What are we supposed to do with the prayers in Part II of the Workbook for A Course in Miracles? There are 140 of them, one for each lesson. This has puzzled many a Course student who, upon reaching Part II, finds himself confronted each day with an italicized prayer directed at God. Is this prayer offered by the author of the Course on our behalf? Do we simply read it? Do we actually pray it? If so, why?
Actually, I am only assuming that this issue has puzzled Course students. I have never really heard much discussion about these prayers. They sit there on the page, staring at us every day for five straight months, but we don't seem to talk much about them. The only perspective I recall hearing is that they must be metaphorical because God can't hear our prayers.
Having done the Workbook several times, I too didn't know what to do with these prayers. Yet, to be honest, I hadn't really confronted the question. I would just dutifully open my book and read the prayer attached to that day's lesson. The prayers generally struck me as being a kind of Course word salad: a series of typical Course words—Christ, peace, joy, Heaven, etc.—tossed together as one would toss a salad.
Then one day a few years ago, all that changed for me. I was on a short retreat and, for some reason, the first thing I did was sit down and try to discover what the Course wants us to do with its prayers. Having spent many years studying the Workbook's practice instructions, I had learned that virtually all our questions about practice are answered right in the Workbook, if we pay careful attention. Now, for the first time, it occurred to me that this ought to be true for those prayers; we should expect there to be instructions for what to do with them.
The logical place for those instructions was the Introduction to Part II, since that is where we find the practice instructions for the entirety of Part II, where the prayers are found. Within minutes I found two sentences that ended my search and changed my relationship with the Course and with God. Here they are:
We say some simple words of welcome, and expect our Father to reveal Himself, as He has promised (W-pII.In.3:3).
We say the words of invitation that His Voice suggests, and then we wait for Him to come to us (W-pII.In.4:6).
From these sentences and the paragraphs around them I obtained the following picture:
The Course has given us words (from the Holy Spirit) which we are to say to God as words of invitation and welcome. Once we invite Him with these words, we sit in a state of silent expectancy, waiting for Him to come and reveal Himself to us in direct wordless experience.
What are these "words"? In this context, they are definitely the thought for the day, the lesson title. But are they confined to that? Don't these "simple words of welcome" also sound like they could be the prayers? After all, like these words, the prayers are words given us by the Course which are written as if we are saying them to God.
So I turned the page and looked at the first prayers in Part II. They resoundingly confirmed what I was thinking. This is how the first prayer begins:
Father, I come to You today to seek the peace that You alone can give. I come in silence (W-pII.221.1:1-2).
Just as the Introduction described, in this prayer we state our intention to have an encounter with God in the silence of our minds. The comments that follow this prayer continue along the same lines: "Now [that we have said this prayer] do we wait in quiet….We wait with one intent…[for God] to reveal Himself unto His Son" (W-pII.221.2:1:6). Here is exactly what the Introduction said: Once we say these words of welcome, we wait in silence for God to reveal Himself to us.
The next prayer was very similar. In it we state our intention to silently enter into an experience of God's Presence:
Father, we have no words except Your Name upon our lips and in our minds, as we come quietly into Your Presence now, and ask to rest with You in peace a while (W-pII.222.2).
This was a very intellectual process of detective work, but its results were extremely practical: At last I felt I knew what to do with those prayers! I am to say them directly to God as preparation for a direct wordless encounter with Him.
So I immediately tried this out. I spent the next hour or so going through the first twenty prayers in Part II, praying them as I had just discovered I should. I will never forget that time. It was a pivotal moment in my journey with the Course. Until that moment, I had no idea how much richness was in those prayers. What seemed like word salad when read as information became a wealth of emotional experience when repeated as prayer, when spoken to God.
I was astonished by the sense of loving intimacy with God that shone through these prayers. I had never realized that this was how the Course wanted me to think about God. God came across not as a remote metaphysical abstraction, an impersonal essence that is completely unaware of us. Instead, He came across as near and dear, as the most attentive, loving Father one could possibly imagine, always there, always listening, always answering, wanting only to lavish all of His Love upon us. "He covers me with kindness and with care" (W-pII.222.1:4), one of the lessons said. And that is exactly how I felt, blanketed in His kindness and care.
Since that day, these prayers have become a staple in my daily life. There are few things I enjoy doing more than sitting down and spending time with them. They have literally transformed my relationship with God. My sense of God before was somewhat remote and abstract. Yet increasingly these prayers have implanted in me their sense of God, so that my feeling for Him has become a deep well of sustenance and comfort that I draw from daily.
As time went on, I fell into the habit of using these prayers before my meditation time, because I found them to be the ideal way to prepare my mind for seeking God in meditation. They gathered the scattered and chaotic threads of my thought into a single desire to be with God. After I had been using them in this way for some time, I remembered something: This is exactly what they are for. This is what the instructions in the Workbook say is their purpose. We are to use the words of these prayers to prepare our minds for a direct, wordless encounter with God. I can attest to the fact that they serve their intended purpose very well indeed.
I therefore encourage every student of the Course to avail him- or herself of the great benefit of these prayers. Try them out and see if you are not drawn to return to them. Here are some tips for getting the most out of them:
- Focus on one line at a time. Dwell on each line and let it sink in before going on to the next.
- Say it directly to God. When the prayer says "Father," have a sense of speaking directly to God, and of Him in some sense hearing you.
- Make it from you. When the prayer says "I" or "me," have a sense of you being the one saying the prayer.
- Mean it, as much as you can. Try to make it the prayer of your own heart.
- Make it specific. For instance, when the prayer we will use below says "a something I have called by many names," list some of the names you have given what you seek.
- Feel free to elaborate on the prayer as it evokes additional thoughts and feelings in you.
To try out this method of using these prayers, I would like to utilize the following prayer from Lesson 231, "Father, I will but to remember You." My suggestion is for you to repeat each line slowly, with concentration and sincerity. Try to see the fullness of meaning contained in each line. Try also to go through the prayer twice or more.
- What can I seek for, Father, but Your Love?
- Perhaps I think I seek for something else; a something I have called by many names.
- Yet is Your Love the only thing I seek, or ever sought.
- For there is nothing else that I could ever really want to find.
- Let me remember You.
- What else could I desire but the truth about myself?
What was your experience in repeating these lines? Was it an experience you want more of? I sincerely hope that the prayers in the Workbook will become the blessing in your life that they continue to be in mine.