look now at the prayer which Mother Teresa wrote, and that every Missionary
of Charity says before leaving for his or her apostolate. This prayer
is also used as the Physician's Prayer in Shishu Bhavan, the children's
home that Mother Teresa oversaw in Calcutta.
"Dear Lord, the Great Healer, I kneel before you,
Since every perfect gift must come from You.
I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind,
kindness and meekness to my heart.
Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift up a part
of the burden of my suffering fellow men, and a true
realization of the privilege that is mine.
Take from my heart all guile and worldliness,
That with the simple faith of a child, I may rely on You.
(From A Simple Heart, by Mother Teresa. Published by Ballantine Books,
From "Everything Starts from Prayer: Mother Teresa's Meditations
on Spiritual Life for People of All Faiths" by Anthony Stern,
M.D. Introduction, Selection and Arrangement, Foreword by Larry
Posted by: DailyOM.
Prayer is one of the most essential activities of human life. Throughout
history it has nurtured our grandest visions and provided meaning
and purpose to our activities. It is impossible to imagine the evolution
of any culture without prayer. Prayer is universal; we know of no
society where it does not take place.
Prayer has many faces. There are prayers of petition, intercession,
thanksgiving, adoration, and so on. But there is a thread that connects
all the types of prayer. Whatever form it may take, prayer is a
bridge to the Absolute - a way of connecting with something higher,
wiser, and more powerful than the individual self.
Many people believe that prayer is too old-fashioned to find favor
in our modern, scientific age. They feel that prayer and science
are incompatible, and that prayer should be relegated to the category
of superstition and fantasy. One of the great ironies of the modern
age, however, is that a new dialogue is rapidly developing between
prayer and science. This is happening in three main ways.
First, a high proportion of current scientists believe in a Supreme
Being who answers prayer. This comes as a shock to people who have
been taught that genuine scientists cannot simultaneously believe
in the Absolute and do good science. In 1997, however, researchers
surveyed American biologists, physicists, and mathematicians about
their religious beliefs (1). They found that thirty-nine percent
of these scientists believed in God, specifically the kind of God
who would respond to prayer. The highest percentage of believers
came from among the mathematicians, who represent what many consider
to be the purest kind of science that exists. The prevalent view,
therefore, that science is godless, that atheists make the best
scientists, and that prayer and science cannot coexist is a false
stereotype and should be disregarded.
Second, the effects of prayer are being investigated by medical
scientists (2). They have found compelling evidence for a postive
effect of prayer, meditation, and relaxation on the person who prays.
The body appears to like prayer, and responds in healthy ways in
the cardiovascular, immune, and other systems. But also of great
interest are studies showing that intercessory or distant prayer
also has an effect, even when the individual receiving the prayer
is unaware it is being offered, and when he or she is at a great
distance from the person extending the prayer. These studies are
numerous, they have been replicated in many laboratories by different
scientists, and they have involved not just humans but nonhumans
as the subjects receiving the prayer. This latter feature is important,
because if prayer's effects extend to animals and plants, they cannot
be ascribed only to positive thinking or the placebo response.
The third major development heralding a synthesis of science and
prayer is the newly emerging scientific theories about the nature
of consciousness (3). In general, these new views go beyond the
old idea that the effects of the mind are confined to one's individual
brain and body. These new perspectives permit consciousness to act
outside the physical body, perhaps through intercessory prayer.
In the light of these new ways of thinking about consciousness,
it no longer seems outrageous to suggest that prayer might act at
a distance to bring about actual changes in the world.
In the studies of intercessory prayer that have been done thus
far, researchers have found no correlation between the religious
affiliation of the praying individual and the effects of prayer.
This affirms the view that prayer is universal, that it belongs
not just to a specific religion but to the entire human race. These
findings sanction the importance of religious tolerance. They ask
us to honor the prayers and spiritual visions of other religious
traditions, no matter how radically they may differ from our own.
Although one's personal religion does not correlate with prayer's
effects in experimental studies, there is a quality that does make
a great difference. It is a factor that sounds quite old-fashioned:
love. Without love, the prayer experiments don't work as well and
fall flat. As a physician, this finding intrigues me, because healers
throughout history have uniformly proclaimed the importance of compassion,
caring, and empathy for the sick person. The best physicians I know
honor the power of love and care in healing. They believe that,
although penicillin may be powerful, penicillin plus love is more
It is on these two issues in particular - the role of religious
tolerance and the place of love and compassion in prayer - that
I feel especially connected with Mother Teresa's work and writings.
As Anthony Stern points out in his introduction to this volume,
Mother Teresa stated, "I've always said we should help a Hindu
become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic
become a better Catholic."
There is a related story about Mother Teresa that attests to her
tolerance, which I have always adored, although it may be apocryphal.
A brash young reporter once asked her during an interview, "Are
you a saint?" Without hesitating she poked the young man in
the chest with a gnarled finger and said, "Yes, and so are
Mother Teresa would undoubtedly insist that prayer does not need
science to validate it, and I would agree. People test prayer every
day in their life, and one's life is the most important experimental
laboratory there is. But, since science is one of the most powerful
factors guiding modern life, we would be foolish to disregard what
science has to say about prayer, particularly since so much of its
current comments are positive.
One of the most remarkable trends in modern medicine is the return
of prayer (4). Three years ago, only three medical schools in the
U.S. had courses that explored the role of religion and spiritual
practice in health; currently, almost thirty medical schools have
courses that examine these issues (5). First-rate researchers are
examining the effects of prayer in healing at various medical schools,
hospitals, and research institutions; national conferences linking
spirituality and healthcare are becoming routine.
Somewhere, Mother Teresa must be smiling
Mother Teresa was devoutly Catholic and profoundly devoted to Jesus.
She expressed her ceaseless devotion in so many ways, central among
them her well-known work with the poor and the sick. Less known
expressions were a deep respect for all religions and a burning
wish for all people to come closer to God. It was with a longing
to reach as many souls as possible that she wrote, "I've always
said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become
a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic." And
it was with a practical recognition of what works that she declared,
"Everything starts from prayer."
In this spirit, the following collection of Mother Teresa's sayings
is offered. I've carefully selected and arranged them from many
of Mother Teresa's prior writings to give the widest possible access
to people with no clear path as well as to those with various inner
paths. The emphasis, in other words, has been to glean pearls of
inspiration that provide an ecumenical entry into a life of prayer.
And I've framed a host of Mother Teresa's reflections within this
topic of prayer.
While Mother Teresa hasn't fully undertaken an entirely universal
approach herself, it is the same basic direction as she took on
the occasion she asked a wealthy person to build a mosque in Yemen,
with the plea that the Muslim brothers and sisters there needed
a place to meet God.
It is also the same direction she took with one of her friends
and biographers, Navin Chawla. She knew he was a rather non-observant,
nearly atheistic Hindu. Not once over the years did she question
his beliefs or his religion. But she did repeatedly, perhaps even
incessantly nudge him with the same relentless question, "Have
you begun to pray yet?"
Consider also one of the projects dearest to Mother Teresa's heart
-- her Homes for the Dying, where every person has received the
last rites of his own tradition. She was overheard to whisper to
one of the terminally ill, "You say a prayer in your religion,
and I will say a prayer as I know it. Together we will say this
prayer and it will be something beautiful for God." By the
early 1980's, 17,000 people had died in these Homes. Seeing the
peace and beauty of their deaths, she was sure that all these souls,
whatever their faith or sect, had gone straight to heaven.
For Mother Teresa, prayer is the universal way to God. Her own
spiritual advisor and biographer Edward Le Joly drives this point
home further. He observes that when a journalist approached her
at an airport with the request, "Have you a message for the
American people?" she didn't say "give more," or
even "love one another more," as might have been expected.
Rather, she answered without hesitation, "Yes, they should
And so, let's be clear: the book you're starting now is that same
answer by the same great spiritual leader and teacher, only in a
somewhat more extended form -- instead of her succinct single sentence
response amidst the bustle of an airport, a set of meditations to
be savored slowly in your home. It's a fuller, more developed version
of the same basic counsel, the same basic plea: "Pray more."
Everything Starts from Prayer relates more directly to personal
and private prayer than to ritual and community prayer. This is
fitting, because everything depends on your own beginning. Praying
as an individual is no substitute for the spiritual nurturance,
sharing, and guidance of communal spiritual practice and service.
Yet we need to begin again and again on our own -- digging within
our own ground, making room for the grace that is always available.
Our rote prayers and prayers together can have great meaning as
a pooling of devotional energies only when they're infused with
the fire of individual souls -- the sweet and profound energy each
of our own souls can give off when they've caught fire.
When Dorothy Hunt was considering an idea that would ultimately
become the lovely Mother Teresa collection Love: A Fruit Always
in Season, she asked permission to undertake the task. Mother Teresa's
reply: "Make it a prayer." Make the very work a prayer.
My one suggestion for reading the following book is an echo of her's:
"Make it a prayer." The more seriously and openly you
approach it, the more you'll allow the words to penetrate. The more
you bring your whole self with unhurried simplicity and receptivity
to it, the more you'll let the thoughts and feelings behind the
words touch something deep in you. And the more fully you connect
to your own wish to be in the presence of the Eternal as you read
it, the more likely it will be that the holy meaning behind the
words sparks something real in you.
In her wonderful book A Simple Path, Mother Teresa introduced readings
from her order's prayerbook to the public by suggesting that you
may replace "Jesus" by "God" in their prayers
if you're not Christian. Similarly, feel free in what follows to
replace "God" by whatever works best for you in referring
to a higher power in your life. The same should be urged for Mother
Teresa's reference to God as "he" or "him",
and of other traditional gender vocabulary herein. Please substitute
words you find acceptable if these are off-putting in any way.
Mother Teresa spoke of how utterly she herself relied on the power
of prayer to connect her to God. Twenty-four hours a day, she'd
say. And for emphasis she added that if the day were longer, that's
how much longer she'd need God's strength through prayer.
But then, what spiritual seeker has not depended on prayer? And
what heart has not cried out, and not been better for having done
THE NEED TO PRAY
In most modern rooms you see an electrical light that can be turned
on by a switch. But, if there is no connection with the main power
house, then there can be no light. Faith and prayer is the connection
with God, and when that is there, there is service.
You may be exhausted with work, you may even kill yourself, but
unless your work is interwoven with love, it is useless. To work
without love is slavery.
People throughout the world may look different or have a different
religion, education, or position, but they are all the same. They
are the people to be loved. They are all hungry for love.
Everything starts from prayer. Without asking God for love, we
cannot possess love and still less are we able to give it to others.
Just as people today are speaking so much about the poor but they
do not know the poor, we too cannot talk so much about prayer and
yet not know how to pray.
We have to possess before we can give. He who has the mission of
giving to others must grow first in the knowledge of God. He must
be full of that knowledge.
To be able to give, you must have.
Love to be true has to begin with God in prayer. If we pray we
will be able to love and if we love, we will be able to serve.
Whatever religion we are, we must pray together. Children need
to learn to pray and they need to have their parents pray with them.
It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to
love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve
hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved
in our own home. Bring love into your own home for this is where
our love for each other must start.
In one of the houses our sisters visited, a woman had been dead
a long time before anyone knew it, and then they found out only
because her corpse had begun to rot. Her neighbors didn't even know
There is much suffering in the world - very much. And this material
suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness,
from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering
is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.
There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live
and die in hunger. But in the West you have another kind of poverty,
spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God,
do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty
of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know
how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is
often more difficult to relieve and to defeat. I remember some time
ago I visited a very wonderful home for old people. There were about
forty there and they had everything, but they were all looking toward
the door. There was not a smile on their faces, and I asked the
sister in charge of them, "Sister, why are these people not
smiling? why are they looking towards the door?" And she, very
beautifully, had to answer and give the truth: "It's the same
every day. They are longing for someone to come and visit them."
This is great poverty.
When things become our masters, we are very poor. You and I have
been created for greater things. We have not been created to just
pass through this life without aim. And that greater aim is to love
and be loved.
Some call him Ishwar, some call him Allah, some simply God, but
we all have to acknowledge that it is he who made us for greater
things: to love and be loved. What matters is that we love. We cannot
love without prayer, and so whatever religion we are we must pray
You will find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see.
The streets of Calcutta lead to every man's door. I know that you
may want to make a trip to Calcutta, but it is easy to love people
far away. It is not always easy to love people who live beside us.
What about the ones I dislike or look down upon?
It is easy to be proud and harsh and selfish -- so easy. But we
have been created for better things. Once in a while we should ask
ourselves several questions in order to guide our actions. We should
ask questions like: Do I know the poor? Do I know, in the first
place, the poor in my family, those who are closest to me -- people
who are poor, but not because they lack bread?
There are other types of poverty just as painful because they are
more intrinsic. Perhaps what my husband or wife lacks, what my children
lack, what my parents lack, is not clothes or food. Perhaps they
lack love, because I do not give it to them!
Where does love begin? In our own homes. When does it begin? When
we pray together.
We have to feed ourselves. We can die of spiritual starvation.
We must be filled continually, like a machine. When one little thing
in the machine is not working, then the whole machine is not working
I am asked what is one to do to be sure one is following the way
of salvation. I answer: "Love God. And, above all, pray."
STARTING WITH SILENCE
It is very hard to pray if one does not know how. We must help
ourselves to learn. The most important thing is silence.
We need to find God and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness.
We cannot place ourselves directly in God's presence without imposing
upon ourselves interior and exterior silence. That is why we must
accustom ourselves to stillness of the soul, of the eyes, of the
There is no life of prayer without silence.
Everything begins with prayer that is born in the silence of our
If we really want to pray, we must first learn to listen: for in
the silence of the heart God speaks.
Silence of the heart, not only of the mouth - that too is necessary.
Then you can hear God everywhere: in the closing of the door, in
the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers,
the animals -- that silence which is wonder and praise.
The contemplatives and ascetics of all ages and religions have
sought God in the silence and solitude of the desert, forest, and
We too are called to withdraw at certain intervals into deeper
silence and aloneness with God, together as a community as well
as personally. To be alone with him, not with our books, thoughts,
and memories but completely stripped of everything, to dwell lovingly
in his presence - silent, empty, expectant, and motionless.
Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things
you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to
the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart
is filled with God. This will need must sacrifice, but if we really
mean to pray and want to pray we must be ready to do it now.
To foster and maintain a prayerful atmosphere of exterior silence
- respect certain times and places of more strict silence
- move about and work prayerfully, quietly and gently
- avoid at all costs all unnecessary speaking and notice
- speak, when we have to, softly, gently, saying just what is necessary
- look forward to profound silence as a holy and precious time,
a withdrawal into living silence of God.
We need silence to be alone with God, to speak to him, to listen
to him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts. We need to be alone
with God in silence to be renewed and to be transformed. Silence
gives us a new outlook on life. In it we are filled with the grace
of God himself, which makes us do all things with joy.
If we are careful of silence it will be easy to pray. There is
so much talk, so much repetition, so much carrying on of tales in
words and in writing. Our prayer life suffers so much because our
hearts are not silent.
Looking at your eyes I can tell whether there is peace in your
heart or not. We see people radiating joy, and in their eyes you
can see purity. If we want our minds to have silence, keep a silence
of the eyes. Use your two eyes to help you to pray better.
Man needs silence. To be alone or together looking for God in silence.
There it is that we accumulate the inward power which we distribute
in action, put in the smallest duty and spend in the severest hardships
that befall us.
Silence came before creation, and the heavens were spread without
Interior silence is very difficult but we must make the effort.
In silence we will find new energy and true unity. The energy of
God will be ours to do all things well.
These are only the first steps towards prayer but if we never make
the first step with determination, we will not reach the last one:
the presence of God.
If you sincerely want to learn to pray: keep silence.
LIKE A LITTLE CHILD
My secret is a very simple one: I pray.
Prayer is simply talking to God. He speaks to us: we listen. We
speak to him: he listens. A two-way process: speaking and listening.
That is really prayer. Both sides listening and both sides speaking.
Start and end the day with prayer. Come to God as a child. If you
find it hard to pray you can say, Come Holy Spirit, guide me, protect
me, clear out my mind so that I can pray.
Wherever they are, the Missionaries of Charity start the day s
work with the same prayer from their community prayer book:
Dear Lord, the Great Healer, I kneel before you, since every perfect
gift must come from you. I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision
to my mind, kindness and meekness to my heart. Give me singleness
of purpose, strength to lift up a part of the burden of my suffering
fellowmen, and a realization of the privilege that is mine. Take
from my heart all guile and worldliness, that with the simple faith
of a child, I may rely on you.
Reprinted with permission of White Cloud Press.
Introduction, Selection and Arrangement Copyright (c) 1998 by Anthony
Stern. Foreword Copyright (c) 1998 by Larry Dossey. All rights reserved.