement and have wondered how it all fits together.

Basic to my understanding of the ladder is that there are two sides to it. I have called these the ladder of desire (in which our desire slowly transfers from idols—things of the world—to God) and the ladder of relationship (in which we gradually move from a stance of separation from others—based on enmity—to one of joining with others). I have therefore laid these two sides of the ladder out as separate columns. You will notice that the two columns do not have exactly the same categories at each level. This is simply because I am trying to capture the supplement says about each one, and it does not describe them with a strict point-by-point parallelism.

Ladder of desire : idols or God

Ladder of relationship : separation or joining

Level IA: Asking-out-of-need

Perception of self: incomplete, needy; unaware of true wholeness within.

God: don't necessarily believe there is a God.

Prayer: not necessarily formal; just the sheer desire for the things of the world.

Goal of desire/prayer: getting things of this world.

Perception of others: see lots of enemies.

God: believe in a god of vengeance (perhaps just an abstract principle that vengeance is justice).

Goal of desire/prayer: that one's enemies be given the hell they deserve.

Actual outcome: By wanting another to be sent to hell, you are really praying that you yourself be sent there (due to your attachment to your guilt). And your prayer will be answered.

Level 1B: Higher form of asking-out-of-need

God: may now believe in God and feel a connection with Him, but this connection is vastly limited by buried feelings of guilt.

Prayer: may now pray to God, yet do not really understand Him.

Goal of prayer: external things; positive character traits such as goodness and honesty; for God to forgive our sins, and thus relieve the guilt that generates our sense of lack.

Perception of others: still see enemies.

Prayer: pray for enemies.

Goal of prayer: for one's enemies to see the light, change their ways, experience positive outcomes, or be reconciled with God. This prayer, even though it may embody some kindness toward the enemy, does not really question that he is the enemy.

Learning goal of first level: to realize that your prayer for another is your underlying prayer for yourself, and that this underlying prayer will be answered. When you perceive an enemy you are really seeing your own guilt in another, and re info rcing that guilt. The true prayer for others, then, is to forgive them, which means to remove the guilt and blame you projected onto them. You release them from your condemnation and thus free yourself from your own guilt. You now realize that every prayer is really for your own benefit. Thus, you pray for release from guilt for your brother, because release from guilt is your prayer for yourself.

Level 2: Enmity replaced by friendship

Beginning realization: "What I have asked for for my brother is not what I would have. Thus have I made of him my enemy" (S-1.III.3:5-6). In other words, you asked for hell for your brother so you could have Heaven. This—and not his behavior—is what made him seem like your enemy. Now you get that.

Goal of desire: still, at least in part, various external things: possessions, romance, status.

Prayer: You may not formally pray for the above things, but you are praying for them simply by wanting them.

Learning goal: to realize that praying for anything external has the purpose of making enemies, setting up jailers. By placing your happiness "out there," you put yourself in a position to blame someone else when it doesn't work (when you find unhappiness), and thus unload your guilt onto him. To set up the future enemy is part of your reason for asking for external "gifts."

Problem: You have tried to solve your guilt by concealing it in your mind and projecting it onto others, making them the "evil" ones. This made them your evil jailers and you their innocent prisoner.

Lesson: You reached this level by realizing, at least briefly, why you made enemies, and considering that you may have done so needlessly. Now you must take this further and realize that setting them free is the way to set yourself free; that you and they truly walk home side-by-side.

Difficulty: You fear setting another free of the guilt you laid on him, because then it seems that all of the guilt comes back to rest on your head and you'll have to face the enormity of it. This process, then, will always entail some pain, and after first entering Level 2 you may go back into fear for a long time.

Level 3: Joining in prayer

Beginning realization: "We go together, you and I" (S-1.IV.1:8). By placing your guilt on your brother, you had tried to damn him to save yourself. You had sought for him the goal of hell, so that you could achieve the opposite goal. You reached Level 2 by realizing that whatever you ask for him you ask for yourself. Thus, by asking for hell for him, you chose hell for yourself. To reach Level 3, you carried this realization further and now understand its positive side: that you and your brother share the same goal, that you go to Heaven together. From now on, your progress up the ladder will be faster.

Prayer: able to join with others in prayer, as well as help others in prayer (this began at Level 2).

Goal of prayer: Even though you are joined in prayer, the two of you may still pray for specifics. This would include specific answers as well as physical things and other external "gifts."

Problem: Asking for specifics means wanting to have the outer effects without their inner cause—the echoes without the song. You do not realize it is God's Love you really want, not some specific thing. You don't realize that you are simply asking for the repetition of past pleasures, rather than to be freed from the past.

Learning goal: The two of you must learn to not confine your prayer to the things of time. You must learn instead to desire only God's Will, pray only for that, and trust It to take care of the appropriate specifics. You must ask for the song and let it take care of the echoes.

Perception of others: able to see others as friends who share a common goal, not enemies who are at odds.

Relationship with others: able to have holy relationships, in which you and another join in a common goal.

Level 4: True humility

Realization: "I cannot go without you, for you are a part of me" (S-1.V.3:9). What is the essence of this true humility? Arrogance was the stance of a self that stood alone and tried to be ruler of the universe and judge of reality. Asserting itself against others, it saw enemies wherever it looked. This "sinful" self had to hide in shame and defend itself against God. Instead of yielding to God, it raised up its own substitutes for Him, the idols of this world. Humility is the reversal of all this. Rather than taking the stance of a defiant self aggressively asserting yourself against what is, you humbly accept and receive what is. This stance of acceptance rather than opposition, makes it impossible to have enemies. You now see the arrogance of believing you can sin, and instead accept your holiness. You do not hide from God, for your shame is gone and you are at peace with yourself, knowing that you are God's glorious creation. You have discarded your false self and have accepted the Self God gave you. You have discarded the false gods you made and have accepted the real God.

Goal of prayer/desire: Your goal is God, not the false gods you made. You have realized that your heart's real desire is for God, not for the things of this world.

Perception of others: You have no enemies. You see your Self and Its holiness in everyone. You realize fully that you necessarily go to your goal with others, not alone, for they are a part of you.

Putting these two sides together: You join in prayer with others and pray only for the goal that you and they share: the goal of God. Your ascent up the ladder is complete. Now you wait before the gate of Heaven to step into eternity.

Beyong all levels: The Song of Prayer

Prayer no longer involves asking of any kind, for all needs have been met. It is now a song of love and gratitude sung to God without words or thoughts, a song that God returns to us so that our voice and His harmonize and join as a single voice. More plainly speaking, it is formless communion with God.

Relationship with others is total. We do not sing to God as separate minds, but as one Son of God. We sing with a single voice, for we have realized that we share a single Self.

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