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$B 53 3MD 

MAH 13 1914 


A Study 

in the Psychology 

of Prayer 



A Studv 

in the Psychology 

of Prayer 


Professor in Wesley College 

Digitized by the Internet' Archive 
• in 2007 with funding from 
IVIicrosoft Corporation 


The writer has found the two following conceptions of 
prayer current and typical: that it is purely subjective in its 
effects; that it is a miracle-working process in the sense that its 
answer is irreducible to natural law. It is hoped that this lit- 
tle book will help to modify these conclusions. 

Many have dismissed the whole subject of prayer because 
they have well-grounded suspicions that its operations are sub- 
jective. They have discredited the subjectivity of prayer be- 
cause they have not appreciated the marvelous ongoings of the 
mind. It is the ambition of the writer to call attention to the 
value of religiously sanctioned mental processes. The following 
pages tend to exalt the subjective efficacy of prayer. 

On the other hand, the interpretation of the answer to 
prayer in terms of miracles is deistic to the core. Deism as- 
sumes that the universe is self-running, at least for the present, 
and that the miraculous is the only evidence we have of the 
presence of God. The writer aims to point out that the na- 
tural laws which are made operative through prayer are forms 
of the self-activity of God, that the natural is supernatural in 
its origin, and that the supernatural has a natural and uniform 
mode of self-expression. The present volume is a plea for the 
doctrine of the Immanence of God. 

In order to show^ that the fundamentals of religion are not 
disturbed by a psychological analysis of prayer, this treatise is 
brought to a close with a short chapter devoted to ultimate con- 
siderations. The scientific custom of merely describing pro- 
cesses as such has been departed from in a constructive attempt 
to relate the findings of this study to a religious conception of 
the finalities. 

It would be presumptuous for the writer to pose as the 
pioneer in the field of the psychology of prayer. A cursory ex- 
amination of the appended bibliography will convince the reader 
that others have broken the ground. The writer has tried to 
profit by the studies of others and at the same time to attack 
prayer from a fresh standpoint. It would be either a reflection 



upon the attainments of others or a sure indication of the 
writer's lack of appreciation if the present study did not incor- 
porate at least some of the findings of others. 

It would be preposterous to say that all of the conclusions 
arrived at in this book are incontrovertible; nevertheless, the 
author hopes that some of his findings will stand the test of 
further investigation, that he has made some definite contribu- 
tion to a better understanding of the meaning and value of 
prayer. The prayer habits of many religions and peoples must 
be diligently studied and compared before valid generalizations 
can be made, and the final word be spoken, as to the nature and 
function of prayer. 

The wTiter is under obligations to many who have helped 
to give this study its present form and content, especially to 
Professor Edwin Diller Starbuck, at whose feet he had the 
privilege of sitting as a graduate student in the psychology of 
religion and philosophy. 


Grand Forks, North Dakota, 
April, 1913. 


Chapter Page 
I The Point of View 7 

II Attention in Prayer .v 23 

III Faith in Prayer 41 

IV The Answer to Prayer , 55 

V The Answer to Prayer — Continued 79 

VI Devotional Prayer. 95 

VII Unanswered Prayer. 105 

VIII Wider Considerations 121 

Appendix 133 

Selected Bibliography 135 

Index of Names 137 

Copyright applied for. 

Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 



In man's quest for the highest values prayer occupies a 
unique place. While a select few seek truth by diligent re- 
search in the laboratory or scan the 
stellar universe for a glimpse of reality, 
The Uniqueness while many stand enraptured before 

of Prayer the masterpieces of art or listen spell- 

bound to the greatest of musical com- 
positions, while some climb lofty moun- 
tain peaks or delve into the bowels of the earth or grope their 
way to the poles for a satisfying portion, while others try to find 
the highest good in the barter and trade of the market-place or 
in the attainment of a place in polite society ,-^in the midst of 
every conceivable manner in which men pursue what to them 
seems most worth while, multitudes temporarily withdraw from 
the presence of their fellow-men, fall upon the knees, clasp the 
hands, close the eyes, bow the head, and pour forth their deepest 
longings and highest aspirations, and arise, clothed with a unique 
sense of peace and power. Tha t prayer is the source of power 
in the lives of many people whose intelligence and character 
compel the respect of others, no observer of di??f;rimination can 

It is not at all strange that many abhor a critical examina- 
tion of the marvelous phenomenon which we call prayer. Many 
instinctively shrink from submitting this sacred and personal 
experience to a rigorous analysis, lest unholy hands commit a 


8 " " '.* ' Amo-S-u^ff^stion in Private Prayer 

sacrilege and cast reflections upon the value of religion. The 

fear lest an investigator prove to be an 

iconoclast with unsympathetic approach 

^, ^ . . . to the task and consequent negative 
Ine Spirit in ^ ,. . , ,, 
TTTi • 1 1-. nndings, is not always groundless. 
Which Prayer ^tt,., • u- 
oi 1 1 T^ r. ,. , While many rest content in their ex- 
Should Be Studied • • , , i , r j 
periential knowledge of prayer and 

feel no need of a critical investigation, 
there are others who are entitled to a 
just consideration. There are restive minds that crave a ra- 
tional basis for the prayer life. They consider the scientific 
method a crucible in which the dross is separated from the 
gold. They assume that no fact is too sacred and personal to 
be tested. They hold that a critical study of the facts of prayer 
should be more than an academic exercise or the mere gratifying 
of the instinct of curiosity; they insist that intelligent analysis 
and description should disclose the real merits of prayer and 
lead to an increased control of its underlying principles. This 
attitude is manifestly sympathetic and leads to constructive 
work. And it is in this spirit that this inductive study of auto- 
suggestion in prayer is undertaken. 

Although the subject may be approached from various 
angles, the writer has set for himself the task of ascertaining how 
and to what extent the facts of private 
prayer may be expressed in terms of 
Auto-Suggestion auto-suggestion. It is obvious that it 

Defined is necessary at the outset to know what 

is to be understood by auto-suggestion, 
for without a proper conception of it 
an intelligent study is impossible. An auto-suggestion may be 
defined as a self-imposed idea which tends to realize itself auto- 
matically. An auto-suggestion involves three phases : ( 1 ) the 
introduction of an idea into the mind by the self, (2) faith in the 
realization of the idea, (3) the self-realization of the idea. No 
auto-suggestion can be effective when any one of these three 
characteristics is wanting. Each makes its own particular con- 
tribution to the whole process, but is at the same time so inti- 

The Point of View 9 

mately related to the others that it is impossible to determine 
where the activity of the one ends and that of the others begins. 
The unity of auto-suggestion should be borne in mind in the 
following brief description of its salient aspects. J 

The introduction of an idea into the mind by the self is 
the basal factor in auto-suggestion. It may be described in 
. terms of attention to the suggested 
idea. The idea to be realized is a 
Lodging the mental pressure; it is forced upon the 

Self-suggested stream of consciousness. Furthermore, 

Idea in the Mind an auto suggestion is a self-suggestion ; 

the mental pressure is self-imposed; the " 
field of consciousness is restricted to the 
idea by one's own volition; the attention is given the idea on 
the person's own initiative. The self-suggested idea may have 
its source indirectly in a volitional pressure exerted by another 
self, or mxore directly in the consciousness of the individual in 
whom it is realized. That a social suggestion arises from with- 
out and an auto-suggestion from within the personality in which 
it is effective, is a distinction which must not be pressed too 
hard; for in an auto-suggestion the prompting may have been 
merely immediately internal, more remotely it may have been 
external. Often the difference is simply one in the degree of 
mental elaboration which the suggested idea undergoes before it 
is realized. When an idea suggested by another person is but 
slightly elaborated before it is realized, we may call it a social 
suggestion; but when that very same idea is considerably modi- 
fied before it is expressed, we have a clear case of auto-sugges- 
tion. In a very vital sense a social suggestion becomes an auto- 
suggestion in many instances. An idea, forced upon conscious- 
ness by an external will, precipitates mental imagery — auditory 
or visual, tactile or motor, or what not — which starts a train of 
associations — one thing reminding of a similar or extremely dis- 
similar thing, one incident reminding of another occurring at 
the sam.e time or place — v/hich in turn may arouse the em.otions 
to a considerable extent, all of which may so radically modify 
the suggested idea that it loses its original form and content. It 

10 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

is obvious that it is not always easy to determine whether one is 
dealing with a social or an auto-suggestion. Many self-sugges- 
tions have their origin in such clearly conscious mental states as 
memory, reasoning and judgment. The subconscious with its 
rich content of biases and prejudices, sentiments and instincts, 
is a prolific source of self-suggestions. In short, to hold in 
mental focus an idea quite tinged with one's own mental states 
is the first essential of effective auto-suggestion. 

The second phase of auto suggestion is faith that the idea 
will be realized. At first the suggested idea may meet with con- 
siderable opposition, but eventually it 
must be uncritically accepted by the 
Faith in the person. The degree of opposition en- 

Suggested Idea countered by the self-suggested idea is 

in inverse proportion to the suggesti- 
bility of the person for that idea. Like 
a check presented at a bank, the idea must be indorsed by the 
self before it can be ''cashed." In the case of auto-suggestion, 
however, the indorsee and the cashier of the idea are one and 
the same person. Faith tends to express itself in an expenditure 
of energy in the direction of expectation ; there is an uninten- 
tional striving toward the realization of the accepted idea. 
Faith in terms of effort stimulates the subconscious activities 
which tend to realize the suggested idea. If the function of 
faith is to give direction to the subconscious processes, it follows 
that it is entirely irrelevant to what one attributes the result. 
It is common knowledge that in the practice of mental thera- 
peutics the idea of health suggested to the patient tends to realize 
itself regardless of whether he believes in the efficacy of a bread- 
pill, a drug or his physician. The outcome is not determined by 
the nature of the object of faith, but by subconscious activities 
aroused by expectation. The expectancy of the reaction is of 
primary importance; the character of the reputed agency is a 
secondary matter. 

The Point of View 11 

The third aspect of auto-suggestion is the self-realization 
of the self-suggested idea through the automatic processes of 
the mental life. Once securely lodged 
in the mind and believed in, an idea 
The Self- tends to generate the power of self- 

Realization of expression. The automatic realization 

Self- Suggestions of the suggested idea is made possible 

by the tendency of whatever is in the 
mind to express itself. The self-expres- 
sion of the self -suggested idea is a subconscious process. The 
writer subscribes to the view that our mental life is much more 
extensive than the present mental states of which we are 
aware, that mental processes of which we are not aware 
are continually taking place. A subconscious process is 
a mental activity of one's own self, of which one is not 
cognizant as one's own personal experience. The waking con- 
sciousness takes into account only the ripples on the surface of 
the great stream of the mental life. Most of life is submerged 
beneath the threshold of consciousness. Nevertheless, the rela- 
tion between clearly conscious and subconscious activities is one 
of absolute unity and continuity. What goes on beneath the 
threshold of consciousness is in the very nature of the case be- 
yond introspection and description, and it is, therefore, not safe 
to say much more than that a suggestion is just what the word 
implies that it is, — a hint, a proposal, a prompting, a cue, an 
intimation — about which subconscious activities of which we 
know next to nothing cluster. Hints gleaned from various 
sources indicate that attention and faith occasion the subcon- 
scious realization of the self-suggested idea. Professor Jastrow 
writes, "There exists in all intellectual endeavor a period of 
subconscious incubation, a process in great part subconscious, a 
slow, concealed maturing through the absorption of suitable 
pabulum."^ And Professor Starbuck says, "After one 
exerts an effort, the fruition of it is accomplished by the life- 
forces which act through the personality. It is a well-known 

^The SubconsciouSj p. 99. 

12 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

law of the nervous system that it 'tends to form itself in accord- 
ance with the mode in which it is habitually exercised.' It is 
only a slight variation on this law to say that the nervous 
system grows in the direction of the expenditure of effort."^ 
These supplementary quotations throw a few grateful rays ol 
light upon the subconscious processes involved in the realization 
of the self-suggested idea. Attention as a selective activity de- 
termines just which idea of the many possibilities shall be im- 
pressed upon the mind. Faith as the activity of the will encour- 
ages the tendency of the idea to express itself, and subconscious 
activities respond to this encouragement. 

The element of time is an important factor in the realiza- 
tion of the idea suggested. The length of the period of sub- 
conscious incubation varies directly with the complexity of the 
idea, other things being equal. Some 

_, _ , . self-suggested ideas realize themselves 

The Length of i • i -i i 

^ . , ^ almost mstanter, w^hile others require 

the Period of • , n • t 

_ , . considerable time to mature. In re- 

Subconscious i • , , • , i i • 

. sponse to the idea that one is blushing, 

it is highly probable that the blood will 
flow to the face in copious quantities at 
once. The self-suggested idea of blushing involves a relatively 
simple subconscious response, and is therefore realized almost 
instantaneously. On the other hand, a novice may suggest to 
himself that he is fully competent to render one of Beethoven's 
sonatas, and fail miserably even after many heroic attempts. 
The amount of time required for the self-realization of this idea 
would depend much upon native ability, previous musical train- 
ing and the complexity of the sonata. In the case of the 
amateur's attempts to realize this self-suggestion, repeated effort 
to master the difficult composition and corresponding neural 
growth would be necessary. The realization of the idea would 
doubtless consume considerable time. 

'^The Psychology of Religion, p. 111. 

The Point of View 13 

It is a common experience that after a seemingly fruitless 
attempt to realize a difficult auto-suggestion has been followed 
by a period of rest, a fresh effort is at- 
tended with success. For instance, one 
may make constant use of auto-sugges- 
Periods of Rest in tion in trying to master the art of type- 
Auto-suggestion writing. After a certain degree of skill 
has been acquired one may fail to detect 
any appreciable progress despite con- 
tinued effort and self-suggestion. Let 
the attempt be discontinued for a season. Resuming the work 
after the interval of complete rest, one may be astonished at the 
ease with which he now masters the technique of typewriting. 
In such a case two things probably occur during the period of 
rest. Countless hindering mental tendencies which are natur- 
ally developed during the course of the unsuccessful effort, 
doubtless disappear during the period of rest. The more firmly 
established associations tend to develop during a season of in- 
activity, while the less deeply intrenched atrophy. The inhibit- 
ing tendencies being only slightly drilled in, die out during the 
time of rest, but the correct impressions being sufficiently in- 
grained, grow through the nutrient changes set up by the action 
of the blood. ^ It is quite certain that an intermission in 
difficult and complex auto-suggestion has a dual effect: on the 
one hand, it furthers subconscious incubation in the right direc- 
tion ; on the other hand, it tends to uproot hindering associations 
built up through misdirected effort. If no temporary release 
from effort occurs in highly complex auto-suggestions, there is 
grave danger that the wrong impressions through continuous 
striving and consequent stimulation wax stronger, while the cor- 
rect associations tend to evaporate. 

^See F. W. Book, The Psychology of Skill, p. 117. 

14 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

In some cases the person reaches a point in his attempts to 
realize the self -suggested idea where he feels that further effort 
can avail nothing. Ceasing to strive, he finds the idea realized. 
When the suggested idea has been 
realized beneath the threshold of con- 
Cessation sciousness, cessation of conscious effort 
of Effort seems to open the w^ay for the emerg- 
ing of the subconscious result into con- 
sciousness. Subconscious development 
and conscious efFort may be looking toward the same end, but 
from slightly different angles. Slightly misdirected activities of 
the will guard the entrance into consciousness, but when they 
relax their vigilance the subconsciously realized idea crosses the 
threshold. Passivity, apathy, indifference, and sometimes de- 
spair, accompany the cessation of effort, but are displaced by 
satisfaction, interest, exhilaration, and exaltation, when the self- 
suggested idea is expressing itself above the threshold of con- 

In response to auto-suggestion many varieties of activity 
are affected, such as perception, feeling, memory, action, and rea- 
soning. Looking at the full moon shining in a clear sky, one 
may see almost anything the notion of 
which is imposed upon the mind — an 

illuminated fissure-riven surface, the 
The Influence of ^^^^^ ^j^^ ^^ ^ ^^^ ^^^,g ^^ij-^g ^^^^^ 

Auto-suggestion ^^ ^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^ ^ woman's face half 

hidden by her tresses. The mere recol- 
lection of a bitter medicine taken weeks 
before is often sufficient to induce the unpleasant experience of 
nausea. Memory is influenced when one makes the self-sug- 
gestion that he will recall the data with which the mind is 
charged. An otherwise impossible action, such as the lifting 
of a heavy weight, is often accomplished as the result of the 
auto-suggestion that it can be done. The idea that one is equal 
to a difficult process of reasoning tends to realize itself. It 
would be difficult to exhaust the possibilities of auto-suggestion, 
for its use affects the whole gamut of mental experiences. 

The Point of View 15 

Arousing an emotion, augmenting an action, inhibiting a sensa- 
tion, self-suggestion is constantly affecting the mental life. 

In an exuberant appreciation of the possibilities of auto- 
suggestion it is well to remember that it is not omnipotent. 
There are limits which it cannot transcend. Its limitations are 
two-fold: in the first place, its direct 
influence is restricted to mental pro- 
The Limitations of cesses; in the second place, within its 
Auto-suggestion proper sphere its activity is limited by 

the amount of vitality of the human 
organism. Since auto-suggestion is not 
operative outside the scope of personal influence, one is certain 
to be disappointed if he throws a stone into the air and confi- 
dently expects it to remain suspended between earth and sky in 
response to the idea firmly fixed in mind and believed in that it 
will behave in that extraordinary manner. It is true that in an 
extreme case one might be positive that he saw the stone sus- 
pended in midair, but this would be an hallucination, a subjec- 
tive experience. No amount of auto-suggestion will bring the 
mountain to Mohammed: the most that it can do is to help 
Mohammed go to the mountain. It must not be forgotten that^ 
auto-suggestion has an indirect influence over inanimate objects 
by affecting the human agent acting upon them. On the other 
hand, only when there is an adequate degree of force resident 
within the organism can the suggested idea be realized. When 
disease has lowered the vitality of the human organism below a 
certain degree, the life-forces are too weak to realize the idea of 
health, be it ever so persistently held in mental focus and 
relied upon by the patient. It would be impossible for the 
average man to lift a ton by sheer strength of arm in response to 
the self-suggestion that he is equal to the herculean feat. To 
realize itself this idea would have to be handed down from one 
generation to another no one knows how many centuries. Thus 
we see that auto-suggestion is effective only when it touches the 
mental life, and that its efficacy is furthermore limited by the 
supply of energy in the organism. 

16 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

From the point of view of the form given the suggested 
idea, all auto-suggestions may be divided into two classes — 

direct and contrary auto-suggestions. 

A direct auto-suggestion is one w^hich is 
Direct and clothed in the terms of what one is de- 

Contrary sirous of bringing to pass; a contrary 

Auto-suggestion one is stated or thought in the terms of 

w^hat one wishes to rid the self of or to 

avoid. The former is positive in form, 
the latter negative. In successful direct auto-suggestion the 
response is as intended ; the result of a contrary auto-suggestion is 
often the opposite to what was expected. Assume that a child, 
afraid of certain dreams which have a tendency to recur, just 
before falling asleep suggests to himself that he will have a 
pleasant dream, such as that of success at play or the bestowal 
of gifts upon himself, and we are dealing with a case of direct 
auto-suggestion. The self-imposed mental impression is in 
terms of what is positively desired. But let us assume that the 
next night the same child suggests to himself that he will not 
have bad dreams, and thereby passes in review the dreaded noc- 
turnal visitations. This is an instance of contrary suggestion, 
for he is holding in mental focus the idea of what he is trying to 
avoid. Since whatever is in the mind tends to express itself, the 
direct auto-suggestion is likely to be the more efficacious, for it 
introduces into the mind only what one would have realized. 
The contrary suggestion is imperiled by negative impressions. 
Nevertheless, one must not be in haste to infer that contrary 
auto-suggestions are alw^ays failures. But when they are effec- 
tive the result may be due to the fact that it not infrequently 
happens that the mere making of the self-suggestion in the terms 
of the undesirable experience purges the personality of the un- 
wholesome element. Distressing mental states may find an 
adequate avenue of expression in the process of ideation and 
emotion. Should the contrary suggestion of the child prove 
effective in warding off distressing dreams, its success would 
probably be due to a detailing of the dreaded dreams, which 
proved to be a vent. But on the whole this form of auto-sug- 

The Point of View \1 

gestion is in grave danger of defeating its own purpose by 
arousing the mental imagery of what is to be avoided. 

With reference to the knowledge or ignorance of the per- 
son as to the presence or absence of auto-suggestion, both direct 
and contrary self-suggestions may be 
subdivided into intentional and uninten- 
Intentional and tional auto-suggestions. When one 

Unintentional consciously makes auto-suggestions, 

Auto-suggestion fully aware that he is applying their 

principle with a specific end in view, we 
may speak of an intentional self-sug- 
gestion. A case in point would be the conscious use of auto- 
suggestion for the purpose of inducing sleep and pleasant dreams. 
But when a child who is blissfully ignorant of the first principles 
of auto-suggestion which he nevertheless applies in seeking un- 
disturbed repose, attributes the result to some extraneous agency, 
such as a guardian angel, we have to do with unintentional auto- 
suggestion. It is patent that since whatever is unconsciously 
and unintentionally accomplished is done with the greatest ease 
and effect, unintentional auto-suggestion is the more efficacious. 
Note the vast difference between unintentional and intentional 
imitation! How perfect and easily accomplished the former; 
how crude and imperfect the latter ! The intentional manipula- 
tion of the delicate mechanism of auto-suggestion often results 
in the awkwardness of self-consciousness and in failure. Unin- 
tentional auto-suggestion employs the unconscious processes 
which are economical in the expenditure of effort and yield the 
larger returns. A friend oi the writer relates that one night in a 
room in a hotel he was unpleasantly aware of the need of ven- 
tilation. Raising one window from below and lowering an- 
other from above to secure the desired ventilation and circula- 
tion, he soon experienced a decided sense of exhilaration. Re- 
freshed, he retired for the night in the same room. In the morn- 
ing he was surprised to see that all of the windows of the room 
were re-enforced by storm-windows, which admitted hardly a 
breath of fresh air, regardless of open windows within. The 
distinct refreshing which he experienced the previous night must 

«A>>^b^ "^ 

18 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

be ascribed to unintentional auto-suggestion. Imagine the dif- 
ficulty, but not at all the impossibility, of obtaining the same 
reaction under the same conditions through intentional effort. 

It will be seen at a glance that auto-suggestion and private 

prayer have enough in common to make an intelligent analysis 

and comparison possible. Both ex- 

T^ ^ ^ periences are private and intimate. Both 

Factors Common ^ , , , . • ... 

^ . ^ . orten have their mception m the mmd 

to Auto-suggestion r , xt ii . i 

J T^ . ^ or another. JNot unhke a social sug- 

and Private , , . . 

p gestion, a public prayer may impress it- 

self upon the mind, pass through a 
process of modification and issue in pri« 
vate prayers. Biases and prejudices, sentiments and instincts, 
moods and feelings, memory and judgment, evoke auto-sugges- 
tions and private prayers. The success of both is said to depend 
largely upon concentration of the mind and faith that results 
will follow. The time spent in realizing a self-suggested idea 
and in the answ^ering of a prayer is a variable quantity. Like 
auto-suggestion, prayer may assume a direct and positive, or con- 
trary and negative form. Since auto-suggestion and private 
prayer have so many chara<:teristic features in common, would 
it be unreasonable to expect the answer to prayer to be a sub- 
conscious phenomenon? Does prayer unintentionally appro- 
priate the method and mechanism of suggestion ? Is the field of 
private prayer co-extensive with that of suggestion? Are un- 
answered private prayers describable in terms of unsuccessful 
suggestion ? If a rigorous analysis and an impartial comparison 
compel an affirmative answer to these questions, other and more 
fundamental queries arise. If prayer may be interpreted in 
terms of suggestion, is the universe mechanical, or is there be- 
neath the psychological process an element of freedom of the 
will? What kind of a God is consistent with such a descrip- 
tion of prayer? The thoughtful man can construct a spiritual 
world-view if permitted to hold fast to the existence of a 
benevolent God, the power of self-direction in man, which 
makes him morally responsible, and the practical value of re- 
ligion, especially of prayer. Does a scientific view of prayer con- 

The Point of View 19 

serve these essentials? To anticipate; an interpretation of 
prayer in terms of science is not inconsistent with a doctrine of 
God, free will and ]the validity of religion. Although science 
is concerned with processes as such and not with finalities, 
nevertheless, in the closing chapter of this study we shall revert 
to these ultimate considerations and view them in the light of 
the preceding analysis. 

Having made an introductory and preliminary statement of 
the psychology of auto-suggestion, it yet remains to point out the 
sources of material on private prayer. 
Fortunately, the sources are many and 
Sources of varied. Conversations with persons 

Material on rich in prayer experiences, religious bi- 

Prayer ography, treatises on prayer from both a 

psychological and a devotional stand- 
point, contributed valuable data for the 
prosecution of this study. In addition to these various sources 
of information, about 200 autobiographical accounts of prayer 
experiences were received in response to four questionnaires.^ 
The majority of the respondents are members of such leading 
protestant denominations as the Methodist, Baptist, Presby- 
terian and Congregational. Both male and female, the clergy 
and the laity, are represented. A serious effort has been made 
to discriminate between trustv/orthy and unreliable responses. 
The accounts from which important deductions have been made 
have been selected from the responses of those in whose introspec- 
tions there is good reason to repose confidence. Many replies, 
however, have served to illustrate and confirm conclusions drawn 
from other sources and wider considerations. The comparatively 
small number of reliable responses has little or no statistical 

^Three of them were circulated by three students of 
Professor J. B. Pratt: Messrs. E. B. Hart, H. S. Todd, S. T. 
Stanley. The questionnaire sent out by the writer appears in 
the appendix. 

20 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

Gathering the strands of this discussion together, it will be 
recalled that an auto-suggestion was defined as a self-impos ed 
idea which tends to realize itself automatically. The efficacy of 

the self-suggestion depends much upo n 
Summary the impression made upon the min d; it 

is essential that the idea be ingrafted 
into the mind in order that it may grow. In the one case the 
self -suggested idea arises in the mind of another, is introduced 
into the self, passes through a series of elaborations, thus ex- 
periencing an almost entire change of character; in the other 
case it originates in the conscious or subconscious states of the 
self. Faith as strained expectation or expectant attention, con- 
sciously or unconsciously striving in the direction of the realiza- 
tion of the self-suggested idea, gives point to the subconscious 
processes. The idea planted in the mind and believed in tends 
to grow subconsciously, to express itself through the automatic 
processes of the organism. "In short, mental and motor auto- 
matism are the prominent elements of suggestion."^ In 
difficult and complex auto-suggestion a period of rest should 
occur, during which the hindering tendencies may atrophy and 
the more deeply implanted correct impressions be free to mature. 
The amount of time consumed in subconscious incubation varies 
directly with the difficulty and complexity of the suggested idea. 
It also varies with different individuals, for what may be complex 
or difficult for some may be relatively simple and easy for others. 
In order that the subconscious result may present itself above the 
threshold of consciousness, it is often necessary to cease one's 
efFort to realize the end in view\ Despite its unnumbered possi- 
bilities the direct influence of auto-suggestion is limited by the 
immovable boundaries of the mental life. Its control over what 
is other than psychic is of necessity indirect and through a self. 
It is possible to overestimate the potency of the organic processes 
and therefore fail to induce the expected reaction. A direct 
auto-suggestion is preferable to a contrary one, since the former 
forestalls the danger of impressing the mind with what it is the 

^Boris Sidis, The Psychology of Suggestion, p. 10. 

The Point of View 21 

purpose of the auto-suggestion to eliminate or avoid. Since un- 
intentional auto-suggestion is relatively frictionless and artless, 
it is more effective than intentional self-suggestion. The auto- 
suggestion of greatest efficiency would doubtless involve an idea 
self-imposed, direct and positive in form, deeply rooted in the 
mind, confidently expected to mature, falling within the range 
of personal influence and subconscious incubation, unintention- 
ally and unconsciously realizing itself through the automatic 
processes, protected from inhibiting associations by rest-periods, 
finally permitted to manifest itself above the threshold of con- 
sciousness as a subconscious product. 



In symbols peculiar to himself Luther once said, "Just as 
a good, clever barber m.ust have his eyes and mind upon the 
beard and razor, so as to mark distinctly 
where he is to shave, so everything, 
The Prominence vi^hich is to be done well, ought to 

of Attention occupy the whole man, with all his fac- 

in Prayer ulties and members. How much more, 

then, should prayer, if intended to be 
effective, engage the heart wholly and 
without distraction."^ All writers of devotional literature 
agree with Luther that a vital element in effective prayer is the 
concentration of the attention upon the content of the prayer. 
We are told that one difference between genuine praying and the 
mere saying of prayers is attention to, and interest in, the act of 
pra5'er. In other words, the religionist insists that to be effi- 
cacious the prayer must be impressed upon the mind. In this 
particular he does not differ with the psychologist who recog- 
nizes in the introduction of an idea into the mind an essential 
of suggestion. 

It is the aim of this chapter to examine factors which tend 
to restrict the field of consciousness to the material of private 
prayer. Now during the course of the natural history of re- 
ligion many elements have appeared, 

T^, which tend to direct the stream of con- 
Elements • , , 1 f 
TT71-- 1 TT ij ^i_ sciousness mto the channel of prayer. 
Which Hold the r^x^ r , / 
^ . Ihe reierence is to such means or at- 
Prayer m . , , , ,. , 
,, ^ , T^ tracting and holding the attention as 
Mental Focus , . f . . i . ,• j i 

the isolation of the individual, posture 

of the body, suspension of vision, motor 

automatism, fasting, emotional states, prayer repetitions, activity 

^J. G. Morris, Quaint Sayings and Doings of Luther^ 
p. 131. 

24 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

of the will, mechanical devices. Let us now see how these acces- 
sories conspire to implant the prayer in the mind. 

The very expression "private prayer" is suggestive of the 
isolation of the individual. Of the respondents who answered 
the question contained in the question- 
naire, Which do you find the more 
Privacy in effective: public prayer by either the 

Prayer minister or the congregation, or private 

prayer? seventy per cent, favored pri- 
''^^ate prayer. John R. Mott says. "In ai^ 
word, secret prayer is prayer at its best. It is prayer most free 
from all insincerity. It is the true gauge of our prayer life."^ 
Jesus both taught and practiced privacy in prayer. ^ It is a 
truism that the isolation of the individual guards against dis- 
tractions. Novel impressions, strange changes in the environ- 
ment, and interruptions by others, tend to hinder the act of 
prayer. Alone and free from social restraints, the person is at 
liberty to give his undivided attention to the unreserved and sin- 
cere expression of his need. In this way isolation makes for the 
introduction of the prayer into the mind. 

Having found the seclusion of some favored spot, the per- 
son may reverently kneel in prayer. There seems to be present 
with many individuals a desire to cast 
the self at the feet of God in humble 
Physical submission. In response to the ques- 

Posture in tion. Do you find that posture, such as 

Prayer kneeling, etc., has any influence on your 

state ofi mind in prayer? forty per 
cent, answered affirmatively. The fol- 
lowing statements imply that the appreciation of the incomplete- 
ness of the self induces such a motor response as kneeling: "It 
(kneeling) is a sign of humility." "Whenever I am burdened 
with cares I feel an almost irresistible desire to fall upon my 
knees in prayer." On the other hand, kneeling creates a sense 

^The Secret Prayer Life, p. 5. 
^See Matt, iv, 6 and Luke, vi, 12. 

Attention in Prayer 25 

of want. Who has not been impressed by the fact that when- 
ever he has had occasion to kneel, be the situation ever so for- 
eign to prayer, he has invariably thought of prayer and as a con- 
sequence experienced a haunt of a want? "Kneeling makes one 
more earnest in prayer," writes a respondent. Kneeling and 
praying are so closely associated that the one tends to induce the 
other. Any bodily attitude which has become habitual, natur- 
ally resists any proposed departure from its well-established 
course. When any posture, save the customary one, is assumed 
doubts as to its propriety arise, which call attention to the 
physical attitude to the disadvantage of the prayer. Bodily pos- 
ture makes a definite contribution to the holding of the material 
of the prayer in mental focus.^ 

Seeking privacy and bending the knee, the one engaging in 
prayer may close or cover the eyes. The extent of this practice 
may be inferred from the fact that in 
reply to the question. Do you close 
Suspending your eyes in prayer? seventy-five per 

the Vision in cent, of the respondents answered in the 

Prayer affirmative. The following typical 

reasons for doing so seem commonplace : 
"The closing of the eyes shuts out 
distracting sights." "To concentrate my thoughts." It is self- 
evident that an interesting environment might furnish impres- 

^The following is a specimen of the various and un- 
comfortable postures assumed by the members of the Yoga cult 
of India: "The right foot should be placed on the left thigh, 
and the left foot on the right thigh ; the hands should be crossed, 
and the two great toes should be firmly held thereby; the chin 
should be bent down on the chest, and in this posture the eyes 
should be directed to the tip of the nose." (F. Max Mueller, 
Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, p. 457.) This posture is called 
Padmasana, lotus-seat, and is highly recommended as a cure for 
all diseases. The student of hypnotism can readily understand 
how such a position combined with restraints of breathing pro- 
duces such a state of abstraction that the person is rendered in- 
different to pain and pleasure, hunger and thirst, cold and heat. 
It represents an extreme m.ethod of forcing upon consciousness 
an impression to be realized. 

26 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

sions novel enough to attract the attention. But even in a mo- 
notonous environment suspension of vision helps to focus the 
attention on prayer. An object in motion attracts the attention 
most readily in a monotonous environment. During the evolu- 
tion of organic life a moving stimulus suggested either well- 
being or danger, and a corresponding reaction on the part of 
man or animal resulted. Even to-day a horse will react to a 
flying sheet of paper. Perhaps it is a heritage from the past 
when every moving object was regarded with concern, that 
makes us sensitive to stimuli in motion.^ Although we fail 
to note the other familiar distractions of the street, how^ quickly 
we attend to an advertisement consisting of electric lights which 
come and go. Another case in point is the large opening and 
closing mechanical eye in the oculist's window. When we wish 
to attract the attention of another at a distance we re-enforce 
our vocal efForts with suggestive motions of the arms. In a 
somewhat analogous manner a moving object in an environment 
ever so familiar or monotonous may drain off to itself the atten- 
tion which under the condition of closed or covered eyes might 
have been paid to prayer. 

When the person is engaged in the act of prayer a variety 
of physical activities appear, of which he is unconscious or but 
vaguely conscious. The reference is to such motor accompani- 
ments of prayer as the swaying or 
twisting of the body, the clasping or 
Automatism clenching of the hands, the scratching 

in Prayer of the head or the pulling of the hair, 

the closing or the rolling of the eyes, 
wrinkling of the forehead and the dis- 
torting of the face, and the moving of |:he lips, jaw, tongue, 
head. Such motor phenomena are often called automatism. 
E, H. Lindley detects as many as 136 distinct automatism in 
such kinds of mental effort as serious study, attention and diffi- 
cult recollection. Their function is two-fold. In the first 
place, "they are accessory to the mechanism of attention. In 

iW. B. Pillsbury, Attention, p. 50. 

Attention in Prayer 27 

order that mental activity may be brought to its maximum, and 
kept there during a period of work, the circulation of the brain 
must be rendered adequate, and the latent energy of the nerve- 
cells must be aroused. To aid in accomplishing this, many 
movements have appeared in the race and in the individual. 
Their sole raison d' etre seems to be that they facilitate the work 
of the brain. "^ In the second place, it is also a function of 
the automatism to furnish an outlet for any irrelevant impres- 
sions which may be inviting the attention. Impressions foreign 
to the work of the moment may be discharged through the chan- 
nels opened by the automatism. ^'Now the automatism at first 
aid in increasing cerebral excitation. Under the favorable con- 
dition, or concomitant with it, the state of attention waxes in 
intensity. When it reaches its height the blocking or inhibitory 
process may act to shut out excitatory currents of the moment. 
Then the nerve paths of the automatism become the channel for 
the drafting off of all currents which are excluded from the 
brain during attention."^ Evidently the automatism accom- 
panying prayer have both a stimulating and a conserving effect. 
Heightening the circulation of the brain, thus setting free latent 
nervous energy, they are instrumental in generating vitality for 
the deepening of the prayer experience. Supporting the mech- 
anism of attention, they help to impose the prayer upon the mind. 
Then they tend to conserve the energy which they have released. 
Extraneous impressions which tempt the attention, following the 
line of least resistance, find expression through the avenues 
opened by the automatic movements. We shall have occasion 
to make further reference to this unique mental process when we 
consider the repetition of prayer and the rosary. 

^E. H. Lindley, Motor Phenomena of Mental Effort, 

Amer. Jour. Psych., Vol. vii, p. 512. 
Hbid, p. 512. 

28 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

The isolation of the person, the suspension of vision, the 
physical attitude, and the automatic movements may accom- 
pany fasting as an expression of religious concern. In its ex- 
treme form fasting tends to induce ec- 
stasy. "Fasting in excess is a well- 
Excessive recognized means of producing hallu- 
Fasting cinations, and if undertaken in connec- 
in Prayer tion with religious service must tend 
* * * to produce voices and visions re- 
lating to our ethical life * * * but 
quite apart from such excesses, fasting in moderation would tend 
to produce states of mind allied to those produced during hallu- 
cination : and furthermore, reducing as it does the vitality suffici- 
ently to overcome any natural demand for spontaneous activities, 
it rriust clearly aid one very materially to gain that racial inspira- 
tion which most easily arises when reactions of individualistic 
significance are not called for."^ It is noteworthy that the 
higher centers of the mental life are the last to succumb to star- 
vation. "In the face of death by starvation, the most typical of 
all forms of death, it has been abundantly demonstrated that 
while all the other organs of the body gradually atrophy, the 
heart and the kidneys, and more especially the brain, remain ex- 
empt."^ Although excessive fasting lowers the vitality of 
most of the organs, the brain seems to receive the support of the 
heart up to the last beat, and hence the higher mental processes 
are the last to give way to disintegration. In fact, there is evi- 
dence that in certain respects the mind is particularly active and 
productive during a prolonged fast. Upton Sinclair, a popular 
author, maintains that some of his best literary work has been 
done during a fast. It goes without saying that a period of 
fasting, having a religious significance, is a means of lodging 
prayers into the mind, prayers answered in terms of visions and 

^H. R. Marshall, Instinct and Reason, p 269. 
-C. A. Scott, Old Age and Death, Amer. Jour. Psych., 
Vol. viii, p. 78. 

Attention in Prayer 29 

It is the practice of many individuals to fast moderately, 
to abstain from food wholly or in part for a few days or even 
for one day. Aside from the tendency to create mental states 
akin to those produced in more exaggerated forms during longer 
periods of fasting, the total or partial abstinence from food for a 
shorter time tends to have a disciplinary and conserving effect. 
Moderate, or excessive, fasting is a 
mental discipline which constructs a 
Moderate competent personality. To hold in 

Fasting check the craving for food is an aid in 

bringing under subjection thoughts 
prone to wander from the prayer. Who 
has not by an act of the will turned his attention away from the 
many distractions of travel by rail and focused it upon his book 
in the reading of which he was soon absorbed ? The voluntary 
overcoming of the capricious wandering of the attention imparts 
to the faculties such a powerful stimulus that an overplus of 
energy is set free for the task in hand. In like manner he who 
overcomes the temptation to gratify the desire for food releases a 
generous amount of energy which may be devoted to the prayer 
life. Furthermore, in too many instances superfluous nutrition 
makes a tremendous draught upon the life-forces of the human 
organism. "Probably from four to six times as much food is 
eaten as the body actually requires, and this great amount of 
excess must be disposed of at the expense of the vital pow- 
ers."^ Living to eat, many persons expend their powers in 
vegetating, while those who eat to live may direct into other -Anri 
more useful channels the energy wasted by others. Moderate 
fasting, springing from a religious motive, may expend energy 
in fixing a prayer in mind, which effort might otherwise have 
been devoted to useless nutritive processes. X 

^H. Carrington, Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition, p. 112. 

30 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

It would be passing strange if an individual could with- 
draw from the presence of others, reverently kneel, close or 
cover the eyes, make many automatic 
movements, even fast and pray, without 
Emotion experiencing both pleasant and unpleas- 

in Prayer ant emotions. There are doubtless oc- 

casions when the will rather than tiie 
emotions controls the prayer experience, 
but in general it is the emotions which prompt the prayer. Situa- 
tions or predicaments which evoke such emotions as fear, love, 
doubt, anxiety, exaltation, guilt, gratitude, etc., are pregnant 
with prayer possibilities. The whole personality dances to the 
tune of such an overmastering and primitive emotion as fear. 
J. H. Leuba cites the case of a Mrs. X: "I do not think I 
bothered with God when I was a child except when I was 
frightened. Usually I did not care a button for him. Only 
when I got into a plight I would cling with the completest faith 
to what I had been taught about God's power and his readiness 
to answer our prayers."^ Devotional literature encourages 
prayer in critical situations. "And call upon me in the day of 
trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me,"^ is 
the exhortation of the psalmist. The value of the emotional 
states for the prayer life is admirably set forth in the following 
quotation taken from a devotional study: "Prayer should spring 
up spontaneously from an emotive state. Christians, whose lives, 
in other respects, are not visibly defective * * * have no deep 
subsoil of feeling from which prayer would be a natural growth. 
Our theory of the Christian life is that of a clear, erect, inflexible 
head, not that of a great heart in which deep calleth unto 
deep."^ Emotions tend to narrow the field of conscious- 
ness. Other impressions are ignored when an intense emotion 
dominates the personality. It is common for a lover to be so 
possessed of his passion that other important matters are neg- 

'^Fear and Awe in Religion, Amer. Jour. Psych., Vol., 

ii, p.9. 
^Psalm, L, 15. 
«A. Phelps, The Still Hour, p. 58. 

Attention in Prayer 31 

lected. When the emotion is of religious interest, it tends to 
introduce prayers into the mind. From this point of view emo- 
tions provoke prayer, but it is also true that in many cases 
prayer arouses the emotions. In the following discussion of the 
oral repetition of prayer the part which prayer plays in evoking 
emotional states will receive attention. 

Given an initial sense of incompleteness sufficient to attract 
the attention, a prayer, instead of wearing itself out, becomes 
an increasingly intensified experience through oral repetition. 
Without presuming to give a complete description of this unique 
phenomenon, we may, however, take notice of some of its in- 
teresting phases. To begin with, the oral expression itself is a 
means of holding the attention. St. 
Teresa said that the first step in a grad- 
The Oral uated series of religious exercises ending 

Repetition in ecstasy was the articulation of a 

of Prayer prayer. Ribot maintains that the oral 

expression of the prayer leads "the dis- 
persed consciousness into a single con- 
fined channel."^ Experience shows that the habit of reading not 
merely with the ej^e, but of articulating the words seen deepens 
the attention to the contents of the printed pages. Speech is the 
organ of reason. A spoken dream is likely to be more connected 
than the one not articulated. It is conceivable that in the case 
of those whose mental imagery is of the motor and auditory type 
there is a tendency to clothe a prayer in words as soon as it 
arises in consciousness. In such instances failure to give oral 
expression to the prayer would nullify the experience, and the 
attention would wander elsewhere. 

Lest the stream of consciousness be turned into a different 
channel during a series of reiterations, the prayer as the object 

'^Phychology of Attention, p. 92. 

32 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

of attention must be considered from many points of view. 
"The conditio sine qua non of sustained 
attention to a given topic of thought is 

-, . ,. , that we should roll it over and over in- 

A ^^ ^- r«v , cessantly and consider different aspects 
Attention Through , , . , . . ,„ ^^ , 
^, . T^ . ^ and relations of it in turn. ^ Doubt- 
Change in Point 111 r . . , 
- --. less the laws of association determine 

the angles from which the aching void 
evoking a prayer is considered, for one 
phase of a subject naturally suggests 
another. As the attention flits from one aspect of the prayer 
to another, the emotions are aroused. "One may get angrier in 
thinking over one's insult than at the moment of receiving 
it."^ Viewing the insult from various sides may reveal the 
true character of the offense and arouse a tumult of emotions. 
So with each consideration of the incomplete self from a fresh 
standpoint the prayer experience waxes in emotional intensity. 
In this way the prayer repetition, begun with but a feeble emo- 
tional accompaniment, begets a rich emotional experience. We 
have seen that emotional states attract and hold the attention. 
In fact, Ribot insists that "at the root of attention we find only 
emotional states."^ 

The automatic movements of the head, hands, body, etc., 
which, as we have already seen, are accessory to the mechanism 
of the attention, play an important part in making the reiteration 
of prayer a success. It may be of in- 
terest to examine the almost uncon- 
Automatism in scious activity of the vocal motor ap- 

Prayer paratus as a type of automatic phe- 

Repetition nomena. Its mere exercise sets free an 

increasing amount of energy until fa- 
tigue manifests itself. When stimulat- 
ed by a series of slight electric shocks, the leg of a decapitated frog 
passes through a succession of contractions increasing in ampli- 

^James, Briefer Course, p. 236. 

^ James, Principles of Psychology, Vol. ii, p. 443. 

^Psychology of Attention, p. 35. 

Attention in Prayer 33 

tude. The reaction of the frog's leg to the electrical stimulus 
is due to the release of energy through neural action. Activity 
increases irritability. "The finely adjusted activities of the nerve- 
cells vi^hich control the muscles reach their perfection only after 
repeated action."^ So long as the contractions increase in ampli- 
tude anabolism more than just compensates for katabolism. So 
the activity of the organ of speech liberates an increasing amount 
of vitality until fatigue aserts itself. In addition to this, there is 
a quickening of the processes of respiration and circulation. This 
additional factor is, of course, absent in the case of the dead frog 
whose leg responds to the electrical stimulus. The almost uncon- 
scious exercise of the vocal motor apparatus is a warming-up pro- 
cess, like that employed by athletes and race horses, which 
arouses the latent energy of the nerve-cells and increases the 
afflux of blood to the brain, and thus generates power to force 
the prayer upon the mind. The further activity of the mech- 
anism of speech provides a way of escape for irrelevant impres- 
sions. Such a description of the result of the exercise of the 
vocal organs may seem rather trivial and far-fetched, when one 
does not consider that each of a hundred or more automatic 
movments is making its contribution to the prayer experience. 

The law of inertia in attention is an important factor in 
the continued oral expression of prayer. But before this law 
can be appreciated, the law of accommodation, upon which it 
depends, must be understood. The law 
of accommodation may be illustrated in 
The Law of the following way : Looking across the 

Inertia in Prayer room at the clock, "to see the position 

Repetition of the hands, I must wait for the 'ac- 

commodation' of attention, i. e. for the 
adjustment of the mechanism of visual 
accommodation."^ What is hardly noticed at first sight may be 
more clearly seen as the visual experience continues and a more 

^W. H. Howell, American Text-book on Psychology, 

p. 112. 
^E. B. Titchener, Psychology of Feeling and Attention, 

p. 244. 

34 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

perfect adjustment of the visual mechanism to the stimulus is 
made. The same law Is operative in attention to ideas. James ex- 
perienced the following adjustment in attending to an ideational 
stimulus: "In myself the 'backward retraction' which is felt 
during attention to ideas of memory, etc., seems principally 
constituted by the feeling of an actual rolling outwards and up- 
wards of the eyeballs, such as occurs in sleep, and Is the exact 
opposite of their behavior when we look at a physical thlng."^ 
Now when once the mechanism Is adjusted It offers a certain 
resistance to an impression calling for a fresh adjustment. 
Change of occupation means a corresponding adjustment of the 
mechanism to be employed. For that reason a diligent student 
may find himself loathe to interrupt his studies In order to re- 
plenish the fire with fuel. The resistance of the adjusted 
mechanism is known as the law of Inertia. When the accom- 
modation of the attention has taken place in prayer, the person, 
following the line of least resistance, may feel a tendency to re- 
peat the prayer rather than to discontinue it and do something 
else. To turn the attention to another thing would necessitate 
the overcoming of the resistance offered by the mechanism ad- 
justed to prayer. 

The turning of the attention into a single definite channel 
opened by articulation, the continuous change in point of view 
making for the holding of the attention and the arousing of the 
emotions, the making of automatic movements releasing and 
conserving energy, the warding off df 
foreign impressions by the adjusted 
The Cumulative mechanism, — the cumulative effect of 

Effect all of these factors is very significant for 

the reiteration of the prayer and its im- 
pression upon the mind. Like the lit- 
tle snow-ball rolling down the mountainside and gathering vol- 
ume and force until it becomes a mighty avalanche, the prayer 
born of an appreciation of incompleteness and repeating itself 

^Briefer Course, p. 230. 

Attention in Prayer 35 

becomes an experience so intense that all competitors for the 
attention are driven from the field. 

The wide-spread habit of praying at night before retiring 
is in accord with the best method of introducing an idea into 
the mind. The person is most suggestible when he feels in- 
clined to sleep. When one is drowsy 
and ready to retire, the mind is uncriti- 
Prayer at cal and does not exercise its corrective 

Night powers; hence at this time the prayer 

glides into the mind without encounter- 
ing the opposition which might have 
been met during the d^y. Apart from the ease with which an 
impression is made upon the subconscious at bed-time, the privacy 
of one's room, the opportunity to assume the habitual devotional 
posture, and to continue the prayer at will, are elements which 
help to hold the prayer in mental focus. 

It sometimes requires the exercise of the will to concen- 
trate the mind on prayer. Concerning wandering thoughts and 
how to recall them. Brother Lawrence 
has the following to say: "Our mind 
The Will is extremely roving; but, as the will is 

in Prayer the mistress of all our faculties, she 

must recall them, and carry them to 
God as their last end. When the 
mind, for want of being sufficiently reduced by recollection at 
our first engaging in devotion, has contracted certain bad habits 
of wandering and dissipation, they are difficult to overcome, and 
commonly draw us, even against our wills, to the things of the 
earth. I believe one remedy for this is to confess our faults and 
to humble ourselves before God. I do not advise you to use 
multiplicity of words in prayer, many words and long discourses 
being often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in 
prayer before God like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich 
man's gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the 
presence of the Lord. If it sometimes wander and withdraw 
itself from Him, do not much disquiet yourself for that: 

36 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to 
recollect it; the will must bring it back to tranquilty."^ 

The most unique mechanical device intended to increase 
the effectiveness of the prayer life is doubtless the rosary. 
E. B. Tylor says, "The devotional calculating-machine is of 
Asiatic invention ; it had, if not its 
origin, at least its special development 
The History among the ancient Buddhists, and its 

of the Rosary 108 balls still glide through the mod- 

ern Buddists hands as of old, measuring 
out the sacred formulas whose reitera- 
tion occupies so large a fraction of a pious life. It was not till 
toward the middle ages that the rosary passed into Moham- 
medan and Christian lands, and finding there conceptions of 
prayer which it was suited to accompany, has flourished ever 
since."^ On the other hand, it is affirmed on Catholic 
authority that in the period of religious indifference which ob- 
tained in France during the thirteenth century, the Virgin per- 
sonally appeared to St. Dominic, a Spaniard, with a rosary in 
her hand. She instructed him in the use of the rosary and 
enjoined upon him the mission of preaching it as a means of 
spiritual regeneration. Arriving at Toulouse for the purpose of 
proclaiming the new devotion, he found that in response to a 
mysterious summons the people had already assembled in the 
church. At first his preachment of the rosary fell upon un- 
heeding ears, but when a violent storm arose and the lightning 
flashed and the thunder crashed, and the statue of the Virgin 
began to move, even pointing to heaven and to the preacher, the 
obdurate people were touched, and, casting themselves at the 
feet of St. Dominic, announced their acceptance of the rosary. 
It is claimed that more than a hundred thousand deluded 
Frenchmen returned to the Catholic Church as a result of the 
conquest of the rosary. The faithful followers of St. Dominic 

^The Practice of the Presence of God, p. 35. 
^Primitive Culture, Vol. ii, p. 372. 

Attention in Prayer 37 

carried the rosary into the rest of the countries of Europe and it 
was quite generally adopted. 

The use of the Catholic rosary consists in the union of 
vocal and mental devotional exercises. Fifteen decades of Hail 
Marys are orally recited, each decade, 
or group of ten, being preceded by a 
The Use of the Pater Noster and followed by a Gloria. 

Catholic Rosary Five decades constitute a chaplet. Dur- 

ing the recitation of each chaplet five 
"mysteries" from the life of Jesus and 
Mary are meditated. There are three groups of "mysteries" of 
five each: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, the 
Glorious Mysteries. The Annunciation, the Visitation, the 
Birth, the Presentation, the Finding in the Temple, compose 
the first group, and are called the Joyful Mysteries; the Agony 
in the Garden, the Scourging, the Crowning with Thorns, the 
Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion, are called the Sorrowful 
Mysteries; the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Coming of the 
Holy Ghost, the Assumption, the Coronation of the Virgin, are 
known as the Glorious Mysteries. In connection with the 
vocalization of the Pater Noster, ten Hail Marys and a Gloria, 
the meditation of a "mystery" is undertaken. Consider the 
Scourging at the Pillar. While the automatic oral repetition is 
taking place, "the memory presents a large hall full of rude sol- 
diers, who drag in a poor prisoner, pull off His garments, bind 
Him to a pillar and there tear off the flesh from His bones until 
His body is all raw and covered with wounds and His blood 
streaming over the floor. Next the understanding considers 
who this prisoner is: the adorable Son of the Most High God, 
•the Lord and Giver of Life. And why does He suffer? For 
miserable sinners: for us ungrateful men: for those who are 
scourging Him. Now the will is influenced to make acts of 
compassion, love, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, etc."^ 
The Roman Catholic Church grants indulgences to those who 
are faithful in the use of the rosary. 

^Dominican Father, The Rosary, p. 41. 

38 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

The rosary tends to create a divided self in order that a 
higher unity may be attained. Like all motor phenomena of 
mental effort, the automatic recitation of the rosary arouses the 
mind and provides an outlet for dis- 
tracting impressions. Furthermore, the 

Tit- -nt- t_ 1 • t oral prayers of the rosary are gentle re- 

The Phychological •/ r ., r • ir o^u 

TT 1 f ^t_ mmders or the religious life. Ihe as- 

Value of the , , , 

_ sociations clustered about the prayers 

Rosary , , , , 

are oi such an intimate and sacred na- 
ture that the suppliant cannot but re- 
spond to their subtle influence. The 
result w^ould be by no means the same if the alphabet, a part of 
the multiplication table, and a mother-goose rhyme were substi- 
tuted for the Pater Nosters, the Aves, and the Glorias. Such a 
meaningless substitution would rob the exercise of its appro- 
priate suggestiveness. The incongruity of attempting to medi- 
tate a "mystery" to such an unsuitable accompaniment w^ould 
make the exercise difficult, if not impossible. The contempla- 
tion of the "mysteries" gives rise to mental pictures out of which 
there is a tendency to construct prayers. In a word, the rosary, 
when properly employed, is an admirable device for attracting 
and holding the attention to the prayer life. The misuse of the 
rosary will be discussed under the head of "vain repetitions." 

It must be clear to the reader that religion utilizes many 
accessories of attention in order to introduce a prayer into the 
mind. A summary of the elements discussed may suggest the 
cumulative effect of the same on the 
prayer life. The isolation of the indi- 
Summary vidual offers a possibility of uninter- 

rupted and unrestricted self-expression. 
Posture in prayer, such as kneeling, is 
an outward sign of reverence, and is the natural attitude of a 
suppliant. The reflex action of posture on prayer is marked. 
The closing or covering of the eyes during prayer excludes se- 
ductive sights. The automatic movements accompanying pray- 
er increase the flow of blood to the brain, thus freeing energy, 
and distracting impressions are discharged through the func- 

Attention in Prayer 39 

tional paths opened by the automatism. Excessive fasting, un- 
dertaken as a religious exercise, induces ecstasy: in its moderate 
forms it is a mental stimulus, devotes to higher ends the energy 
otherw^ise expended in superfluous nutritive processes, and 
arouses mental states akin to, but less intense than, those of 
ecstasy. As a rule prayer has its genesis in an emotive state. 
The oral repetition of a prayer, springing from a real religious 
concern, directs the stream of consciousness into a single defi- 
nite channel, heightens the processes of circulation and respira- 
tion, evokes emotional states, and tends to continue itself in ac- 
cordance with the law^ of inertia. It is the custom of many to 
pray at bed-time w^hen the mind is susceptible to auto-suggestions. 
While emotions generally prompt prayer, it sometimes occurs 
that voluntary attention restricts the field of consciousness to 
the act of prayer. The rosary is a mechanical device arousing 
mental images w^hich in turn give rise to prayer. All of these 
accesories of religion, and many more w^hich doubtless have 
occurred to the reader, tend to hold in mental focus the idea for 
the realization of w^hich the prayer is made. There can be no 
doubt that private prayer meets the first indispensable condition 
of auto-suggestion, — an idea imposed upon the mind by the self. 



Professor Muensterberg has well said that suggestion is 
more than the turning of the attention to one idea and away 
from another, that it is characterized by belief.^ Among the au- 
thorities on suggestion there is no dis- 
sent from the opinion that a fundamen- 

— .. ^ . , tal requirement of effective suggestion 

Faith Essential ,. , , r , 

. ^ ^. IS a lively conviction on the part or the 

in Suggestion . ,• -i i , , ., , i, • 

J . p individual that the idea held in mind 

will be realized. Now prayer also is 
more than the mere turning of the at- 
tention to one idea and away from an- 
other, it too is characterized by belief. Nothing could be more 
indisputable than that faith looms up large in the answering of 
prayer. On the one hand, the psychologist is certain that a 
self-suggested idea depends largely upon faith for its realization, 
and, on the other hand, the religionist asserts in no uncertain 
terms that without faith there can be no answer to prayer. In 
both suggestion and prayer a fact cannot come unless a prelimi- 
nary faith in its coming is exercised.^ 

Faith in prayer is practically universal. A few sy stems of 

rdiginn, JLi^e^Shin^to^aadwEuddhism, origina lly tried toaispensc 

with P |rayer ^ but failed fuUyjto repress the unco nquerable instinct.^ 

According to the letter of the tenets of 

Shinto the prayers of the Mikado of 

,-,, ,T • i«^ Japan suffice for all of its devotees, 

The Universahty I x_ j-ii. ri. 

- T^ . . . "^ but thousands visit the shrines or this 

of Faith in , i . r r i rr 

p cult, deposit a giit or money, and otter 

prayers. Buddhism also has made con- 
cessions to prayer. Buddhism in its 
purest form seeks to rid the self of all 

desire, which logically precludes prayer, for prayer is rooted 

^Psychotherapy, p. 100. 

^See James, The Will to Believe. 

42 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

in desire. But Buddha has been deified and is being worshipped 
by millions. The prayer-wheel and the rosary flourish where 
Buddhism obtains. On the contrary, Christianity has always 
maintained that prayer is the core of spiritual-mindedness and as 
such should be encouraged. The fact that prayer is so wide- 
spread, even among the adherents of cults logically opposed to 
it, is an indication of almost universal faith in its efficacy^ for 
itjouTd be meaningless to pray without expecting some reac- 

Quite naturally at this point the question arises, Why 
does the individual have faith in prayer? A partial answer to 
this query would be a description of the facts which tend to in- 
spire and conserve faith. Just as there 
are various factors which lend their as- 
T7 4- \X7Vi* u sistance in introducing the prayer into 

_ . , the mmd, so also there may be disc- 

Inspire Faith , , • n • r • 1 

overed many elements mtiuencmg laitn. 

Heredity and environment, the reading 
of devotional literature, the positive 
testimony of others, the memory of answer to prayer in the past, 
the favorable interpretation of unanswered prayers, the forget- 
ting of negative cases, the misconstruction of coincident instances, 
and the repetition of prayer, — all of these facts and many more 
affect the faith state. Let us examine them one by one. 

It goes without saying that heredity and environment are 
important factors in determining the kind and degree of faith 
in prayer. Each person's harvest of the racial life shapes his 

attitude toward prayer to some extent. 

The social heritage is as important as 
Heredity and the blood heritage, if it be not more so, 

Environment in its influence on faith. The social 

plane into which one is born cannot 

fail to color the outlook on prayer. 
The mental environment in terms of education in religion and 
morals, as well as in the arts and sciences, influences the 
prayer life. If the hereditary strains, the social pressure, the 

Faith in Prayer 43 

mental and moral training, favor the rise and development of a 
rich prayer life, there is a corresponding stimulation of the faith 
state. When these factors exert a negative influence, faith in 
prayer is in danger of being entirely lost. 

For many persons religious literature is authoritative and 
is consequently a stimulus to faith in prayer. The teaching of 
Jesus concerning prayer is significantly influential. "And all 
things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall re- 
ceive them."^ "WhatjJiirigs soever ye desire, w hen ye pra^^, 
believe that ye receive them^ an d ye shall have them."^ Such 
an emphasiTon ^aith as the condition of answer to prayer, com- 
ing as it does from the lips of the one to whom is accorded 
supreme religious leadership, cannot fail to multiply the faith of 
his followers. Statements like the following taken from the 
literature of devotion, tend to confirm 
and repeat the biblical promise that 
Devotional faith in prayer shall have its reward: 

Literature and "Where there is true faith, it is impos- 

Faith in sible but the answer must come."^ 

Prayer "There is no personal duty more posi- 

tive or more unqualified than the duty ^ ^ \ 
of faith."* "How many prayers ^ ,}• \^ 
are hindered by our wretched unbelief! We go to God and ^ ^^» 
ask Him for something that is positively promised in His Word, 
and then we do not more than half expect to get it."^ "An 
astronomer does not turn his telescope to the skies with a more 
reasonable hope of penetrating those distant heavens, than I 
have of reaching the mind of God, by lifting up my heart at the 
throne of grace. "^ Prayer literature fairly teems with such 
affirmations of the value of faith in prayer: line upon line, pre- 
cept upon precept, remind the reader that a faith which knows 

' ^Matt xxi, 22. 
^Mark xi, 24. 

^A. Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 78. 
*H. C. Trumbull, Prayer, Its Nature and Scope, p. 69. 
5R. A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 90 
«A. Phelps, The Still Hour, p. 43. 

44 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

no shadow of doubt is absolutely essential. In fact, lack of 
faith is the most frequent explanation of unanswered prayer. 

Closely allied to the influence of religious literature on 
faith, is the testimony of others who have received unquestion- 
able answers to prayer. Our faith is rooted in the faith of 
others. Faith is contagious. The more 
suggestible the individual is, the more 
The Testimony likely is he to accept the testimony of 

of Others another and to regulate his own ex- 

periences accordingly. To recall defi- 
nite answers to prayer obtained by an- 
other, whose account of the experience is reliable, cannot but 
encourage one to make a similar venture of faith. 

The memory of positive personal prayer experiences is a 
faith stimulus. The individual waxes bold in his prayer life 
when he recalls the results obtained during the past. The re- 
membrance of the presence of God in 
an hour of discouragement, of the heal- 
The Memory ing of a disease, of a conversion experi- 

of Past ence, of the elimination of evil from 

Experiences the personality, of temporal prosperity, 

of divine guidance out of a perplexing 
situation, and of countless other things 
wrought through believing prayer, tends to raise faith to a high 
power of efficiency. James says that the object of remembrance 
is suffused with a warmth and intimacy to which no object of 
mere conception ever attains.^ The successful past prayer 
experience as the object of recollection is bathed in tender 
emotion than which there is no more effective means of increasing 

^Briefer Course, p. 158. 

Faith in Prayer 45 

The usual attitude taken toward unanswered prayers is of 
such a nature as not to lessen faith. They are generally either 
interpreted in terms casting no reflections whatsoever on prayer, 
or they are entirely ignored and for- 
gotten. Negative cases are readily ac- 
-,, J . counted for by the majority in terms of 

- TT J "lack of faith," "lack of definiteness." 

of Unanswered ,,, , , ,, ,,. 

_ lack or perseverance, improper ob- 

Prayers . , „ ,, r , • 

jects of prayer, prayer for thmgs we 

do not need," and the like. Some are 
so indiscriminating that they refuse to 
distinguish answered from unanswered prayers, stoutly insisting 
that "no" is as truly an answer as "yes." They hold that often 
Providence withholds the insignificant thing prayed for in order 
that an infinitely greater blessing may come ; that divine Wisdom 
often overrules our short-sightedness for our own good. In 
some such way the unanswered prayer when taken into consid- 
eration at all is almost invariably converted into a reason for the 
continuation and increase of faith. 

But most of the unanswered prayers are not even accounted 
for; they are commonly forgotten. The writer know^s of no 
book bearing the title "Unanswered Prayers." Doubtless an 
overplus of material would be avail- 
able for such a study, but such a work 
Forgotten would be laughed to scorn by those 

Negative Cases whose habit it is to ignore negative in- 

stances. On the other hand, the mar- 
ket is drugged with a superabundance 
of literature on positive experiences in prayer. It seems to be 
human to forget our failures and to remember our successes : the 
former we write in the sand, and the latter we chisel in the 
granite. "We should bear in mind the story of one who was 
shown a temple with the pictures of all the persons who had 
been saved from shipwreck after paying their vows. When 
asked whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the 
gods, 'Aye,' he answered, 'but where are they painted that were 

46 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

drowned after paying their vows?' "^ "In the recent Boxer 
uprising some of the missionaries escaped; and their escape was 
spoken of as a signal case of answer to prayer. But what of 
those who did not escape?"^ From the foregoing it would 
be rational to infer that when ten prayers are made and only one 
of them is answered, as a rule the one successful experience is 
remembered and made known to others, while the nine dismal 
failures are graciously overlooked. Thus the unanswered 
prayer does not affect faith, while the focusing of the attention 
upon the answered prayer intensifies the faith state. 

Faith in prayer is not infrequently so greedy as to take 
credit for coincident answers. Such it accepts at their surface 
value. Recently the writer read the case of a certain man who 
made the assertion that he prayed God 
to grant the Americans a bloodless vic- 
Coincident tory over the Spaniards at Manilla. 

Answers When the news came that without the 

loss of life on their part the Americans 
had won the battle of Manilla, the man 
rejoiced and steadfastly maintained that the victory was a di- 
rect answer to his prayer. What others would unhesitatingly 
call a mere coincidence, — for prayers for bloodless victories are 
constantly offered during any war — he accepted as a particular 
intervention of God in answer to his prayer. He seemed to 
imply that if he had not made that prayer some Americans 
would have been killed. In such a case there is presumption 
and blind acceptance, and but little analysis and discrimination. 
Francis Bacon calls attention to the tendency to adapt facts to 
our preconceived notions: **The human understanding is no 
dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections, 
whence proceed sciences which may be called 'sciences as one 
would.' For what a man had rather were true he more readily 
believes." But even the interpretation of certain happenings in 
terms of answers to prayer when there is no valid reason for do- 
ing so multiplies faith. 

^E. W. Scripture, The New Psychology, p. 3. 
^B. P. Bowne, The Essence of Religion, p. 158. 

Faith in Prayer 47 

We have already seen how the repetition of a prayer gives 
birth to several accessories of the attention. In addition to 
these results, reiteration of the prayer may evoke faith. At first 
belief may weaver like a reed shaken in 
the w^ind, but w^ith each successive repe- 
Repetition tition of the prayer faith may develop, 

and Faith Analogies beyond the pale of prayer are 

not lacking. A very crass illustration 
w^ould be the case of a liar w^ho repeats 
his falsehoods so many times that ultimately he himself believes 
them. Through reiteration the mental pictures of the false- 
hoods become clearer and clearer, w^hile the mental imagery of 
the facts as they really are grows dim. Who has not seen wares 
so persistently advertised that, although skeptical for a long 
time, he finally came to believe in their pretended value and 
made a purchase of the same? Since it is a law of our being 
that we grow in the direction of exercise, faith increases through 
faith. In the words of another. "Now there is only one way 
in which we can learn to trust, and that is by trusting. There- 
fore, the duty of the man who feels inert and incapable of rising 
to the level of his belief, is to arouse himself, to say to himself 
again and again until it has become, as it were, his subconscious 
possession, 'Trust in God is rational and right, and therefore 
trust I will.' "1 

It must be conceded that many elements have arisen during 

the natural history of prayer, which evoke and conserve faith. 

The question may be asked. Why is it necessary to have faith in 

prayer? Why do many influential 

facts stimulate the faith state? What 

An Interpretation is the function of faith in prayer? An 

of Faith in interpretation of faith may answer 

Prayer these questions to some extent. It will 

be recalled that in the above discussion 

of the psychology of auto-suggestion it 

was pointed out that faith is activity in the direction of the self- 

^E. Worcester, Religion and Medicine, p. 319. 

48 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

realization of the suggested idea. Faith is self-assertion in both 
auto-suggestion and prayer. Moved by faith the soul beats its 
wings against the bars of its prison in its endeavor to break 
through its limitations and live a larger life. In the passages 
already quoted Jesus makes faith the primary condition of 
answer to prayer, but in the following quotation he makes ac- 
tivity the condition which must be met: "Ask, and it shall be 
given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened 
unto you."^ Now activity and faith are not mutually ex- 
clusive, but the former is the expression of the latter. Jesus' 
exhortation to ask, seek, and knock is a commentary on faith in 
prayer.2 *'To believe is to will firmly." ^. 

The justification of faith is that it tends to realize its ob- 
ject. The function of faith is to realize the prayer. The lean- 
ing out toward deliverance, which is characteristic of faith, 
tends to give point and direction to the 
subconscious activity of the personality. 
The Function If we take seriously the doctrine of the 

of Faith unity of life, and the evidence compels 

us to do so, we must admit that in both 
auto-suggestion and prayer the reaction 
of faith is the same. To say the least, subconscious incubation 
in response to faith in a self-suggested idea renders the same re- 
action in response to faith in prayer highly probable. The read- 
ing of prayer literature, the testimony of others, the memory of 
past experiences, the favorable interpretation or the ignoring of 
negative cases, the misconstruction of coincident answers, the 
reiteration of one's belief, — all of these factors tend to give rise 
to longings, hopes, aspirations, strivings, and endeavors, which 
in turn stimulate the subconscious activities in the direction of 

^Luke xi, 9. 

^The popular mind makes no distinction between the 
two terms faith and belief. While there may be a technical dis- 
tinction, for present purposes it will be wholly unnecessary to 
make it. Both words will be used in the same sense and inter- 

^A. Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 75. 

Faith in Prayer 49 

the answer to the prayer. "The unaccomplished volition is 
doubtless an indication that new nerve connections are budding, 
that a new channel of mental activity is being opened; and, in 
turn, the act of centering force (trying) in the given direction 
may, through increased circulation and heightened nutrition at 
that point, itself directly contribute to the formation of those 
nerve connections, through which the high potential of energy 
which corresponds to the new insight expends itself."^ 
Somewhere James, with his usual poignancy, has said that to 
know our limitations is in a certain sense to be already beyond 
them. The fact that the individual who is praying or making 
an auto-suggestion is wholly ignorant and unconscious of any 
effort to realize his own prayer or suggested idea, is by no means 
a valid indication to the contrary. Nevertheless, our inquiry 
into the nature of the answer to the prayer must be reserved for 
the following chapters. 

It must not be overlooked that while from one point of 
view faith expresses itself in willing, from another point of view 
faith is regarded as passivity, inactivity, receptivity, and self- 
surrender. Writers of devotional lit- 
erature are one in their preachment of 
Faith as the surrender of the will as an essential 

Self-surrender of the prayer life. Mr. Murray ex- 

presses the opinion of the majority of 
them when he says, "Faith is simply 
surrender: I yield myself to the impression the tidings I hear 
make on me. By faith / yield myself to the living God.'"^ 
Faith as self-surrender is the casting of the self into the abyss. 
Like a gambler who has lost all save a paltry sum which he 
ventures as his -last stake, knowing well that he has but little to 
lose and everything to win, so the person after many seemingly 
unsuccessful efforts to obtain an answer to his prayer may in 
utter despair cast himself without reservation upon a higher 
power as his last hope. The act of surrender is frequently fol- 
lowed by what seems to the person to be a sudden, and often a 

^E. D. Starbuck, The Psychology of Religion, p. 111. 
^With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 89. 

50 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

dramatic, answering of the prayer. Now surrender is not pe- 
culiar to prayer ; it is quite common in auto-suggestion. In auto- 
suggestion, as pointed out elsewhere, it is often necessary to cease 
straining in order that the subconscious may report to conscious- 
ness. A trite but apt illustration is the recollection of a name 
after one has given up his efforts to recall it. Faith as active 
and strained expectation initiates a subconscious process in the 
right general direction. In order to reach the desired end the 
subconscious processes may deviate somewhat from the initial 
tendency given them by conscious effort. When active effort 
and a corresponding growth of the nervous system are not paral- 
lel, a conflict between the two arises. Surrender, or the ces- 
sation of conscious striving and trying, dissolves the conflict and 
thus makes possible the complete realization of the suggested 
idea or the answering of the prayer. The conflict between the 
subconscious incubation and the slightly misdirected activity of 
the will may result in the indifference, apathy, exhaustion, and 
even despair, which generally precede and accompany the act of 
surrender. The exhaustion of the emotional brain-centers may 
stand in causal relation to the person's impression that further 
striving is useless. But be that all as it may, it seems to be 
the rule that an attitude of passivity and receptivity must be 
assumed before a self -suggested idea can be realized or a prayer 
be answered. Not to insist that surrender is perhaps after all a 
form of self-assertion, it follows that if this interpretation is not 
fallacious, from the point of view of its initiatory and stimulat- 
ing function, faith is the activity of the will, and, that from the 
point of view of its function to give way to the almost mature 
subconscious process, faith is the inactivity of the will. 

We have seen that psychologists are agreed that a sugges- 
tion may be effective regardless of who or what receives credit 
for the outcome. A firm belief that the suggested idea will be 

Faith in Prayer 51 

realized is of prime importance: the identity of the supposed 

agent is a secondary matter so far as 

. ., . the subconscious reaction is concerned. 

^, . ^ It does not in the least affect the sub- 
the Answer to 

T^ ^ -nv- conscious processes tendmg to realize 

Prayer to Diverse ... ^11,1,, 

. . the idea or health whether the patient 

/agencies t_ r * 1 ■ 1 • • 

has laith in a patent medicine or an 

electric belt. It is significant that 
answers to prayer are ascribed to diverse agencies. While some 
believe in a graven image, others believe in a prayer- wheel ; 
while some believe in Buddha, others believe in their ancestors; 
while some believe in the Virgin, others believe in Jesus; while 
some believe in an anthropomorphic God, others believe in an 
immanent God. While almost every conceivable power to 
which an individual may attach supreme worth and value is 
appealed to and believed in, all votaries alike testify to the effi- 
cacy of prayer. The reliance on such a variety of powers seems 
to indicate that the answering of prayer itself is independent of 
the kind of power invoked, for it is faith as such which makes 
operative the laws of the mental life. There is, for instance, 
the peculiar practice which makes of prayer a charm, a fetish, a 
talisman. It is characterized by faith in the mere repetition of 
prayers rather than by faith in a prayer-answering God. It is a 
dependence on the mere saying of prayers. A case in point is 
the following example of the so-called prayer chain, which has 
been so widely circulated that it has become a veritable nuisance : 
"Lord Jesus, I implore thee to bless all mankind. Keep us 
from evil by thy precious blood and make us to dwell with thee 
in eternity. This is an exact copy of an ancient prayer. Copy 
it and see what will happen. It is said in Jerusalem that he 
who will not copy it will meet with mis- 
fortune, but he who will write it nine 
. days beginning with the day he receives 

Faith in a j^ ^^^ ^^^^ ^^^^ -^ ^^^^i day to some 

Prayer Chain ^^..^^^ ^.jj ^^ ^j^^ ^^^^^ j^y experience 

some great joy and will be delivered 
from all calamities. Make a wish while 
writing this and do not break the chain." 

52 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

The incessant and utterly meaningless repetition of the 
Lord's Prayer on the part of numberless persons savors of the 
magician's incantations. It looks as if many had substituted 
the saying of a prayer for the waving of the magician's wand. 
The Rev. F. W. Robertson deplores a similar practice of his boy- 
hood. He says, "I recollect when I was taken up with nine 
other boys at school to be unjustly punished, I prayed to escape 
the shame. The master, previously to flogging all the others, 
said to me ; 'Little boy, I excuse you ; I have particular reasons 
for it,' and in fact, I was never flogged during the three years 
I was at that school. The incident settled my mind for a long 
time; only I doubt whether it did me 
any good, for prayer became a charm. I 
fancied myself the favorite of the In- 
Faith in Prayer visible. I knew I carried about a talis- 

as a Talisman ^^^^ unknown to others, which would 

save me from all harm. It did not make 
me any better, it simply gave me se- 
curity, as the Jew felt safe in being the descendant of Abraham, 
or went into battle under the protection of the Ark, sinning no 
less all the time."^ 

A somewhat higher type of this variety of prayer experi- 
ence is represented in the following quotations: ''Times with- 
out number, in moments of supreme doubt, disappointment, 
discouragement, unhappiness, a certain 
prayer formula, which by degrees has 
built itself up in my mind, has been 
Faith m a followed, in its utterance, by quick and 

Prayer Formula astonishing relief."^ In a letter to a 

friend F. W. Myers writes as follows: 
"Plainly we must endeavor to draw in 
as much spiritual life as possible, and we must place our minds 
in any attitude which experience shows to be favorable to such 
indrawal. Prayer is the general name for that attitude of open 

'^Life and Letters, p. 52. 

^Unbekannt, Outlook, Vol. Ixxxiii, p. 858. 

Faith in Prayer 


and earnest .expectancy. If we then ask to whom to "pTdiy, the 

answer (strangely enough) must be that that does not much 

matter. The prayer is not indeed a purely subjective thing; — 

it means a real increase in intensity of 

absorption of spiritual power or grace; 

T, . . . T-» but we do not know enough of what 

Faith in Prayer , , . , . . , , , 

A ^^-^ J c takes place m the spirit world to know 
as an Attitude of , , , . 
r^ r^ ^ how the prayer operates; — who is cog- 
Open Expectancy . /. \^ , , , , 
nizant or it, or through what channel 

the grace is given. Better let children 

pray to Christ, who at any rate is the 

highestjndividual spirit of whom we have any knowledge. But 

it would be rash to say that Christ himself hears us: while to 

say that God hears us is merely to restate the first principle, — 

that grace which flows in from the infinite spiritual world. "^ 

While many facts sustain the conclusion that it is faith, and 

not necessarily who or what is appealed to and acknowledged as 

the grantor of the request, which initiates subconscious processes 

tending to realize the prayer, it should not be overlooked that 

the kind of things prayed for varies 

somewhat with one's interpretation of 

_- .__ , , . the power implored. While a theology 

The World-view - n , t • 

, . ^ cannot influence the forces answermg a 

and the Prayer ,11. 111 l 

prayer, and while it would be the 

world's greatest tragedy if the answer 
to prayer depended on a proper concep- 
tion of God, nevertheless, it is reasonable to infer that a low 
conception of the character of God begets prayers of a corre- 
spondingly low type, while on the other hand, a higher concep- 
tion of the character of God begets prayers on a higher ethical 
plane. Prayers cannot but reflect to some extent the world- 
view held by the person. 

This chapter has discussed faith in prayer in its various 
aspects. We have seen that it is essential to both auto-sugges- 
tion and prayer. The strains of heredity, the social pressure, 

^Cited in James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 476. 

54 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

suggestion and imitation, religious training, either decrease or 
increase faith. The reading of devotional literature, the testi- 
mony of others who lead rich prayer lives, the memory of per- 
sonal and positive experiences, the favorable interpretation of 
unanswered prayers, the forgetting of many negative cases, the 
acceptance of coincident answers at their surface value, the repe- 
tition of the prayer, — all of these elements and many others con- 
spire to create and augment the faith state. In its early stage 
the function of faith is to arouse and shape the subconscious 
activities upon which the answer to prayer depends. Later one 
must assume an attitude of passivity and receptivity in order that 
the opposition of conscious effort to the rapidly maturing sub- 
conscious product may be withdrawn. The variety of powers 
implored to answer the prayer is an indication that faith is the 
pertinent factor, while the identity of the power invoked is a 
secondary matter. The character of the prayer is, however, a 
partial disclosure of the person's phi- 
losophy. The efficacy of auto-sugges- 
Summary tion is independent of who or what is 

accredited with the result. Thus far 
we have seen that attention and faith 
in prayer are in terms of introducing an idea into the mind and 
having an unshaken confidence that the answer will come. It 
yet remains to be seen whether or not the answer is really a sub- 
conscious phenomenon coming in response to a self-imposed idea. 
If the answer to the prayer is not a subconscious product, a de- 
scription of private prayer in terms of auto-suggestion breaks 
down at the crucial point. It is now our task to examine the 
answers to prayer themselves in order to test the validity of 
what the study of attention and faith has led us to anticipate. 



What is the nature of the phenomenon which comes in 
answer to the prayer? Is it a product of the normal processes 
of our mental life, or is it independent of and at variance with 
the natural order? Is it describable in terms of subconscious 
incubation, or is it totally unlike any- 
thing else with which we are acquaint- 
Method of Analogy ed ? In the following attempt to 
Used in Investigat- answer these vital questions, the method 
ing the Answer of comparing each typical form of an- 

to Prayer swer to prayer with related subconscious 

phenomena will be adopted. This 
method of procedure is called the meth- 
of of analogy. If it can be conclusively shown that answers 
to prayer and kindred subconscious phenomena are identical in 
their fundamental aspects, the inference may be logically drawn 
that they are of the same general character. The value of this 
method will depend upon a real identity in the important char- 
acteristics of the phenomena compared ; the resemblance must be 
essential to the very nature of the things under consideration. 
The points of correspondence must be weighed rather than 
counted, for it would be fallacious to conclude that two things 
are of a piece when they are identical in a large number of minor 
aspects and radically different in only a few essential respects. 

The many varieties of prayer experience, which are possible 
to the individual, make a classification of prayers extremely 
difficult. Tentatively, petitional prayers may be divided into 
two classes: prayers answered through the self, and prayers 
answered through another self. Prayers falling under the first 
division are answered through the life-forces within the organism 
itself, and those of the second class are answered through the co- 
operation of two or more selves. This classification is in agree- 

56 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

ment with the classification of suggestion into auto-suggestion 
and social suggestion. Prayers answered through the self have a 
special correspondence to auto-sugges- 
tion, and those answered through a co- 
Classification operating self are related to social sug- 
of Prayers gestion. This chapter will be devoted 
to a study of the answers to prayer of 
the first class, i. e. of those coming 
through the praying self. Under this head we shall con- 
sider the prayers for regeneration, the elimination of evil, the 
cure of disease, divine guidance. It will be well to bear in mind 
that the purpose of this chapter is not so much to discover which 
prayers may be interpreted in terms of social suggestion and 
which in terms of auto-suggestion as it is to inquire into the 
nature of the answer. 

The wonderful experience of regeneration is quite generally 
attributed to the power of believing prayer. In fact, conversion 
and prayer have so much in common that when the psychology 
of the former is understood, the psychology of many prayers is 
also clear. Fortunately, Professors 
Leuba, Starbuck, Coe, James, and 
Regeneration others have written the psychology of 

and Prayer conversion, and have therefore prac- 

tically discussed the type of prayer in- 
volved. Scattered throughout Profes- 
sor Starbuck's exhaustive inductive study there are many auto- 
biographical accounts of the conversion experience in terms of 
prayer. Dr. Starbuck is driven to conclude that the re-birth of 
the personality is largely a subconscious process. When the 
process of regeneration is marked by well-defined crises, a nar- 
rowing of the field of consciousness, faith as strained expecta- 
tion, self-surrender, and elation are recognizable. In most 
cases it is impossible to determine to a finality whether the prayer 
for conversion has its inception in an auto-suggestion or a social 
suggestion, but under normal conditions the subconscious activi- 
ties are the same in both kinds of suggestion. Let us trace the 

The Answer to Prayer 57 

elements which look toward the subconscious content of the 
answer to the prayer for conversion.^ 

The prayer expresses the disquieting sense of undoneness 
and the yearning for the larger self. "There are forces in hu- 
man life and its surroundings which tend to break the unity 
and harmony of consciousness; and its 
unity once destroyed, the contrast be- 
Narrowing the tween what is, and what might be, gives 

Field of birth to ideals and sets the two selves in 

Consciousness sharp opposition to each other."^ Mat- 

thew Arnold in his "Buried Life" has 
described this state of mind as follows: 
"From the soul's subterranean depth upborne 
As from an infinitely distant land. 
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey 
A melancholy into all our day." 
So long as this mental distress obtains the person does not 
need to force himself to pray; his inner conflict is so great that 
it in itself is sufficient to drive him to his knees. His emotions 
are aroused, he prefers solitude, he fasts or eats sparingly, he 
prostrates himself, he reiterates his petition for salvation, — all of 
which intensifies his prayer experience. It is needless to add 
that under these circumstances the prayer for deliverance is at- 
tended to to the exclusion of other impressions, that it is imposed 
upon the mind. 

The person may for a long time continue to be apparently 
unsuccessful in his efforts to bring about the answering of his 

^Since no distinction between conversion and regeneration is 

necessary in this discussion, none is made. 
^E. D. Starbuck, The Psychology of Religion, p. 155. 

39 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

prayer for conversion. Nature's way of healing the breach in 
the mental life is to widen it. The subconscious growth of a 
new personality is a complex process re- 
quiring considerable time and repeated 
Strainer! stimulation. The seeker strengthens his 

« ^ a.' • ^aith by reading biblical and other de- 

Expectation in 11. , „. , 

•, ^. votional literature, by recallmg the con- 

Regeneration , , , . 

version ot others, by repeating to him- 
self his assurance of being heard. He 
feels encouraged to keep on praying till 
the light comes to scatter the darkness. What he longs for, 
leans out toward, strives for, and expects is a cue for the sub- 
conscious activities. Faith as effort and the subliminal self in- 
teract on each other and thus bring to pass the consummation 
ardently desired. In Christendom where Jesus is the acknowl- 
edged moral leader, the subconscious processes of the seeker 
naturally cluster about a conception of him. To hold in mind 
the Christ-like ideal, and to believe in the possibility of attaining 
it, is the first step toward its actualization. 

It may be alleged that in some cases the interval between 
the making of the prayer and its answer in terms of the new 
life is altogether too short to admit the possibility of the slow 
subconscious growth of a new personality. This argument is 
advanced by those who still cling to 
the conception that in order to have 
a divine source a phenomenon must be 
Sudden independent of natural law. The ex- 

Conversions perience of St. Paul is frequently men- 

tioned in support of the allegation that 
that the process of conversion lies wholly 
outside a natural causal series. Those 
who are of this opinion fail to take into account that although 
consenting to Stephen's death, Paul was too broadminded not to 
have been profoundly moved by the eloquent apology and heroic 
spirit of the martyr. Neither should one overlook the probability 
that the moral integrity of the Christians whom Paul persecuted 
could not have been lost upon one with his passion for righteous- 

The Answer to Prayer 59 

ness. Furthermore, it is significant that between his vision be- 
fore the gates of Damascus and his baptism three days of fasting 
and prayer intervened. Superintendents of rescue missions and 
popular evangelists are constantly referring to persons who 
come to a religious service without previous interest in their 
own religious life and experience regeneration before the gather- 
ing is dismissed. In reply two things must be held fast. In 
the first place, no observer can deny that soon after the excite- 
ment of a revival is over many of the converts of the peripatetic 
evangelist "backslide." The instability of many may be due 
to a lack of preparation coupled with a forced, hot-house growth 
of the religious life, induced by the spell of the revivalist. The 
more permanent rescue mission doubtless prevents many losses 
by training its converts in religion and morals, and by enlisting 
them in social service, by means of which the new life develops 
and finally becomes a subconscious possession, even though the 
conversion experience was superficial. In the second place, no 
one will deny that many of the so-called sudden conversions are 
permanent. There is reason to question whether these stable 
cases are not invariably influenced by previous religious impres- 
sions made, perhaps years before, by the home and church. 
Deep down in the life of the one experiencing a sudden answer 
to his prayer for conversion there have doubtless been antecedent 
yearnings and a reaching out for a better life, which have resulted 
in a corresponding growth of the nervous system. An oppor- 
tune word from the lips of a revivalist may be the spark which 
explodes into consciousness what has been maturing subcon- 
sciously for some time. 

Parallels of subconscious incubation in response to straining 
are common in realms other than the religious, if one may make 
the distinction for the sake of clearness. The subconscious ac- 
tivity in such mental processes as the 
solution of a mathematical problem dur- 
Parallel Cases of ing sleep, the acquisition of skill in 

Subconscious piano-playing, the conception of a plot 

Incubation for a novel, the recollection of seeming- 

ly forgotten data, the contrivance of an 
invention, is too generally recognized 
and admitted to make further comment necessary. The follow- 

60 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

ing account of the steps by which a recent writer of a systematic 
theology reached what he calls his racial theory of the atonement 
will indicate the kinship existing between the answering 
of the prayer for regeneration and subconscious activity in 
general: "For six years (preceded by twelve years of double 
attitude) I tried to preserve these three important qualities (of 
the three great historic theories of the atonement) by the meth- 
od of eclectic synthesis; but the result was so mechanical that I 
was at last obliged to throw it away. I had become hopeless, 
when there suddenly came to me a vision of the full meaning of 
the human race. This vision not only vitalized, but actually 
transformed, my entire theological situation. I saw not merely 
the atonement, but every doctrine, and the total combination of 
doctrine, in a new light. From that supreme hour (on one of 
the hills near Marburg) my one aim has been to get that racial 
vision into living expression."^ 

In his dire extremity the seeker, feeling that further strain- 
ing would be useless, ceases to struggle and at once experiences a 
sense of pardon and deliverance from sin, together with a sense of 
oneness and unity with God or Christ. We have seen that cessa- 
tion of conscious effort dissolves any conflict which may have 
developed in the course of the interac- 
tion between the subconscious activities 
Surrender and the activity of the will. Before the 

in Conversion new self can blossom into consciousness 

all opposition to the subconscious proc- 
esses must be withdrawn. As examples 
of self-surrender followed by the functioning of the new self 
the experiences of Carlyle and John Wesley may suffice. After 
a long period of mental anguish and three weeks of total sleep- 
lessness Carlyle "authentically took the Devil by the nose," and 
thus addressed himself, "What art thou afraid of ? Wherefore, 
like a coward, dost thou forever pip and whimper and go cower- 
ing and trembling ? Despicable biped ! What is the sum total 
of the worst that lies before thee? Death? Well, Death: and say 

^O. A. Curtis, The Christian Faith, p. 316. 

The Answer to Prayer 61 

the pangs of Tophet too, and all the Devil and Man may, will, 
or can do against thee. Hast thou not a heart; canst thou not 
suffer whatever it be; and, as a child of freedom, though out- 
cast, trample Tophet itself under thy feet, while it consumes 
thee? Let it come then; I will meet it and defy it. And as I 
so thought there rushed like a stream of fire over my whole soul ; 
and I shook base fear away from me forever. I was strong, of 
unknown strength, a spirit, almost a god. Ever from that time 
the temper of misery was changed ; not fear or whining sorrow 
was it, but indignation and grim-eyed Defiance * * * It is 
from this hour that I incline to date my spiritual new-birth or 
baphometic fire-baptism; perhaps I directly thereupon began to 
be a man"^ Wesley's experience may be regarded as a some- 
what more normal type. For years he strove toward deliv- 
erance from a divided self. Reluctantly attending a little 
meeting of a few pious souls met for prayer and Bible study, he 
found peace while someone was reading Luther's preface to St. 
Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Wesley himself says, "About a 
quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which 
God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart 
strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, 
for salvation ; and an assurance was given me that he had taken 
away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and 
death." Both Carlyle and Wesley exercised the will in the direc- 
tion of a more victorious self until the old foundations of life 
became so insecure and shaken that they finally cast themselves 
without reservation upon the deeper-lying self ready to assert 
itself. The unification of consciousness, the healing of the 
breach created by the opposition between the old self and the 
ideal self, the functioning of a wider, more competent person- 
ality, relieved the strain and tension, and evoked a sense of deep 

Analogous cases of the subconscious reporting to conscious- 
ness and resulting satisfaction when an attitude of inactivity and 
receptivity is assumed are so numerous that a selection is em- 

^See Sartor Resartus. 

62 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

barrassing. Of the two following examples the first emphasizes 
the cessation of conscious effort, and the second the sense of 
relief. It occurred to Mr. F. H. Wen- 
ham, an amateur optician, that the bi- 
Analogous Cases nocular microscope devised by M. Na- 
chet might be improved by means of a 
prism of a certain shape. "He thought 
of this a great deal, without being able to hit upon the form of 
prism which would do what was required ; and as he was going 
into business as an engineer, he put his microscopic studies en- 
tirely aside for more than a fortnight, attending only to his 
other affairs. One evening, after his day's work was done, 
and 'while he was reading a stupid novel,' thinking nothing 
whatever of his microscope, the form of the prism that should 
answer the purpose flashed into his mind. He fetched his 
mathematical instruments, drew a diagram of it, and worked out 
the angles which would be required ; the next morning he made 
his prism, and found that it answered perfectly well ; and it has 
been on this plan that all the 'binoculars' hitherto in ordinary 
use in this country have been since constructed."^ Note the 
element of satisfaction and elation in the following account of 
the discovery of the method of quaternions. Its author. Sir. W. 
Rowan Hamilton, writes: ''Tomorrow will be the fifteenth 
birthday of the Quaternions. They started into life or light, 
full-grown, on the 16th of October, 1843, as I was walking with 
Lady Hamilton to Dublin, and came up to Brougham Bridge. 
That is to say, I then and there felt the galvanic circuit of 
thought close ; and the sparks which fell from it were the funda- 
mental equations between i, j, k; exactly such as I have used 
them ever since. I pulled out, on the spot, a pocket-book, 
which still exists, and made an entry, on which, at the very mo- 
mentj I felt that it might be worth my while to expend 
the labor of at least ten (or it might be fifteen) years to come. 
But then it is fair to say that this was because I felt a problem 
to have been at that moment solved. — an intellectual want re- 

^W. B. Carpenter, Mental Physiology, p. 538. 

The Answer to Prayer 63 

lieved, — which had haunted me for at least fifteen years be- 
ore ^ 

It may confirm the contention that the answer to the prayer 
for regeneration is a subconscious product to point out that con- 
version is not peculiar to Christianity, that it is a universal 
phenomenon. As examples of conversions other than Christian 
we shall note the experience of Buddha and that of the Sioux 
Indian of the Omaha tribe. At twenty-nine Buddha, hunger- 
ing for the higher values, made his great renunciation, leaving 
his beloved wife, infant son, and magnificent home. After sev- 
en years of what seemed to be hopeless and fruitless searching 
"one night, the old traditions relate, the decisive turning point 
came, the moment wherein was vouchsafed to the seeker the cer- 
tainty of discovery. Sitting under the tree, since then named 
the Tree of Knowledge, he went through successively purer and 
purer stages of abstraction of consciousness, until the sense of 
omniscient illumination came over him * * * 'When I appre- 
hended this,' he is reported to have said, 'and when I beheld this, 
my soul was released from the evil of desire, released from the 
evil of terror, released from the evil of ignorance. In the re- 
leased awoke the knowledge of the release: extinct is re-birth, 
finished the sacred course, duty done, no more shall I return to 
this world ; this I know."^ Among the Sioux Indians the adoles- 
cent boy is sent forth upon some hill to cry to Wakonda without 
asking for anything in particular. "By training his mind and 
body for days, the Sioux boy expels from his mind concepts dis- 
cordant with this course of action. He fills his mind with the 
pictures of heroes ; these heroes are the animals ; and their deeds 
are examples of life * * * Moistened earth is put upon his head 
and face, a small bow and arrows are given him. He seeks a 
secluded spot on some high hill; and under the pines he chants 
the prayer ; he lifts to heaven his hands wet with tears and then 
lays them on the earth ; he fasts, until at last after some days he 
falls into a sleep or trance. If in his dream or trance he hear 

^Cited in ibid., p. 537, also in E. D. Starbuck, The Psy- 

chology of Religion, p. 110. 
^H. Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 107. 

64 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

or see anything, that thing is to become the special mediator 
through which he receives aid. Then, the ordeal over, the 
youth returns for food and rest. No one questions him, but at 
the end of four days he confides his vision to some old man, and 
starts to find the animal he has seen in his trance. The totem is 
the symbol of this animal * * * By it his natural pov^ers are to 
be re-inforced so as to give him success as a hunter, victory as a 
warrior, and even ability to see into the future."^ 

A sense of incompleteness, a narrowing of the field of con- 
sciousness, a straining after deliverance, and an automatic reali- 
zation of the new self, are common to all forms of conversion. 
The various forms of answers to prayer for a re-birth of the self 
and their parallel cases in the field of subconscious phenomena 
betray essential likenesses, and warrant the conclusion that all 

are of the same general nature. This 

does not imply that there is no differ- 
Essential Resem- ence between a conversion and the 
blances in All solution of a mathematical problem 

Conversions and during sleep, or between the conversion 

Their Parallels of a Christian and a Sioux Indian. The 

difference is one of ideas held in mind. 

This ideal in mind tends to express it- 
self regardless of its nature. The kind of conversion experi- 
enced conforms to the ideas and ideals impressed upon the mind. 
The ideal of Buddha was extinction; the ideal of a Sioux is an 
animal ; the ideal of a Christian is Jesus. Buddha's experience 
tended to conform to his ideal of the extinction of desire; the 
experience of the Sioux boy tends to conform to his attention to 
the wild animals ; the experience of a Christian tends to realize a 
Christ-like ideal. Ideas are seeds that grow, and their quality 
and kind determine the subconscious harvest. "Whatsoever a 
man soweth, that shall he also reap." 

As a rule many bad habits are permanently broken through 
the conversion experience, but occasionally a post-conversion 
process is necessary for the elimination of particularly deeply 

^J. H. Woods, The Practice and Science of Religion, p. 
65 ff. 

The Answer to Prayer 65 

rooted evil habits. Conversion may be regarded as a re-creation 
of the whole personality, while the elimination of a specific evil 
touches only a part of the self. As an example of the power of 
prayer to uproot a bad habit the fol- 
lowing case may prove illuminating. A 
The Elimination farmer confesses that although he had 

of Evil Habits been soundly converted and had joined 

the church, he was still subject to vio- 
lent fits of temper. For a long time he 
prayed for self-control, but without any appreciable result. One 
day a steer broke through a fence and, going into a corn-field, 
began to destroy the corn standing in shocks. The rest of the 
cattle were not long in following his lead. By the dint of much 
labor the farmer drove the herd from the field, but the vexation 
cost him a paroxysm of rage. Humiliated and penitent that he 
had given way to his besetting sin, he then and there fell upon 
his knees, and prayed God to deliver him from this evil. While 
in the act of prayer a sweet, soothing, and comforting feeling 
came stealing over him, and he arose from his knees, realizing 
that at last he had been set free. Although often sorely tried 
and tempted he has retained self-mastery from that day. 

His conversion was doubtless genuine, but as to self-control 
it was potential rather than actual in its immediate effects. 
The activity of self-control did not have time to become suffi- 
ciently drilled in before the old tendency to give way to out- 
bursts of temper re-asserted itself. The old neural paths had 
either not been wholly assimilated into 
the new and higher centers, or suffered 
The Psychology an entire atrophy of disuse, and there- 

of the Elimination fore perhaps after the exhilaration of a 
of the Bad Habit dramatic conversion had subsided, the 
former ruling passion began little by 
little to re-organize the remnants of its 
functional paths. A conflict between the old channels of dis- 
charge and the newly functioning personality ensued. Then 
followed a persistent efEort to unify consciousness through pray- 
er. Attention was directed to the vulnerable spot in the self, a 

66 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

belief in the efficacy of prayer to eliminate the evil obtained, 
and a corresponding growth of the nervous system resulted. 
Complete surrender characterized the prayer when deliverance 
came. The casting of the self upon God when conditions were 
auspicious opened wide the way through which the energy was 
shot in the new direction. The instantaneous unification of 
consciousness eliminated tension, and gave rise to a state of exal- 

Fundamentally, all bad habits are broken in the same way. 
Analogies outside the field of prayer may be found in the use 
of hypnotic suggestion for the purpose of eliminating evil. 
Alcoholism, lying, cowardice, kleptomania, sexual disorders, and 
other defects of character have been successfully treated by ex- 
perimenters in hypnotism.^ The elimi- 

_, T^,. . . nation of evil through prayer and the 
The lirlimination , . i- i j i i u 

^ -r^ ., r^, , same thmg accomplished through hyp- 

of Evil Through ^ . , .• i • .1 • 

. ° notic suggestion are identical in their 

^ ^^ . important respects. Both involve a 

Suggestion , . . . ^ . 

^^ mental impression and its automatic 

realization. Note the following paral- 
lel: "Dr. W. E. Harlow hypnotized a young man who was 
addicted to cigarette smoking. In the hypnotic condition he 
told the young man that if he ever smoked again it would make 
him sick. He had the subject repeat: 'If I smoke it will 
make me sick. I will vomit.' The next day when he lighted 
his cigarette he became sick instantly and vomited. He gave up 
the habit of smoking."^ 

The phenomenal growth of many varieties of cults based 
on a more or less occult method of healing diseases is an eloquent 

^See Thirty Authors, Hypnotism and Hypnotic Suggestion, 

p. 227 ff. 
^J. V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, p. 138. 

The Answer to Prayer 67 

testimony to the fundamental desire for the fullness of physical 
life. The deep concern for physical efficiency is often expressed 
in the prayer for the cure of disease. 
As an example of the curative power of 
Prayers for prayer take the case of a young mother 

the Cure who recovered from blood-poisoning in 

of Disease answer to her petition. The ailment 

was incidental to confinement, and 
threatened to prove fatal despite the 
skill of the attending physician and the power of earnest prayer. 
When the physician had given her up, she resigned herself to 
what she believed to be the inevitable and took leave of her hus- 
band and friends. By mistake the nurse in attendance placed 
upon the abdominal organs of the patient a cloth saturated with 
turpentine instead of the witch-hazel prescribed by the physi- 
cian. The application caused excruciating pain, but from that 
hour the patient began to mend. Both husband and wife at- 
tributed the cure to prayer answered through the seeming blun- 
der of the nurse. 

A practicing physician assures the writer that the applica- 
tion of the cloth soaked with turpentine had nothing to do with 
the cure. On closer inspection one is led to conclude that the 
cure was due to certain elements of suggestion common to all 
forms of mental healing. The prayer 
for health was introduced into the 
Factors Common mind. In all the varieties of faith cure 
to All we find a restriction of consciousness to 

Faith Cures the idea of health. The Emmanuel 

Movement insists that the patient ban- 
ish all thought of disease and concen- 
trate the mind on the idea of health.^ Christian Science goes 
so far as to declare the non-existence of disease itself.^ In the 
above case there was a faith straining in the direction of health. 
It is an undisputed fact in mental therapeutics that the firm 

^See E. Worcester, Religion and Medicine, 
^See M. B. Eddy, Science and Health, 

68 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

expectation of the cure is Indispensable to its realization. Dr. 
H. H. Goddard found that in all forms of mental healing there 
is the same underlying principle that the idea of health tends to 
produce health in proportion to the strength of the idea.^ So far 
as the cure itself is concerned it does not matter what particular 
power is appealed to and believed in so long as there is an un- 
shaken faith that health will be restored. Faith in the curative 
power of the royal touch is as effective as faith in a fragment of 
the true cross. Furthermore, it is significant that the patient 
began to improve when she ceased to struggle for health. Doubt- 
less the act of resigning herself to what she believed to be the 
approach of death was in fact a form of self-surrender whic^ 
loosened fresh springs of vitality strong enough to withstand 
the onslaught of the poisonous elements, and to discharge them 
through the excretory organs or to absorb them. The idea of 
health held in mind, believed in, and automatically realized, is 
common to all forms of divine healing and mental therapeutics. 
The following parallel to the answer to the prayer for the 
cure of disease is doubly instructive, for it shows that both 
health and disease may be induced by the mind, that suggestion 
works both ways. "I was to deliver the annual address before a 
college graduating class. When I arose in the morning I was 
too hoarse to speak. What must I do ? The students depended 
upon me. I decided to resort to quinine; went to a drug friend 
and asked him for tw€nty-five cents' 
worth of two-grain capsules. I went to 
T ^ • Tu 1 V. "^y room and began to take the capsules 

^ ^ every fifteen minutes. In two hours 

. my cold was breaking; I could talk 
^ ^ ^^ some, and I was wet with perspiration. 

I became alarmed and told my attend- 
ant to examine the capsules to see if 
there were two grains in them. On examination the capsules 
were found to be empty. The druggist thought I wanted to 
fill the capsules myself. I had taken no quinine, but my cold 

'^Amer. Jour. Psych., Vol. x, p. 431 ff. 

The Answer to Prayer 69 

was cured, and I delivered my address * * * When I related 
my experience with the empty capsules in a lecture at Lorain, O., 
two sisters were much amused. They came to me and told me 
this story: The nurse prepared some capsules for the two sis- 
ters who were sick; one was cured, and the other was made sick 
by the nasty bitter quinine. By mistake they had taken the 
empty capsules."^ 

With reference to the influence of suggestion in the cure 
of disease Professor C. E. Seashore points out four groups of 
cases in which it is more or less effective.^ 1. Functional dis- 
eases like gastric and nervous disorders. These may be directly 
cured through suggestion. 2. Organic diseases. These may 
be ameliorated through suggestion, as when pain is relieved. A 
crisis in an organic disease may be successfully passed through 
the influence of suggestion. 3. Diseases which heal without any 
specific treatment, like typhoid and pneumonia. Here suggestion 
may be a tonic. 4. Surgical cases. In addition to creating an 
atmosphere of good cheer, suggestion 
serves as an anaesthetic in surgical oper- 

rjy, r> . e ations. The case of St. Augustine, who 

The Province of ,. , . , , f • 

■niT J- 1 »*• J- • was relieved of the toothache m answer 

Medical Medicine . , ,. , , , 

to prayer, is duplicated by the experi- 
ence of Professor Coe, who underwent a 
painless dental operation as a result of 
auto-suggestion. In a word, functional diseases may be directly 
and permanently cured by suggestion alone, while organic dis- 
turbances may find it auxiliary. It is doubtful whether the 
prayer for the cure of disease transcends the limits of suggestion. 
A medical practitioner recently remarked to the writer that if 
prayer could always cure us, none of us would ever die. In 
their attempts to establish their claims that organic diseases and 
cases usually referred to the surgeon are curable by faith, the 
advocates of an extreme form of divine healing have displayed 
more zeal than knowledge. The alleged proofs for the validity 

J. V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, pp. 141-142. 
^'Lectures on Psychology, (unpublished). 

70 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

of their so-called test cases have been uniformly exploded when 
scientists have examined them. 

As an example of the lack of scientific precision w^hich gen- 
erally obtains in the collecting of test-cases revealing evidences 
of supernatural healing, Mr. Coombs quotes the follovs^- 
ing case cited v^ith approval by Dr. A. J. Gordon in his book, 
The Mystery of Healing: "A boy 
of ten years of age fell and broke his 
A Test Case arm. A surgeon was called, and the 

Critically arm was bandaged. The next morning 

Examined the boy said to his father : 'Please take 

off these bandages, my arm is well.' 
'Oh no, my son, you will have to wear 
the splints for several weeks.' 'Papa, do you believe in prayer? 
Last night I asked Jesus to cure my arm and He did it.' To 
please the boy the bandage was removed, and the arm was abso- 
lutely well." The case was widely regarded as a remarkable in- 
stance of answer to prayer, but on scientific investigation was 
found to be spurious. The boy whose arm was broken is now a 
physician and diagnoses the case as follows: "The broken arm 
was only a green-stick fracture of the forearm, and after having 
it bandaged for several days the splints were removed to please a 
spoiled boy. The bone would have united in a few days of its 
own accord. After the splints were removed, the arm was 
carried for several days in a sling. This is the miracle. Some 
religious enthusiast started the story. I am that boy, and do 
not crave this notoriety. CARL H. REED."^ 

As to the relative merits of the various forms of faith cure, 
let two authorities speak: Jr. T . B. Hyslop, a specialist in 
nervous disorders, says, "I would state that of all hygienic meas- 
ures to counteract disturbed sleep, depressed spirits, and all the 
miserable sequels of a distressed mind, I would undoubtedly 
give the first place to the simple habit of prayer."^ Dr. H. H. 

'^Religious Delusions^ pp. 147-148. 
^Outlook, Vol. Ixxxi, p. 110. 

The Answer to Prayer 71 

Goddard, who has made a special study of faith cures, has this 
to say: "Religion has in it all there is in mental therapeutics, 
and has it in its best form. It teaches 
temperance in the broadest sense, high 
The Relative ideals and a dependence upon the High- 

Merits of est alone. This preserves those who 

Faith Cures know it, by practice as well as by pre- 

cept, from most of the ills that make up 
the list of those curable by mental 
methods. But further, it teaches a wise submission to the inevi- 
table, a freedom from care and worry, and the spirit of hopeful- 
ness. And these are the exact conditions aimed at in all mental 

Passing on to another form of prayer, let us examine the 
answer to the petition for divine guidance in perplexing situa- 
tions. The answers to this type of prayer range all the way 
from mental repose and poise which enable the person to solve 
his problems successfully through the 
ordinary processes of reasoning or the 

—», T-» e regulating of the usual motor activities. 

The Prayer for , , • , .„ . . 

T^. . r* .J or both, to an mward illummation com- 

Divine Guidance . • I ^^ y_ c r i- • i 

mg with all the lorce oi a divme revela- 
tion. In many cases conscious intellec- 
tion or physical activity, or a combina- 
tion of both, utterly fails to find a way out of a difficulty. It 
not infrequently happens that what conscious effort alone fails 
to accomplish is successfully done through the co-operation of 
the subconscious. 

.Jjl_many^ cases mental poise attained in answer to prayer 
is^he chief condition necessary to proper readjustment of the 
Jig4ividual in a predicament. A respondent writes, "Many times 
prayer calms the heart and mind so that the person can think of a 
way." To believe that the prayer for divine guidance will be 
answered inspires the individual with a confidence that banishes 
all fear and worry and other mental states which obscure a dis- 

^Amer. Jour, Psych., Vol. x, p. 503. 


72 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

passionate view of a difficulty and inhibit any effort to over- 
come it. The expectation of the co-operation of a mighty helper 
tends to construct a personality both physically and intellectually 
competent to do what one asks God to accomplish in a mys- 
terious way for him. ''If we may take seriously (and I suppose 
we may) the Rev. W. A. Sunday's ac- 
count of his first ball game after his 
Mental Poise conversion, prayer played a consider- 
Through Prayer able part in his success. A difficult fly 
came to him in the field at a very criti- 
cal point in the game * * * 'It was up 
to me. I turned and ran with all my might and said, O God ! 
If you ever helped a mortal man in your life, help me get that 
ball, and you haven't much time to decide. I looked over my 
shoulder and saw the ball near — I shot out my left hand, and 
the ball struck and stuck.' "^ Perhaps the answer to this 
prayer was a release from hindering tendencies, a deliverance 
giving him an opportunity to answer his own petition by taking 
advantage of effective motor control. 

As an example of subconscious activity exploded into con- 
sciousness with the force of a vision, the following case is in- 
teresting: A lady who lives in the West relates that a few 
years ago she received a telegram stating that her mother who 
resided in the East was critically ill and that recovery was ex- 
tremely doubtful. Strange to say, she could arrive at no defi- 
nite decision whether to remain at home or to hasten to her 
mother's sick-bed. On the one hand, she had to consider that at 
that time she was entertaining friends, that she was burdened 
with many household duties, and that 
Prayer Inducing she could hardly afford to make the 

a Revelation expensive journey to the East. On the 

other hand, the natural impulse of a 
daughter to nurse her rriother in her last sickness seemed almost 
irresistible. Torn asunder by conflicting thoughts, she made 
her perplexity an object of prayer, believing that her plea for 

^J. B. Pratt, Amer. Jour. Relig. Psych., Vol. iv, p. 58. 

The Answer to Prayer 73 

divine guidance would be answered. A few days later while 
washing dishes and occupying her mind with matters foreign to 
prayer, it became clear to her in a vivid flash of insight that it 
was her duty to remain at home, entertaining her guests, caring 
for her household, and saving her money. She rested content 
in the thought that near relatives in the East would give her 
mother the best of care. The problem solved, she regained her 
poise. It is evident that this prayer is describable in terms of 
auto-suggestion, for we see in it a narrowing of the field of con- 
sciousness, a period of subconscious incubation, a sudden report 
of the subconscious when an attitude of passivity was assumed. 

The following experience is analogous : "When at school, 
I was fond of trying my hand at geometrical problems. One 
baffled me. I often returned to it, in fact kept by me an elabo- 
rate figure. Some years after, and when the problem had not 
been touched by me for some time, I 
had been sitting up till the small hours, 
Subconscious deciphering a crytograph for one of my 

Solution of a pupils. Exulting in the successful solu- 

Geometrical tion, I turned into bed; and suddenly 

Problem there flashed across my mind the secret 

of the solution of the problem I had so 
long vainly dealt with, this secret be- 
ing a slight addition to my elaborate figure. The effect on me 
was strange. I trembled, as if in the presence of another being 
who had communicated the secret to me."^ 

Sometimes the answer to the prayer for divine guidance is 
in the form of visions and voices, and other hallucinations. A 
friend relates that his young child was sick unto death and that 
the physician had pronounced the case hopeless. In his deep dis- 
tress the father prayed that the life of 
the child be spared. One can imagine 
Hallucinations the despair and mental depression of 

in Prayer the parent. One morning when he 

was shoveling coal into the furnace in 
basement of the house, he heard a voice 
saying, "Fear not!" These words comforted him immeasurably. 

^W. B. Carpenter, Mental Physiology, p. 536. 

74 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

The case bears the essentials of auto-suggestion. No doubt the 
subconscious responded in terms of an auditory experience to the 
attention to the prayer and the one-sided mental activity. 

An analogous case is the experience of Socrates and his 

Daimon. It will be recalled that throughout his entire life he 

was on certain occasions conscious of a voice, a divine sign, which 

he called his Daimon. "It assumed for him from the beginning 

the appearance of a foreign influence, a 

higher revelation, an oracle."^ It exer- 

The Daimon cised a restraining and negative influ- 

of Socrates ence, for it did not manifest itself when 

an apparently proper course of action 

was being pursued. To hold in mental 

focus an idea of ethical content was characteristic of him; he 

was known to have been absorbed in contemplation all day long. 

"What distinguished Socrates in his general conduct from his 

fellow-citizens was his power of inward concentration."^ His 

absolute confidence in the reliability of the Daimon was in reality 

the casting of himself upon a deeper-lying self, in response to 

which there rushed up from the currents of the subconscious 

ethical insight in terms of an auditory experience. 

Perhaps the form of the hallucination is largely determined 
by the type or types of mental imagery predominating in the 
individual. Doubtless both the person who was comforted by 
the words "fear not" and Socrates were ear-minded, and hence 
an auditory hallucination. Where the visual type of mental 
imagery is more prominent than any 
other, it is to be expected that the 
Types of Mental answer to the prayer for help and corn- 

Imagery and fort in a trying situation, coming in the 

Temperament in form of a hallucination, will be a vision. 

Hallucinations Where both the visual and the auditory 

types are found together in the same 
person, the hallucination is likely to be 
influenced by both. St. Paul on his way to Damascus saw a 

^E. Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic School, p. 95. 
2Ibid., p. 97. 

The Answer to Prayer 75 

vision and heard a voice. In this connection it is well to note 
that Professor Coe in an inductive study of the influence of tem- 
perament in religion, finds that those who have hallucinations in 
connection with their religious life are subject to them in other 
respects. Where there is a predisposition to hallucination in 
general there are likely to be hallucinations in the religious life. 
One is tempted to infer that the hallucinations coming in re- 
sponse to prayer and those experienced in general are at bottom 
of a piece. This is, however, not the place to offer an extended 
description of hallucination, but merely to point out that the 
sanguine and meloncholic temperaments accompanied as they 
are by an abundance of emotion and a high degree of suggesti- 
bility have a decided tendency to hallucinations both religious 
and non-religious.^ Where favorable temperamental conditions, 
concentration of the attention upon certain groups of ideas, and 
expectation obtain, the hallucination is usually forthcoming.^ 

Before bringing the discussion of this class of prayers to a 
close it will be necessary to take into serious account so-called 
objective answers to prayer. Many well-intentioned persons 
maintain that they obtain answers to prayer for things over 
which man has no control. The writer must confess that he 
has yet to find a case of this kind which can stand a scientific 
test. Lapse of memory, unintentional exaggeration, coincidence, 

the fallacy of accommodating and 

adapting a prayer to some event which 
Objective resembles the answer desired, are some 

Answers of the factors which account for what 

is interpreted as an objective answer. 

The average man is a notoriously in- 
competent observer in all fields other than those in whicn he has 
been trained. When the critical faculties are held in abeyance, 
bias and prejudice, expectation and preconception, gain the upper 
hand, and the sources of error are ignored. The frequent coin- 
cidences, which lead many to believe that objective answers to 
prayer are obtained, are doubtless the result of interest and ex- 

iSee G. A. Coe, The Spiritual Life, p. 104 ff. 
^See E. Parish, Hallucinations and Illusions, 

76 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

pectation. The tendency is to invest coincidental experiences 
with power to influence belief and conduct. "It is only neces- 
sary to become deeply interested in coincidences, to look about 
with eyes open and eager to detect them, in order to discover 
them on all sides; resolve to record all that come to hand, and 
they seem to multiply until you can regard yourself and your 
friends as providentially favored in this direction."^ The fol- 
lowing may serve as an example of so-called objective answers 
to prayer : 

Mr. H. C. Trumbull relates that when he was superin- 
tendent of a mission school he and his teachers determined to 
take a sleigh-ride on Christmas morning to the state prison, 
where they proposed to conduct religious services and visit a 
former pupil who was incarcerated for arson. In the course of a 
meeting called to make the necessary 
arrangements a teacher suggested that 
A So-called possibly there would be no snow-fall on 

Objective Answer or before Christmas and in that case all 
plans would come to naught. Their 
leader, Mr. Trumbull, ventured to say 
that since they were in God's special service and had renewedly 
prayed for guidance in their plans, they might with perfect con- 
fidence trust God to do his part. Returning home from the 
meeting, he realized the delicacy of the position he had taken, 
and fell upon his knees to ask for help and guidance. On Christ- 
mas eve he met his teachers to complete all details and, although 
the sky was star-lit and there was no indication that snow would 
cover the bare earth, they separated for the night with the agree- 
ment to meet the following morning. On Christmas morning 
four inches of snow covered the ground and supplied an excel- 
lent basis for sleighing. The proposed sleigh-ride was now a 
possibility, and all plans were carried out to the letter. The 
teachers were convinced that God had sent the snow in answer to 
their prayers.^ It may seem ungracious to raise the following 

^J. Jastrow, Fact and Fable in Psychology, p. 90. 
illustrative Answers to Prayer, p. 11 ff. 

The Answer to Prayer 77 

questions: Was the snowfall contingent upon the teachers' 
trust in God, or would it have come even if they had not prayed? 
Was there in reality no sign of the coming snow on Christmas 
eve, or might a meteorologist have detected atmospheric condi- 
tions presaging it? Was the incident an objective answer to 
prayer, or a happy coincidence? The writer feels no hesitancy 
in declaring for the latter. 

That answers to personal petitional prayer are subconscious 
phenomena is a conclusion one feels compelled to arrive at by 
way of the evidence cited above. Every answer has its parallel 
in some form of response to a suggested idea. Although the 
moral issues involved in the conversion of a Christian are in- 
finitely higher than those involved in the conversion of a Buddha 
or a Sioux Indian boy, the same psychological principles underlie 
all the varieties of conversion. Each 
phase of conversion has its analogy in 
Summary certain mental states not generally re- 

garded as specifically religious. The 
breaking of a bad habit through prayer 
is duplicated by the elimination of evil through hypnotic sug- 
gestion. Divine healing and mental therapeutics are one in 
their essential characteristics. Praj^ers for guidance are paral- 
leled by the subconscious solution of various kinds of problems. 
The subconscious results of prayer range from the inhibition of 
mental states unfavorable to an adjustment, to a re-birth of the 
self. The conclusion that there is an objective answer to prayer 
in the sense of a direct interference with natural law is based on 
invalid evidence. 



As we have observed elsew^here petitional prayers may be 
divided into two large classes — those which are answered 
through the activity of the life-forces resident within the pray- 
ing personality, and those which are answered by influencing 
another self. Thus far we have studied the answers which 
come through the praying self. The present task is to examine 
the large group of private prayers which 
depend upon a co-operating self for 
Prayers Answered their answers. A private prayer, as we 
Through shall directly see, may become a social 

Another Self suggestion passing through a series of 

mental elaborations in the direction of 
the answer. Any prayer which may be 
answered through the self with which it is original, may also be 
answered through a co-operating self. Answers to the private 
prayers for the conversion of others, for the elimination of the 
evils of others, for the cure of the diseases of others, for guidance 
of others in trying situations, are common. Such prayers are 
altruistic and intercessory. Many other prayers answered in 
response to an appeal to another individual are intended for 
self-expansion, for personal ends. Social suggestion is the key 
to the psychological interpretation of all prayers involving the 
concurrent activities of two or more selves, regardless of whether 
the prayers have their source in self-regard or altruism. 

As an example of this class of prayer let us examine the 
case of a superintendent of a Junior League, who engaged in pri- 
vate prayer to ask for teachers to instruct the children under her 
religious supervision. When she arose from her knees she was 
convinced that if she went into the street helpers would be found 
and her prayer be answered. She obeyed the impulse, but failed 
to enlist any one in the streets. She then felt moved to enter a 
home where she expected to present the need of the Junior League 

80 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

to a young woman with whom she was acquainted. When she 
was informed that her friend was not at home, she requested 
the mother to interest her daughter in the matter. The mother 
reluctantly consented to inform her daughter of the call for vol- 
unteer teachers, insisting that the young woman was interested 
in too many other things to assume the responsibilities of im- 
parting religious instruction to children. Entering another 
home, the superintendent was doomed to a second disappoint- 
ment. The woman solicited refused her services on the ground 
of pressing social engagements. The superintendent returned 
home in a confused state of mind, for she had confidently ex- 
pected a readier response to her appeal 
and the consequent answer to her 
A Case of prayer. She was, however, agreeably 

Prayer as surprised when after a few weeks both 

Social Suggestion young women reported for work as 
teachers in the Junior League. This 
prayer experience is not essentially dif- 
ferent from the normal process of social suggestion influencing 
the individual in his daily life. When others were approached 
with the need, the prayer became a social suggestion. It is of 
interest to note that in the one case the interest of two other 
selves were aroused. The request was lodged in the mind of 
one young woman through the medium of the mother who in- 
formed her daughter of the call for volunteer teachers. In the 
other case the need was introduced into consciousness by the 
superintendent herself. The indirect and the direct appeals 
passed through a period of growth, largely subconscious, and 
issued in the personal response and active interest. 

Thus prayers for things within the gift of others, such as 
store and time, are answered by letting others know of the need. 
The answer depends largely upon the willingness of others to 
respond, upon the suggestibility and liberality of others. A 
widely quoted illustration of the power of prayer to move others 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued 81 

to contribute of their resources to benevolent causes, is the ex- 
perience of George Mueller, who for many years conducted an 
orphanage, depending solely upon an- 
swers to prayer to supply the necessary 
The Case of funds. His simple trust in the efficacy 

George Mueller of prayer, his irreproachable character, 

the nature of the benevolent cause he 
represented, the fact that it was gener- 
ally known thatuthe orphanage was dependent upon the generos- 
ity of the public for its support, — all of these factors made their 
own irresistible appeal to the friends of the institution. It would 
be difficult to imagine circumstances more favorable for arousing 
the social sympathies.^ 

Prayers of intercession are answered in much the same way 
as are those for money or service. Prayers in behalf of others tend 
to become social suggestions realizing themselves when the per- 
sons prayed for are in touch with the intercession and respond. 
This type of prayer tends to beget prayer. The intercession may 
pass through considerable mental modification and then give 
rise to personal prayers for regenera- 
tion, purity of life and other religious in- 
The terests. It has been implied that a 

Prayer of primary condition of the answering of 

Intercession this type of prayer is that the person for 

whom intercession is made have at least 
an inkling of the petitions offered in his 
behalf. The influence of early religious suroundings, the knowl- 
edge that somebody is praying for him, cannot fail to color the 
life of the person. The late Jerry McCauley, for years the 
superintendent of the Bowery Mission of New York City, is 
reported to have said, "I never yet knew a man to be perma- 
nently reclaimed who did not have a good mother."^ A Metho- 
dist layman in a letter to his son, who is preparing himself for 
the ministry, says, "You are our first-born, and in a tender mo- 

^See George Mueller, The Life of Trust. 
^Cited in F. W. Davenport, Primitive Traits in Religious 
Revivals J p. 310. 

82 Auto-Suggestion in Private Praye?- 

ment we dedicated you to the ministry in the church in which 
your mother was raised and at whose altars I was converted. 
* * * Your mother and I, before you were an hour old, 
prayed that God would choose you to be one of his ministers. 
You know that we have not forced you to enter the ministry, or 
even urged you."^ The prayer of dedication, followed, as it 
certainly was, by numberless intercessions, doubtless built itself 
into the son's character and was influential in turning him toward 
the ministry. 

It may be urged, and rightly so, that, whereas in this dis- 
cussion and the illustrations used there has been more or less 
blending of public and private prayer and utilizing of the ordi- 
nary channels of communication, countless secret prayers have 
been answered without the conscious knowledge of such on the 
part of the persons whose co-operation was involved. Without 
pausing to refer some so-called answers 
to misinterpretations discussed in the 
Prayer and previous chapters, it may be pointed out 

Subconscious that while the co-operating person may 

Perception be wholly unaware of receiving any tid- 

ings of the prayer, the subconscious may 
take note of impressions imperceptible to 
consciousness. The range of our mental life is far more exten- 
sive than the phychic experience of which we are aware. It has 
been repeatedly demonstrated that we are influenced by a mul- 
titude of subconscious impressions of which we are ignorant. It 
may be well to refer to a number of experiments which have 
revealed the presence of subconscious perceptions. 

Experimentation in hypnotism frequently discloses mental 
impressions of which the subject was unaware. "Several friends," 

^Robert Allen, Letters of an Old Methodist to His Son in 
the Ministry, p. 16. 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued .83 

writes Max Dessoir, "were in my room, one of whom, Mr. W., 

was reading to himself, while the rest of us were talking with one 

another. Some one happening to men- 

Subconscious '7 f,^ "^™^ f .^^'"- ^^ '" «''^°'" 

y . Mr. W. IS much mterested, Mr. W. 

•D 111. raised his head and asked, 'What was 

Kevealed by , , , ^r x^ •^. xx , 

TT ,• that about Mr. X.?' He knew noth- 

rlypnotism • i i i i 

mg, he told us, about our previous 

conversation; he had only heard the 
familiar name, as often happens. I then hypnotized him, with 
his consent, and when he was pretty deeply entranced I asked 
him again as to the conversation. To our great astonishment, 
he now repeated to us the substance of our whole conversation 
during the time he was reading to himself."^ 

Many experiments, of which the following is an example, 
have revealed the fact that our judgments are influenced by 
factors imperceptible to the waking consciousness. *'Two 

illuminated surfaces were compared 

y , when the intensity of the illumina- 

i n J t tion differed by a very slight yet 

Influenced by , , i , • f 

TT • VI measurable amount, the subject be- 

Unrecognizable . , , . , r 

_ . -. ing required to state which sulrrace 

was the brighter. The difference was 
so slight that it could not be recog- 
nized, and the subject was therefore compelled to 'guess.' The 
result of 'guessing' showed that the brighter was corectly desig- 
nated with a frequency so great that the unrecognized difference 
was clearly effective in determining the choice. The observa- 
tions have shown that differences too small to be discriminated 
may still influence our reactions, and it is thus seen that among 
effective stimuli there must also be included those which we 
do not recognize."^ 

Experimental investigation in involuntary whispering has 
brought out the fact that whenever we think there is an initial 

^Cited in Boris Sidis, Psychology of Suggestion, p. 152. 
^Donaldson, The Growth of the Brain, p. 292. 

84 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

and incipient movement of the vocal mechanism appropriate 
to the utterance of the thought, which although inaudible to 
the waking consciousness of another may be subconsciously per- 
ceived. Two experimenters in telepathy, F. C. Hanson and 
A. Lehmann, were seated with backs 
toward each other. Numbers from 10 
_ . to 99 were taken out of a bag in hap- 

^__, . . ^ hazard manner and held in mind by 

Whispering , , ^, 

° one of the experimenters. 1 he part 

of the other was to state what number 
was being held in mind. It was soon 
noticed that when a number was thought of for some time 
there was a decided tendency on the part of the vocal muscles 
to inervate. Caution was exercised to keep the mouth closed. 
A bystander insisted that he heard no sound. An examination 
of the results shows that chance does not account for the pro- 
portion of correct responses. Doubtless the transference of the 
ideas of number occurred through the sense of hearing, the in- 
voluntary whispering being subconsciously registered by the 
agent.^ Subsequent experiments confirm this conclusion. Mr. 
H. S. Curtis conducted experiments which recorded automatic 
movements of the lar>'nx when the Lord's Prayer was men- 
tally recited.^ That thought is generally, if not always, accom- 
panied by a jiggling of the larynx, indicating incipient whisper- 
ing which the subconscious of another may record, seems to 
be well established. 

Space does not permit a description of the experiments 
which reveal our ignorance of the presence of organic reactions 
to slight stimuli, such as the afflux of blood to the brain during 
mental effort, and of the automatic movements of the hands, 
head and body in the direction of the attention.^ Enough has been 
said to sustain the contention that our feelings, thoughts and 
actions are modified by our responses to stimuli too slight to be 

^See W. Wundt, Philosophische Studien, Vol. xi., part 4. 
^Amer. Jour. Psych. Vol. xi., p. 2. 

^See J. Jastrow, A Study of Involuntary Movements, in 
Fact and Fable in Psychology, p. 307. 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued 85 

consciously recognized. The range of the sensibility of the sub- 
conscious is not co-extensive with that of the waking conscious- 
ness. A private prayer may make im- 
pressions too faint or indistinct to 
Prayer attract the attention of another and yet 

Involuntarily be subconsciously perceived. Neither 

Transferred the person making the prayer nor the 

one answering it may be aware of the 
delicate process of subconscious sense- 
perception, or hyperaesthesia, and therefore neither is able to 
account for the reaction in terms of an orderly sequence. When 
the transmitter is not conscious that the receiver has perhaps 
subconsciously taken note of the unintended signals of the prayer, 
there is a natural tendency to ascribe the answering of it to the 
miraculous intervention of God. A handshake, a gesture, facial 
expressions, inadvertent hints, impressions carried between the 
lines of a letter, and many other factors unrecognized by the 
waking consciousness, indicate one's interest in the religious 
welfare of another. Doubtless some persons are more sensitive to 
weak stimuli than others, and some are constantly betraying more 
of their inner states than others. When we add to uncon- 
scious preception the many other means of giving and taking 
hints of prayers intended to influence others, the sources of 
information seem legion. Taking a hint from A., B. may inform 
C. that he is mentioned in the prayers of D., or is an object of 
D.'s solicitude. The pathway that a private prayer may take 
to reach the person it is intended to touch may be labyrinthian, 
and we may not be able to predict how, when, or where it will 
travel, yet we may rest assured that unless it somehow does 
arrive at its proper destination it will be unanswered. 

What has been urged in another connection regarding 
lack of precise observation, unconscious exaggeration, coincidence 
and their effect on an interpretation of answer to prayer should 
receive a fresh emphasis and application at this juncture. As an 
example of how a lack of knowledge of mental behavior leads 
to misinterpretations of prayer, an incident or two recorded 

86 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

by Mr. H. C. Trumbull may be instructive. He writes that 
one day his friend and helper, Mr. John Wattles, came to his 
home and discovered that he had lost 
a gold sleeve-button during an ab- 
Misinterpretations sence of several hours in Hartford. At 
of Subconscious the suggestion of Mr. Trumbull, he 

Impressions retraced his steps, looking for the miss- 

ing article wherever he had been since 
he had last noticed it. While writing 
in his study after the departure of his friend, Mr. Trumbull 
was very much disquieted because he had sent the young man 
upon his mission without so much as even suggesting to him 
that he should pray for God's guidance. In deep contrition Mr. 
Trumbull fell upon his knees and prayed for forgiveness and 
the success of his friend. When Mr. Wattles returned he 
reported success. He stated that he had reached the house 
again without finding the sleeve-button and was about to open 
the door when he was prompted to halt and look back. Obey- 
ing the impulse, he found the lost article lying upon the very 
door-step. When Mr. Trumbull related his prayer experience, 
both were convinced that the lost object was located through 
prayer.^ On closer investigation it must be confessed that the 
prayer played no part whatsoever in the finding of the sleeve- 
button. The prompting to halt and look back upon the door- 
step need not be regarded as an impression direct from God 
in answer to prayer, but may be interpreted in terms of sub- 
conscious activity of Mr. Wattles himself. Perhaps his 
attention was fixed upon business affairs, and therefore the 
dropping of the sleeve-button from the sleeve to the door-step 
was but dimly and subconsciously noted. When the search 
for it was relinquished, the subconscious impression became potent 
enough to induce hesitancy and the impulse to look in the di- 
rection of the lost article. Or, to suggest another possibility, 
arriving at the home of his friend after his futile efforts in the 
city, Mr. Wattles may have preceived the sleeve-button out 

^H. C. Trumbull, Illustrative Answers to Prayers, p. 75 ff. 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued 87 

of the "tail of his eye," and the preception, although in the 
fringe of consciousness, may have been definite enough to arouse 
the action resulting in the end of the search. Whatever the 
incidental steps may have been vi^hich led to the recovery of the 
article, it is quite clear that it w^ould have been found through 
the same process of consciousness, even if no prayer for guid- 
ance had been made by the friend of the seeker. Instances 
of finding lost or mislaid articles in much the same w^ay, even 
when no prayer for the success of the search is made, are too 
numerous to mention. 

The same writer gives a psychologically similar incident 
reported by a college president's wife. The president's resi- 
dence was situated in a secluded spot quite apart from the 
travelled highway. During his absence his wife was one night 
awakened by hearing a burglar forcing an entrance into the 
house. She knew that a policeman visited the grounds at certain 
hours of the night; hence her prayer, "Lord, send a policeman 
to our rescue." Just then she heard the report of a pistol. The 
startled woman sprang to the window and by the light of the 
moon saw signs of a struggle. In a 
moment a policeman appeared before 
A the house and asked to be admitted in 

Similar order that he might see what harm 

Case the burglar had done. Gaining admit- 

tance, he told his story. He had made 
the usual visit in the vicinity, finding 
that all was well. While he was on his way to the road, some- 
thing told him to retrace his steps and investigate. Going back 
to the president's home, he saw a burglar entering a window. 
Pistol-shots were exchanged. The burglar fled to the river 
which was only a short distance from the house, and attempted 
to escape in a small boat, but was disabled and drowned. The 
coming of the policeman at the opportune time was regarded 
as the answer to the prayer made by the president's wife.^ It 
is needless to say that the elements of subconscious perception 

Hbid, p. 137 if. 

88 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

are prominent in this episode. The fact that the policeman was 
troubled in mind, and therefore returned to the house, throws 
light upon the subject. Doubtless his first visit was accom- 
panied by a subconscious registration of unrecognizable im- 
pressions — minute evidence of the presence of a burglar. It 
was the subconscious prompting of impressions that the self 
had been taught by experience to associate with the presence 
of burglars that sent him to the rescue. He would have arrived 
even if prayer had been omitted. A premonition ascribed to 
the sixth sense is an analogy. The sixth sense is subconscious 
sensibility and elaboration. 

We have seen that genuine answers to prayers involving 
the co-operation of others are dependent upon the transmission 
of some message of the prayers through the normal means of 
communication, its conscious or subconscious reception, and the 
suggestibility of the receiver. One is tempted to go a step 
farther. There are cases on record of the efficacy of the mere 
belief that intercession was made when in reality no prayer 
for another was offered. *'In South Chicago a lady had a serious 
case of heart trouble. The physicians 
told her that the case w^as probably 
The Effect of hopeless. She then sent her husband to 

Mere Faith in see the Christian Science doctor. The 

Intercessions healer told the husband that he could 

heal her by absent treatment, and that 
if he should go home and select an hour 
he would pray and she must pray, and only think of being healed. 
He also informed the husband that the wife must dress loosely 
and be very quiet. His wife selected 8 P. M. the next day. 
The husband was a travelling man, and the next morning 
started to tell the healer to treat his wife at 8 P. M., but found 
he could not stop off and make the train he wanted. He did 
not see the healer. That night the wife robed herself, and 
meditated upon being healed. Of course, she thought the doc- 
tor was praying for her, but he knew nothing about it, but 
that did not matter. The next day she wrote her husband 
that she was much improved. The third day she arose, dressed 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued 89 

and went about her work. The fourth day she wrote to her 
husband at Aurora : 'I am well.' "^ Her belief, although un- 
warranted, that the healer was praying for her tended to realize 
the idea of health. When her husband returned home again 
he could contain himself no longer and at once disabused her 
mind of the belief that the curist had prayed for her recov- 
ery. The sudden revelation was more than she was able at 
that time to bear; she suffered a relapse and expired within 
ten hours. Despite its unfortunate ending, the case is instructive 
in that it shows the power of faith in the prayers of another, 
even when that faith is without objective ground. 

Parenthetically it may be remarked that doubtless many 
persons are converted, delivered from all manner of pernicious 
evils, cured of functional diseases and helped in others, and 
guided out of perplexities, because they are convinced that they 
are mentioned in the prayers of others whom they respect, even 
when no intercession is made. The report of another's prayerful 
interest in one may be false ; our sources 
of information are not always abso- 
A Source lutely reliable. While we do know 

of Error in more than we consciously know, hear 

Judgment more than we consciously hear, see 

more than we consciously see, it is 
nevertheless true that judgments based 
upon subconscious impressions are not infallible. One may 
waken in the dead of the night, fully persuaded that an intruder 
has found his way into the house. The subconscious may have 
taken note of data too delicate to be perceptible to conscious- 
ness, and the conclusion is drawn that a burglar in the house 
is stealthily seeking loot. The real cause of the disquieting 
experience may be a timid mouse nibbling a dry cracker in the 
pantry. How may of our premonitions has time proved to 
be groundless! 

Prayers for the dead are regarded by some as a legitimate 
form of intercession. One writer of devotional literature makes 

^J. V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, p. 142. 

90 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

the following plea for them: "And the blessed dead! — those 

happy souls 'who have departed thence in the Lord!' They, 

too, come within the limitless range of intercessory prayer. May 

we pray for them? Three words will 

help us to answer the question: law, 

Prayers love and liberty. Law allows it; love 

for the commands it; liberty embraces it."^ 

Dead There is of course no valid evidence 

for believing that the prayers of the 

living influence the dead. Only a few 

protestant denominations teach the duty and efficacy of praying 

for the dead. It would, however, be rash to declare that this 

form of intercession is without any effect. The result, so far 

as can be determined, is reflexive. Such prayers tend to deepen 

the social sympathies. Since the altruistic sentiments grow 

beneath the threshold of consciousness, the subjective influence 

of the prayer is largely in terms of subconscious products. 

No doubt some who are reading these pages have been 
expecting a reference to telepathy, or thought-transference with- 
out the channels of sense-perception, as a means of influencing 
others at a distance. Briefly stated, this theory maintains that 
one can read the thoughts of another 
at a distance and control them, per- 
ceive physical phenomena occurring no 
Telepathy matter how far removed from the per- 

cipient, see into the future, communi- 
cate with the dead, and do many other 
wonderful things. The writer is frank 
to say that he is forced to reject the evidence for telepathic 
marvels as scientifically untenable. Such competent students 
of borderland psychology as Muensterberg, Jastrow, Parish, and 
others, reduce the so-called telepathic occurrences to a hopeless 
jumble of suggestion, unconscious perception, chance, coin- 
cidence, hallucinations, illusions, defective observation, expecta- 
tion, imagination, exaggeration and deliberate, or unintentional, 

^E. E. Holmes, Pr^^'er and Action, p. 51. 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued 91 

fraud. These scientists insist that an unbroken chain of sen- 
sations intermediates every perception. Professor Muensterberg 
describes the following typical case of alleged telepathic in- 
fluence : 

"There came to me, late at night, a stranger, in wildest 
despair, resolved to commit suicide that night if I could not 
help him. He had been a physician, but had given up his prac- 
tice because his brother on the other side of the ocean, hated 
him and had him under his telepathic influence, troubling him 
from over the sea with voices which mocked him and with im- 
pulses to foolish actions. He had not slept nor eaten anything 
for several days, and the only chance for life he saw was that 
a new hypnotic influence might overpower the mystical hypnotic 
forces. I soon found the source of 
his trouble. In treating himself for 
A Case of So-Called a wound he had misused cocaine in 
Telepathic an absurd way, and the hallucination 

Influence of voices was the chief symptom of his 

cocainism. These products of his 
poisoned brain had sometimes reference 
to his brother in Europe, and thus the telepathic idea grew 
in him and permeated his whole life. I hypnotized him, and 
suggested to him with success to have sleep and food and a 
smaller dose of cocaine. Then I hypnotized him daily for six 
weeks. After ten days he gave up cocaine entirely, after three 
weeks the voices disappeared, and after that the other symptoms 
faded away. It was not, however, until the end that the telepathic 
theory was exploded. Even when the voices were gone, he felt 
for a while that his movements were controlled from over the 
ocean; and after six weeks when I had made him quite well 
again, he laughed over his telepathic absurdities, but assured 
me that if these sensations came back again he would be unable, 
even in full health, to resist the mystical interpretation, so 
vividly had he felt the distant influences."^ 

^Psychology and Life, p. 242 If. 

92 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

The writer emphatically reiterates that he cannot accept as 
valid the findings of those, be they ever so sincere, who de- 
clare that the doctrine of telepathy is the only explanation of 
certain cases of thought-transmission. 
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that 
Prayer whether one has recourse to a method 

as Social of thought-transference without the 

Suggestion ordinary means of communication, or 

is persuaded that without the inter- 
ruption of the usual series of sensations 
consciously or subconsciously perceived the person to be influ- 
enced by a prayer cannot be reached, the contention here main- 
tained is granted — the contention that in order to be truly 
effective the plea or intercession must find its way into the mind 
of another. The prayer thus introduced into the life of another 
acts as a social suggestion, the prominence accorded the prayer 
depending upon the suggestibility of the person for its object, 
the answer ranging all the way from the granting of a mere 
trifle to conversion. 

We are now prepared to appreciate the important part 
which auto-suggestion plays in private prayer. We have ob- 
served how prayer attracts and holds the attention. We have 
seen that the isolation of the person, suspension of vision, posture, 
automatic motor phenomena of mental effort, fasting, oral 
repetition, emotion, voluntary attention and other factors con- 
spire to fix in mind the prayer. The importance of the faith state 
has been emphasized. Devotional lit- 
erature, the testimony of others, the 
recollection of personal experiences, the 
Summary misinterpretation of unanswered pray- 

ers or the ignoring of the same, the 
acceptance of coincidental cases, the 
repetition of the prayer, are some of the 
elements which arouse and increase faith. Attention is selective 
in its nature, and the narrowing of the field of consciousness 
to a certain group of ideas embodied in a prayer determines just 
which ideas among the many possible ones shall be prominent 

The Answer to Prayer — Continued 93 

in the mind. Faith at first consciously or unconsciously strives 
toward the realization of the prayer held in mind, and then 
becomes passive in order that the subconscious element may 
come to completion. The prayer held in mental focus and be- 
lieved in tends to realize itself automatically. That the answers 
to prayer are due to the interaction of conscious and subconscious 
factors, the analogies taken from departments of life which usu- 
ally receive no religious recognition seem to indicate. Plainly all 
answers to prayer are of the same general nature as their 
analogies. The element of auto-suggestion is perhaps more 
pronounced in the prayers answered through the self than in 
those answered through another self. The prayers of the self for 
regeneration, elimination of evil, purity of life, cure of disease, 
help in a predicament, bristle with the essentials of auto-sug- 
gestion. In prayers that look toward the co-operation of others, 
auto-suggestion tends to construct a personality radiant with 
faith and confidence which increase the effectiveness of the social 
suggestion upon which the answer depends. It would be folly 
to say that prayer is nothing more than suggestion. Prayer 
is indeed more than a mere mental impression which tends to 
express itself through the automatic processes of the personality. 
It is suggestion plus a religious attitude. Prayer clothes the 
skeleton of suggestion with the warm flesh of religious sanction. 
Suggestion is swallowed up in prayer. It would immeasurably 
enrich the personal life if the religious interpretation were ex- 
tended to all the phenomena of suggestion which in any way 
minister to the needs of man. 



The majority of the best religionists of our day aver that 

prayer is infinitely more than petition for special favors, that 

the true prayer is devotional rather than petitional. They 

regard prayer as a reverential attitude, 

a mode of self-expression, meditation on 

T\ ^- I life's deepest problems, communion w^ith 

Devotional , ^ . ., , ^ ^l 

p the Invisible. lo them prayer is an 

end in itself and not so much a means 
to an end. This kind of prayer v^^e 
shall call devotional. It embraces the 
prayers of confession, adoration, worship and thanksgiving. 

Haunted by a sense of guilt and regret, the person may 
seek and find relief in the prayer of confession. Convinced 
that God will lend a sympathetic ear, he freely confesses in 
prayer what he withholds from his most intimate human friend. 
The confession is followed by a sense of unity with his maker. 
The benefits of this type of prayer are 
set forth with characteristic vividness 
The by Brother Lawrence in the following 

Prayer of description: "I consider myself as the 

Confession most wretched of men, full of sores 

and corruption, and who has committed 
all sorts of crimes against the King. 
Touched with a sensible regret, I ask forgiveness, I abandon 
myself in His hands that He may do what He pleases with me. 
The King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chas- 
tising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, 
serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His 
treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incess- 
antly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all 
respects as His favorite."^ 

^The Practice of the Presence of God, p. 25. 

96 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

For countless ages man has experienced relief through 
confession in various forms. Religious leaders recommend con- 
fession to God, the pastor, or friend. Pent-up emotions escape 
through vocal expression ; grief exhausts itself in cries and tears. 
Family quarrels which do not originate in a controversy con- 
cerning the fundamentals tend to clear the domestic atmosphere. 
Some persons discharge their wrath and indignation against 
a correspondent in a violent letter which is consigned to the 
waste-basket when it is written. Criminals at large, crushed 
by the weight of unconfessed crimes, occasionally surrender 
themselves to the police, preferring the sentence of the court to 
the qualms of conscience. Although confession has unbur- 
dened the mind of man for many cen- 
turies, the psychology of it has been 
Psychoanalysis obscure until Dr. S. Freud and his co- 

in workers contributed their theory and 

Confession practice of psychoanalysis. In his lec- 

tures on Psychoanalysis Dr. Freud 
throws light on the prayer of confes- 
sion. A careful study of hysteria convinced him that its cause 
is a half-suppressed wish repugnant to the moral ideals of the 
patient. The wish lingers in the subconscious, but as often as 
it tends to come to consciousness it is repressed. To converse 
freely about the root of the disturbance relieves the patient; 
therefore, the physician encourages him to confess whatever is 
lurking in the mind, be it ever so trivial or embarrassing. An 
irrelevant statement or phrase may betray the wish which the 
patient is trying to suppress. If the desired information is not 
given during the conversation with the physician, it may be 
obtained through hypnosis.^ 

Dr. Freud cites the following case as an illustration of 
the principles involved in psychoanalysis: *'It is that of a young 
girl, who was deeply attached to her father, who died a short 
time before, and in whose care she had shared * * * 

^American Journal of Psychology, Vol. xxi, p. 181 if. 

Devotional Prayer 97 

When her older sister married, she grew to feel a peculiar sym- 
pathy for her new brother-in-law, which easily passed with her 
for family tenderness. The sister soon 
fell ill and died, while the patient and 
Freud's her mother were away. The absent 

Theory ones were hastily recalled, without be- 

Illustrated ing fully told of the painful situation. 

As the girl stood by the bedside of her 
dead sister, for one short moment there 
surged up in her mind an idea, which might be framed in these 
words : 'Now he is free and I can marry him.' We may be sure 
that this idea, which betrayed to her consciousness her intense 
love for her brother-in-law, of which she had not been conscious, 
was the next moment consigned to repression by her revolted 
feelings. The girl fell ill with severe hysterical symptoms, 
and, when I came to treat the case, it appeared that she had 
entirely forgotten that scene at her sister's bedside and the un- 
natural egoistic desire which had arisen in her. She remem- 
bered it during the treatment, reproduced the pathogenic mo- 
ment with every sign of intense excitement, and was cured by 
this treatment."^ 

Freud contends that an impulse freed from repression can 
in no w^ise prove subversive to the moral attribute. In fact, 
the wish exerts a far more pernicious influence when it is sub- 
conscious and therefore not amenable to control than when it 
is conscious and therefore acted upon by tendencies which 
destroy its power. As soon as it is 
set free, many an impulse is consumed 
Disposition by the moral sense. In other cases the 

of the liberated wish cannot be wholly con- 

Freed Wish demned, but may be refined and regu- 

lated and discharged through higher 
channels. In still other cases the 
legitimacy of the freed impulse may be frankly admitted. The 
confession of the young girl cured by Dr. Freud purged the 

Hbid., pp. 193-194. 

98 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

personality of the noxious element at once. It is thinkable 
that she might have been led to express her love for her brother- 
in-law in the kindly deeds of social service. Under still other 
circumstances, perhaps she might have found her love legitimate 
and abandoned herself to it. 

Dr. Freud's theory of psychoanalysis seems to hark back 
to Aristotle's conception of the function of tragedy, and to be 
an elaboration of his doctrine of katharsis. The great phi- 
losopher defined tragedy as follows: 
''Tragedy is an imitation of an action 
Aristotle's that is serious, complete, and of a cer- 

Theory of tain magnitude; in language embel- 

Katharsis lished with each kind of artistic 

ornament, the several kinds being 
found in separate parts of the play; in 
form of action, not of narative ; through pity and fear effecting 
the proper katharsis, or purgation, of these emotions."^ We 
are here concerned with his theory of katharsis. While the 
meaning of katharsis has bafEled many of Aristotle's interpreters, 
the following exposition is illuminating: *'In the medical lan- 
guage of the school of Hippocrates it {katharsis) strictly de- 
notes the removal of a painful or disturbing element from the 
organism, and hence the purifying of what remains, by the 
elimination of alien matter. Applying this to tragedy we observe 
that the feelings of pity and fear in real life contain a morbid 
and disturbing element. In the process of tragic excitation 
they find relief, and the morbid element is thrown ofF. As the 
tragic action progresses, when the tumult of the mind, first 
roused, has afterwards subsided, the lower forms of emotion 
are found to have been transmuted into higher and more refined 
forms. The painful element in the pity and fear of reality is 
purged away; the emotions themselves are purged."^ 

^Translated by S. H. Butcher, Aristotle's Theory of Poetry 

and Fine Art, p. 240. 
Ubid.,^pp, 253-254. 

Devotional Prayer 99 

Now the prayer of confession may be described in terms 
of psychoanalysis. It also is a kind of katharsis which expels 
disquieting elements from the personality. An unforgiven and 
unconfessed moral lapse, secret temptation, questionable and 
haunting desires may create a disturb- 
ance when they are refused admittance 
Psychoanalysis no matter how persistently they may be 

in Confession knocking on the door of consciousness. 

Through Prayer Finally, the individual may unburden 

himself in the prayer of confession. 
Convinced that God is all compassion, 
he withholds nothing that oppresses him. One confession blazes 
the way for another until the disturbing idea has been confessed. 
The impulse which is now allowed to represent itself above the 
threshold of consciousness may stand convicted before the 
tribunal of conscience and be sentenced to die at once, or the 
culprit before the bar of justice may be declared innocent and 
be permitted to run at large, or the offender may be neither 
wholly acquitted nor condemned, but be restrained and dis- 
ciplined for higher ends. As an example of the possibilities 
of the outcome of the prayer of confession let us take three ways 
of disposing of the impression that the reproductive instinct is 
vile. One person may suffer the qualms of conscience because 
of illicit sexual relations. When the vice is acknowledged the 
moral life may be strong enough to purge the personality of it 
at once ; or, if deeply ingrained, the evil may be overcome in 
accordance with the method by which bad habits are uprooted. 
Another may confess that he is ashamed of and humiliated by 
the very existence of sexual impulse. Viewing the matter in 
the light of the confession experience, the person may conclude 
that his attitude was due to a foolish prudery and that the repro- 
ductive life has a dignified place in the propagation of the race. 
Still another may confess that the reproductive instinct is too 
active, a condition repugnant to his moral ideals. The confession 
may lead him to the conclusion that the activity of the sex im- 
pulse is neither to be wholly excused nor condemned, but to 
be transmuted and modified. Wholesome relations with the 

100 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

opposite sex, a personal interest in the welfare of children or 
of unfortunate humanity, or other uplifting and ennobling 
activities, afford the excessive prompting of the sex instinct 
higher and more refined avenues of expression. In this way 
the subconscious disturbance is granted conscious recognition 
and condemned, or excused, or transformed. The freed im- 
pulse is disposed of according to the sense of fitness which 
characterizes the religious instinct. In some cases the confes- 
sion itself rids the self of the baneful element; in other cases 
the prayer life must carry on to completion the work of elimina- 
tion, or transmutation before the person can feel entirely at 
one with the Universe. 

The psychology of the prayer of praise is closely akin to 
that of the prayer of confession. Let a writer of devotional 
literature describe this type of prayer: "We may think of praise 
in three parts — Adoration, Thanks- 
giving, Worship. Thus, we adore God 

_, _ for what He is: we thank Him for 

The Prsver 

. what He does; we worship Him for 

what he wills. Or, we adore Him as 
our Beloved; we thank Him as our 
Benefactor; we worship Him as our 
Overlord."^ Prayer as an expression of gratitude has found 
favor in the sight of many a religionist. St. Paul says, "With 
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."^ 
In Minna von Barnhelm, Lessing says, "A single grateful 
thought toward heaven is the most perfect prayer." One may feel 
a desire to adore or thank or worship God and disturb the har- 
mony of consciousness by repressing the impulse. The mere 
obeying of the impulse is generally sufficient to restore the unity 
of consciousness. 

Worship and adoration frequently pass beyond the mere 
freeing of a subconscious haunt and breed gentle hallucinations 
which are generally interpreted as the objective presence of God. 

^E. E. Holmes, Prayer and Action, p. 84. 
^Philippians iv, 6. 

Devotional Prayer 101 

The deeply rooted social nature of man may account for the 
practicing of the presence of God through worship and adora- 
tion. The desire to hold communion 
with Grod may be an outgrowth of 
Communion man's instinct to fellowship with man. 

in Adoration If a man may converse with his fellows, 

and Worship why not with God as friend with 

friend? That worship and adoration 
are often rewarded with a subjective 
experience betraying the essentials of auto-suggestion, the fol- 
lowing accounts of trustworthy persons will indicate : "I make 
the effort to feel the presence of God." "If I allow the cares 
of life to enter in and distract my thoughts, then this is not so." 
"The presence of God is felt in varying degrees according to 
the concentration of attention." The following statements re- 
veal the intimacy and warmth of the experience and its inter- 
pretation: "I have attained a distinct feeling of the presence of 
God verging on the mystical sense." "Sometimes He has seemed 
inexpressively near — all-enveloping, etc." "Yes, some brood- 
ing spirit out of which my soul has sprung, and in the heart 
of which it must be held if my soul it satisfied." "I cannot 
imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the 
practice of the presence of God. For my part, I keep myself 
retired with Him in the fund or center of my soul as much as 
I can; and while I am so with Him I fear nothing, but the 
least turning from Him is insupportable. * * * Let us 
live and die with God. Suffering will be sweet and pleasant to 
us while we are with Him; and the greatest pleasures will be, 
without Him, a cruel punishment to us."^ Doubtless these 
persons experience hallucinations to which they do not ascribe 
religious significance. As observed elsewhere, hallucinations 
are a matter of temperament and predisposition. 

Like the mystical experiences induced through the prayer 
of worship and adoration, the state of hallucination is character- 

^Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 
pp. 32-34. 

"1(32 Auta-Su'ggestion in Private Prayer 

ized by a limitation of the field of consciousness, an oblivious- 
ness to surroundings, a heightened sensitivity, and a feeling of 
being controlled by another. The feeling of being under the 
direct control of a power not his own 
makes it difficult for the hallucinated 
The Consciousness subject to interpret his experience in 
of Being terms of a mental projection. It is the 

Controlled nature of a fully exteriorized and 

objectified idea to assume spatial out- 
wardness and to induce in the subject 
a feeling of its own reality. The sense of a presence is, then, 
not peculiar to mystical religious states; it develops in halluci- 
nations not interpreted theistically. Professor James gives the 
testimony of a lady who has the gift of automatic or involuntary 
writing. She says, ''Whenever I practice automatic writing, 
what makes me feel that it is not due to a subconscious self is 
the feeling I always have of a foreign presence, external to my 
body. It is sometimes so definitely characterized that I could 
point to its exact position. This impression of presence is im- 
possible to describe. It varies in intensity and clearness accord- 
ing to the personality from whom the writing professes to come. 
If it is some one whom I love, I feel it immediately, before 
any writing has come. My heart seems to recognize it."^ 

Devotional prayer is characterized by a dissolving of an 
inward conflict, by a healing of a breach in consciousness, by a 
unifying of the self. The emphasis is laid on the experience 
itself rather than on the futherance of moral action. Many 
deeply religious people who have dis- 
carded petitional prayer find in devo- 
tional prayer a solace and inspiration 
Summary which, they aver, more than offsets the 

loss of petitions for specific favors. It 
is evident that in devotional prayer 
auto-suggestion is not the prominent 
factor. This type of prayer lends itself to an interpretation 

'^The Varieties of Religious Experience , p. 62. 

Devotional Prayer 103 

in terms of the principles of psychoanalysis. It has its roots 
in a mental unrest ; a partially repressed subconscious impression 
is seeking conscious recognition. If the desire is persistently 
repulsed, a pathological disturbance may ensue. When the 
prayer of confession makes the discordant note the content of 
clear consciousness, conscience sits in judgment over the offender, 
condemning, exonerating, or recommending a process of refin- 
ing. If the fault confessed is not deeply embedded and the 
moral constitution is vigorous enough, the evil tendency may 
at once be consumed in the intense feeling of repugnance 
w^hich it arouses. In many instances the prayer of petition is 
relied upon to eliminate or modify the tendency which the 
confession has disclosed. Thus the devotional prayer may 
be the springs of petitional prayers, which, as we have 
seen, are desirable in terms of religiously sanctioned suggestion. 
What obtains in a more advanced and complicated form 
in the prayer of confession doubtless occurs in the prayer 
of praise. When the impulse to adore, worship, or thank 
God is discharged in the form of the prayer of praise, 
the equilibrium of the mind is restored. When the prayer of 
adoration and worship becomes a one-sided mental activity, 
the person may be hallucinated by the feeling of a divine pres- 
ence which seems to be self-existent. This experience may be 
induced through auto-suggestion. The value of devotional 
prayer cannot easily be overestimated. It purges the self of its 
crass elements; it strikes harmony between the self and the 
not-self; it clarifies the ideals; it intensifies moral convictions; 
it imparts that touch of mysticism which separates the religious 
from the irreligious. 



A popular writer makes no secret of the futility of many 
prayers when he says, "Probably it is accurate to say that 
thousands of prayers go up and bring nothing down. This 
is certainly true. Let us say it just as bluntly and plainly as 
it can be said."^ Not all writers of devotional literature are 
as ready to admit the failures of the prayer life. It is a fact 
that myriads of prayers are unanswered 
in the sense that the object of the pe- 
Yj J tition is not forthcoming. Many and 

p varied are tl^ explanations made for 

the ungranted petition. We have 
elsewhere had occasion to refer to the 
fact that many attribute unanswered 
prayers to lack of faith, lack of definiteness, lack of persever- 
ance, improper objects of prayer. Some insist that God hears 
all prayers, but answers only those which are in accord with 
his will and for the good of the petitioner. They affirm that 
"yes" is as real an answer as "no." Others maintain that every 
prayer is either directly or indirectly answered, that often the 
insignificant favor asked for is ungranted in order that a higher 
good may be bestowed. Our study of the part auto-suggestion 
plays in petitional prayer may perhaps afford us a vantage 
ground from which we may discover some reasons why so many 
prayers fail. 

Some argue that many prayers are unanswered because 
they are on a low ethical plane. It is, however, fallacious to 

^S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Prayer, p. 67 

106 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

assume that the mere answering of a prayer is an infallible indi- 
cation of its moral worth, for the laws of suggestion operate re- 
gardless of the ethical questions in- 
volved in religion. Other things being 
p , . , equal, the unethical petition is as likely 

T^. . . ^. to be granted as an ethical one. Too 

Discrimination ^ . . , , , . 

many prayers for questionable objects 

have been made and answered — prayers 

which have been productive of evil. 
But as religious insight deepens and the moral sentiment develops 
the person is in revolt against unethical discriminations in prayer. 
When life is guided by the highest elements of the soul prayer 
becomes a source of power which makes for righteousness. Ethi- 
cal discrimination should, then, obtain, not because the answer- 
ing of the prayer depends upon the moral quality of the petition, 
but because a worthy object of prayer contributes toward ideal 
ends. One must seek elsewhere for the causes of unanswered 

Lack of discrimination against unscientific objects of prayer 
is one great source of unanswered prayers. An unscientific ob- 
ject of prayer is one which falls outside the sphere of mental in- 
fluence or is too complex to be realized by the vitality of the 
organism. We have seen that answer to prayer is obtained 
"^"through the operation 67 the" natiifal 

laws of our being; hence in order to be 
Lack of effective petitional prayer must move 

Scientific within the scope of suggestion. It fol- 

Discrimination lows that the laws of prayer are not 

operative outside personal influence. 

Instead of praying for rain we irrigate 
the arid region or modify its atmospheric condition by plant- 
ing trees; instead of praying to be delivered from a plague of 
grasshoppers we plow under their larva and prevent their prop- 
agation; instead of praying for the arrest of the ravages of an 

^For a discussion of growth in ethical discrimination in 
prayer see A. L. Strong, Psychology of Prayer, p. 50. 

Unanswered Prayer 107 

epidemic of typhoid fever we test our drinking water and create 
sanitary conditions. The following incident, taken from a 
popular novel, may well arouse our suspicion: "Alessandro's 
grandfather had journeyed with Father Crespi as his servant, 
and many a miracle he had with his own eyes seen Father 
Crespi perform. There was a cup out of which the Father 
alway took his chocolate for breakfast, a beautiful cup, which 
was carried in a box, the only luxury the Father had; and 
one morning it was broken, and everybody was in despair. 
'Never mind, never mind,' said the Father; 'I will make it 
whole;' and taking the two pieces in his hands, he held them 
tight together, and prayed over them, and they became one 
solid piece again, and it was used through the journey, just as 
before."^ The most that prayer can do for us in regard to con- 
ditions on which the mental life has no influence is to construct 
a personality competent to rise above the untoward circum- 
stances. Faith can remove mountains only in the sense 
that it can create a person inspired to devise ways and 
means whereby the proposed bit of engineering can be accom- 
plished. Prayer helps man to help himself. To admit freely 
and frankly the limitations of prayer is to forestall perplexity 
and anxiety as to its efficacy within its legitimate sphere. A 
young clergyman recently remarked that if his child were sick 
unto death he would pray, not for the purpose of saving the 
infant's life, but in order to reconcile himself to the inevitable, 
to find comfort and resignation and submission in the hour 
of sorrow. Prayer does not relieve one of some burdens, but 
does infinitely more when it helps us to bear them. Prayer 
alone will not set a broken bone, but will make the fingers of 
the praying surgeon steady and create an atmosphere of good 
cheer that will materially hasten recovery. 

Then, too, there are bounds set to the power of prayer 
within the scope of suggestion. Fruitful as it is, there are 

^H. H. Jackson, Ramona, p. 187. 

108 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

many suggested ideas that the subconscious is powerless to bring 
to maturity. A mental impression may fall within the field 
of suggestion and be too complex for 
self-realization. The vitality of the 
Lack of organism is too low and the life of 

Organic man much too short to answer too 

Vitality complex prayers. The prayer that 

wings appear on the shoulders might 
be answered if man could live for count- 
less milleniums, and if the life-forces of the personality were 
powerful enough to realize such a complex idea. The organic 
vitality of the dying is often too low to realize the prayer for re- 
covery, no matter how firmly fixed in mind and confidently 
expected it may be. The reactions of the subconscious to 
suggested ideas are indeed manifold and complex, but it is by 
no means omnipotent; its vitality may become exhausted. 

Many persons are temperamentally disqualified to receive 
dramatic and striking answers to prayer. Professor Coe, as 
indicated elsewhere, has shown the vital relation of religious 
experience to temperament. His statistics show that where 
striking religious experiences are attained, the element of sen- 
sibility predominates and the persons are of the sanguine 
(prompt- weak) or melancholic (slow-intense) temperament. 
Those who are subject to hallucination in general, are likely 
to receive answers to prayer in terms of 
voices and visions. On the other hand, 

_ ^ , those who expect striking and emo- 

Temperamental . , , . . ^ 

_. ,.c ^. tional religious transformations in re- 

Disqualiiications , , . 

sponse to prayer when their prominent 

mental trait is the intellect, and the 
choleric (prompt-intense) temperament 
obtains, are quite uniformly disappointed.^ It is a matter of 
regret that the religious experiences of the highly emotional 
and suggestible have been standardized by some leading denomi- 
nations. The efforts of many genuinely religious persons to 

^The Spiritual Life, p. 104 ff. 

Unanswered Prayer 109 

conform their religious experiences to the type in favor with 
their churches, despite temperamental disqualification, are truly 
pathetic and often lead to a revolt against religion itself. Mr. 
Coe quotes a person who expected but for temperamental reasons 
failed to experience a striking conversion. The disappointed 
person says, "Often I arose from my knees almost mad at my- 
self for praying after having prayed so often without results."^ 
It is well to bear in mind that the constitution of the mental 
life determines the form of the answer to prayer. 

Doubtless many unanswered prayers are due to a lack of 
perseverance until one feels prompted from within to cease 
conscious striving in the direction of the answer. In the par- 
lance of prayer, one should "pray through." In this connection 
the expression "praying through" is 
suggestive. Many writers of devotional 
- - - studies of prayer emphasize it. One 

^ author says, loo many tail to pray 

Perseverance ...«^:^-««.«i,«w ^ \ 

through. It the request is not granted 

at the first or second asking, they cease 
praying and say, 'Perhaps it isn't God's 
will,' and this they call submission. Dr. T orrey calls it 
'spiritual laziness.' "^ Another writes, " The strong rnan_o£ 
prayer^^^enTie start? to pray for a thing keeps on praying untij 
he prays \t thrn\\v\C^^n?ri^t^'m%'^^^ The 

psychologicat' ValtlC'Of' "praying through" consists in stimulat- 
ing the neural processes sufficiently to insure the desired result. 
To continue the praying until one feels ripe for the surrender 
of the self to the larger life-forces is the usual mode of procedure. 
Sometimes there is a temptation to surrender the self in response 
to pressure from without before one intutitively feels prepared. 
Premature self-surrender under the social pressure of an exciting 
revival is doubtless responsible for many subsequent cases of 
"backsliding." Before the new personality has fully matured 

^The Spiritual Life, p. 149. 

^W. G. Biederwolf, How Can God Answer Prayer? 

p. 216. 
^R. A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 66. 

lip Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

and is of its own accord seeking admittance into consciousness, 
self-surrender is worse than useless. When the subconscious 
product is ready to report itself, it knocks gently on the door 
of consciousness. The teaching of Jesus as set forth in his 
parables of the Importunate Widow and the Midnight Visitor, 
is a remarkable plea for perseverance in prayer until the answer 
comes. The want of a faith that knows no respite from its 
endeavor to realize the prayer is an invariable guarantee of 

What we have called contrary or negative auto-suggestion 
is another prolific source of failure in prayer. In the discussion 
of auto-suggestion it was pointed out that in order to be most 
effective the self-suggested idea should be positive. Since what- 
ever is in the mind tends to express itself, only what one wishes 
to attain should engage the attention. A physician relates 
that he once treated a young man 
addicted to a loathsome vice. The 
_ efforts to relieve the patient seemed 

. - ^ . to have no effect. One day a friendly 

Auto- Suggestion ., , i • • ,• 

°° conversation with the physician dis- 

closed the fact that the young man 
was persistently praying to be delivered 
from the evil which was sapping his vitality. Believing that 
he had found the key to the situation, the physician ordered him 
to cease praying at once. Obeying the order, the patient was 
cured in a short time. It was the opinion of the physician that 
the prayers of the young man actually retarded his recovery 
because they were merely a rehearsal of the foul elements which 
he desired to eliminate. Too much stress cannot be placed upon 
the central fact of suggestion, which is that an idea attended 
to tends to express itself. The fundamental principle of sug- 
gestion rests back upon the doctrine that all consciousness is 
motor. Doubtless too many prayers are worse than useless 
because the mind is not filled with the ideas and ideals of posi- 
tive virtues. On the other hand, it must not be inferred that 
no prayer clothed in negative terms is effectual. It is conceiv- 
able that in some cases prayer in the form of negative ideas may 

Unanswered Prayer 111 

act as a process of psychoanalysis or katharsis which purges 
the personality of the undesirable element. In the long run it 
is safer to avoid the mental imagery of what one desires to rid 
the self of by fixing the mind on positive virtues. 

Many prayers are ineffectual because they are "vain re- 
petitions." When the act of prayer receives an inadequate 
degree of attention it may become purely automatic and thus 
generate vitality and drain off through its open functional paths 
any distracting impressions which tend to interrupt its repeti- 
tion. Hypocrisy, mental indolence, 
lack of personal initiative, habit and 
. perfunctory observance of the forms 

.^ .... of the religious life are some of the 

Repetitions r » • »» nyr 

sources or vam repetitions. Mr. 
Phelps says, "Perhaps even so slight a 
thing as the pain of the resistance to the 
momentum of a habit, will be found the most distinct reason 
we can honestly give for having prayed yesterday or to-day."^ 
"Vain repetitions" as automatisms set free energy which may 
be expended in attending to something wholly foreign to prayer. 
Gentle promptings to devotion may be discharged through the 
channels opened by the "vain repetitions." Instead of stimulat- 
ing the subconscious in the direction of the answer to the prayer 
framed by the lips, the insincere or thoughtless repetitions may 
increase subliminal incubation along lines positively inimical to 
the higher life. A case in point is the misuse of the rosary. 
While praying by means of this mechanical device, the petitioner 
may automatically reiterate the series of Pater Nosters, Ave 
Marias, and Glorias, and be all the time meditating something 
radically different from the "mysteries." 

Many prayers made during periods of spiritual dryness 
are unanswered. The course of life may for -some time continue 
to be so even and uneventful that prayer, if offered at all, has 
its rise in a sense of religious obligation, and not in an emergency. 
An unbroken course of life offers too little occasion for prayer, 

''The Still Hour, p. 13. 

112 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

and hence the praying which does occur is either almost auto- 
matic, or a painful effort to hold in mental focus an idea too 
uninteresting readily to attract and grip the attention. Some 
devout souls ascribe these times of spiritual drought to hardness 
and "unbelief of heart."^ The very 
anguish and torture of mind such per- 
Periods of sons suffer in consequence of their 

Spiritual difficulty to maintain a keen interest in 

Dryness the prayer life at all times is in itself 

proof that what they lack is not belief 
of heart, but fresh experiences which 
will occasion prayer. From this point of view it is perfectly 
intelligible why the rosary is considered so essential to devotion 
by those who lead the secluded and monotonous existence of the 
cloister. Variety is the spice of the prayer life. The tendency 
of effective prayer is to vary directly with the vicissitudes of life. 
If the prayer made involves a complex subconscious pro- 
cess and hence a long series of repetitions, occasional periods 
of rest should be observed. In some cases the answer comes 
more quickly than in others. One is w^arranted in anticipating 
that under normal conditions the time 
consumed in answering the petition 
. would vary directly with the complexity 

.J of the object of the prayer. The prayer 

of Mr. Sunday on the base-ball field 
was answered almost instantaneously, 
but the prayer of a sick soul for regen- 
eration requires frequent repetition and a much longer period 
of time. It requires less time to induce a momentary state of 
confidence than it does to construct an entirely new personality. 
While an active faith is straining in the general direction of 
the answer to prayer and the corresponding nutritive processes 
are being set up, innumerable hindering tendencies are also being 
built up. If no period of rest obtains, the inhibiting tendencies 
a:re likely to become so developed that they undo the work in 

^See A. L. Strong, The Psychology of Prayer, p. 109. 

Unanswered Prayer 113 

the right direction. During a period of rest the less firmly 

intrenched hindering activities tend to atrophy, while the more 

deeply ingrained correct impressions mature. The time required 

for the subconscious maturing of a complex prayer may account 

for some cases of so-called delayed answers, which are ordinarily 

attributed to the overruling wisdom of God who knows best 

when to grant the petitions of his children. 

As has been repeatedly stated, the most frequent reason 

given for unanswered prayer is want of faith. The apostle 

says, **But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that 

wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and 

tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any 

thing of the Lord."^ Lack of faith is unquestionably a primary 

cause of failure in the religious life. In 

order to be kept burning, the flame of 

XTT ^ t faith must be constantly fed. The 

Want of .... J- r 1. 

„ . , judicious reading or prayer literature, 

the testimony of others whose prayer 
life is inspirational, the recollection of 
positive past experiences, may nourish 
the faith state. Such exercises do not debar a psychological 
interpretation of prayer. Although the power in which faith 
is reposed is immaterial in so far as the answering of the prayer 
per se is concerned, it is unthinkable to exercise an abstract 
faith; normal faith is localized. When once a scientific read- 
justment to prayer has been made, many and sufficient reasons 
are found for reposing the fullest confidence in prayer. An- 
alysis rationalizes faith. If prayer is reducible to laws which 
we can trace, it is rational to believe that the Power manifesting 
itself in these laws will invariably express itself in terms of 
them whenever and wherever the conditions are met. 

It has already been pointed out that the success of all 
prayers depending upon the co-operation of others is due to 

^ James I ; 6-7. 

114 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

their value as social suggestions. In all such prayers two ex- 
tremes invite failure, — entire ignorance of them on the part 
of the person to be influenced, and too 
direct information of them. Where 
- - - there is no hint taken, there can be no 

T r ^. social suggestion. Although the avenues 

iniormation , i i • i ... 

through which we receive miormation 

are many, it is safe to say that many 
prayers are unanswered because the 
proper persons have no knowledge of them. There is much to 
be said for the small boy who prayed for Christmas presents in 
3. voice perfectly audible to his rather deaf grandmother who was 
'istening to his evening prayer. Although he was addressing 
his petitions to the heavenly throne, he was making sure that 
his grandmother knew just what he wanted for Christmas. Of 
course the mere receiving of information is not a pledge of 
reciprocity ; that depends upon the suggestibility of the receiver. 
Since women are more suggestible than men, one would expect 
them to respond to prayer more readily than men do.^ In men 
the intellect is more prominent; the emotions are focused on 
definite objects and at definite times; the resistance to influences 
from without is greater. In women sensibility is more prom- 
inent; the emotions are more constant, gentle and diffused; 
they yield more readily to ordinary influences; hence the con- 
clusion that women are more likely to answer social prayers 
than men are. 

On the other hand, too much and too direct information 
of the social prayer is likely to result in counter-suggestion. 
This is especially true of the male sex with its marked tendency 
to resist ordinary influences from without. Indirect social sug- 
gestion in the form of mere hints and cues is likely to induce 
the state of suggestibility. Dr. Sidis formulates what he calls 
the law of normal or waking suggestion as follows: "Normal 
suggestibility varies as indirect suggestion, and inversely as direct 

^See Havelock Ellis, Man and Womanj chapter xii. 

Unanswered Prayer tl5 

suggestion."^ In other words: "In the normal state a sugges- 
tion is more effective the more indirect it is, and in proportion 
as it becomes direct it loses its efficacy."^ Among his examples 
of indirect suggestion, the following may be quoted: "My 
friend Mr. A. is absent-minded; he sits near the table, thinking 
of some abstruse mathematical problem that baffles all his 
efforts to solve it. Absorbed in the solution of the intractable 
problem, he is blind and deaf to what is going on around him. 
His eyes are directed on the table, but he appears not to see any 
of the objects there. I put two glasses of water on the table, 
and at short intervals make passes in the direction of the glasses 
— passes which he seems not to preceive; then I resolutely 
stretch out my hand, take one of the glasses, and begin to drink. 
My friend follows suit — dreamily he raises his hand, takes the 
glass and begins to sip, awakening fully to consciousness when 
a good part of the tumbler is emptied."^ To tell the person 
openly and plainly what is expected of him, is to invite the 
failure of the suggestion ; hence some object is produced, or some 
appropriate gesture or movement is made, and these in their 

own indirect way tell him what to do. 

Applying the law of normal suggestion 

_ ,. to prayers intended to influence others, 

Indirect v • i l l ... 

_ . It IS evident that when a mere mtimation 

Suggestion c ■ ^ 

°° or a social prayer is sown into a recep- 

tive mind, the harvest is likely to be 
more abundant than when much infor- 
mation is directly given and received. Religious interest may be 
expressed in a look or attitude of concern, a warm hand-shake, 
or between the lines of a letter. We have observed how 
the personality responds to delicate and immediate stimuli, 
how the subconscious will take note of data imperceptible 
to the waking consciousness and elaborate them. The 
outcome of the social prayer is relatively dependent upon 

^The Psychology of Suggestion, p. 55. 
Hbid., p. 52. 
Hbid., p. 6. 

116 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

the ability of the transmitter to given subtle indications of his 
inward states, and upon the receiver's capacity to interpret the 
delicate impressions and upon his suggestibility to them. Some 
persons are notorious transmitters: a stolid exterior hides their 
inner life. Others are all the time exhibiting the tell-tale signs 
of w^hat is moving them. The difference in receivers is fully as 
marked. The subconscious of some persons is unusually sen- 
sitive and w^here this is true there is generally a tendency to 
rely upon the intuitions. On the other hand, every one has 
come in contact w^ith the person who seemingly cannot take 
a hint. When a social prayer connects an efficient transmitter 
and a sensitive and suggestible receiver, the conditions for a 
positive reaction are auspicous. Doubtless many social prayers 
are unanswered because the persons involved are deficient trans- 
mitters and receivers. When it is satisfactorily interpreted, 
the unanswered social prayer is not wholly in vain, for the 
petition turns on itself and arouses the social sympathies of the 

Still another reason why so many prayers are futile is to 
be found in an unsettled mental attitude toward the whole 
subject of prayer. In the face of the complexity and enormity 
of the universe one may feel so small and insignificant that 
doubts arise as to the probability of reaching God through 
prayer. When this mental state obtains, prayers decrease in 
number and intensity. When prayer is made, the idea to be 
realized is not freely accepted, and is therefore not influential 
in giving point and direction to the subconscious activities. 
Another person may experience doubt and perplexity because no 
answer has been obtained to requests for things outside the scope 
of prayer. Failure to discriminate against unscientific petitions 
induces doubt as to the efficacy of prayer in any case. If he does 

Unanswered Prayer 117 

make a prayer, it is not imposed upon the mind with sufficient 
force to insure success. Still another person may catch a glimpse 
of the psychological principles under- 
lying prayer, and react to the revela- 
tion in terms of disparagement or self- 
consciousness. Forced to yield his be- 
^ lief that God answers prayers directly 

without any intermedium, by departures 
from the natural order, he may at first 
blush eliminate God from his interpretation of the mental 
processes involved in the answering of prayer. The depreciation 
of the prayer life makes it impossible to exercise the proper 
degree of faith, and consequently any petitions he may make 
are useless. Often the insight into the psychological elements 
of prayer results in self-consciousness. The attention is focused 
on the means of answering the prayer. Thinking of how the 
answer is to come instead of the idea to be realized, is almost 
certain to hinder the uncritical acceptance of the self-suggestion. 
In the description of auto-suggestion given above, it was pointed 
out that the most effective cases of suggestion are those in which 
the person has no conscious knowledge of applying the prin- 
ciples of suggestion. Mrs. Wiggins in a bit of doggerel aptly 
describes the plight of a centipede which was quite happy until 
the frog's inquiry, "Pray, which leg comes after which?" 
excited his mind to such an extent that he lay distracted in 
a ditch, considering how to run. In all such cases of mental 
uncertainty a readjustment to the universe as it really is is the 
only remedy. The normal man passes through three stages 
in his conception and practice of prayer. As a child he is 
credulous and uncritically accepts whatever he is taught of the 
place and power of prayer. As an adolescent he passes through 
an inconoclastic period and ruthlessly underrates the life of 
prayer. This stage is normally followed by a period of recon- 
struction which is characterized by the larger view of life. He 
who stood amazed in the presence of the complexity of the uni- 
verse now waxes bold enough to assert his individuality in the 
conviction that he is an integral part of a larger whole. He 

Hi Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

who was perplexed because in some cases the answer to prayer 
failed to come, now freely accepts the limits of prayer and finds 
within the range of personal influence an inexhaustible source 
of power. He who caught a glimpse of the machinery of prayer 
and stood abashed and embarrassed, in the course of time learns 
to ignore the processes underlying the answering of prayer and 
to confine his attention to the great purpose of prayer. As life 
ripens and mellows the foundations of prayer become increas- 
ingly secure. 

Although the sources of futile praying have by no means 
been exhaustively treated, enough, it is hoped, has been said 
to show the direction in which one may look for the reasons for 
unanswered prayers. What has been offered indicates that 
negative prayer experiences may invariably be traced to elements 
which inhibit, or reduce to the point of failure, the state of sug- 
gestibility. By way of conclusion and 
summary it may not be amiss to draw 
some inferences from this brief study. 
Summary In order to contribute to an adjustment 

of the self to ideal ends, prayer should 
seek the deeper levels of moral insight. 
Although the answering of the prayer 
does not depend upon the moral quality of the petition, for the 
sake of the conservation of the eternal verities a sense of ethical 
fitness should regulate the prayer life. Since the field of prayer 
is restricted to personal influence, it is well to discriminate 
against all unscientific petitions. Man is not justified in sighing 
for new worlds to conquer religiously, when he has not yet 
exhausted the possibilities of prayer within its limited range. 
The limits of prayer cannot be said to be narrow when within 
them we find every moral and spiritual need supplied. Neither 
is it a reason for complaint that within its proper sphere prayer 
is conditioned by the vitality of the organism. The average 
individual has subconscious energy enough to realize his peti- 
tions for moral and spiritual benefits. It should be remembered 
that it is useless to expect answers to prayer for which one is 
totally disqualified by reason of temperament. Mental struc- 

Unansive?'ed Prayer 119 

ture, not character, determines the form of the religious experi- 
ence. The substance is essential, the form is non-essential. 
Furthermore, perseverance is absolutely indispensible to a suc- 
cessful prayer life. Persistency in prayer is the price of I 
religious advancement. The prayer itself should be stated or ' 
thought in positive terms. To arouse the mental imagery of 
the undesirable has a tendency to intrench it the more firmly. 
Let not the liar pray to be delivered from lying lips, but let him 
pray for the positive virtue of truthfulness; let not the thief 
pray for deliverance from the vice of stealing, but let him pray ,^ 
for honesty; let not the sick struggle away from disease, but 
pray for health. Let the grow^th of positive virtues eliminate 
evil. Now^here is insincerity more unfortunate than in prayer. 
The maker of the "vain repetition" does not apply the prin- 
ciples which add to the w^orld's stock of morality. The 'Vain 
repetition" turns on itself and becomes instrumental in subvert- 
ing the moral life. Times of spiritual dryness occasion much 
dejection and depression among earnest religious persons. While 
they last, periods of religious drought make prayer extremely 
difficult to maintain. It is only natural that the crises rather 
than the uneventful periods of life give rise to most of the 
efifectual prayers, therefore pious souls should not despair v^hen 
times of spiritual dearth come. In order that hindering tend- 
encies arising through effort may evaporate and the correct 
associations mature unmolested, periods of rest are necessary 
during the subconscious production of a complex object of 
prayer. After one has earnestly prayed for a season, to cease 
is not to mark time, but to make a distinct advance. Without 
faith, vs^hich directs subconscious incubation and then at the 
appointed time assumes an attitude of passivity and receptivity, 
effective prayer is impossible. The prayer life of a double- 
minded man is unstable in every way. Prayers which have ^. 
for their end the influencing of others depend for their efficacy 
upon social suggestion. Total ignorance of the social prayer, 
or too direct information leading to counter suggestion, imperil 
the answer. To pray at a person is to subject the social prayer 
to failure. The most auspicious circumstances for the answering 

120 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

of social prayers obtain when the praying self and the self to 
be reached associate under normal conditions and no conscious 
and direct effort is made to impart the content of the petition. 
The sensitivity of the subconscious may be relied upon to in- 
terpret the hints of the prayer and the outward manifestations 
of the religious interest of the petitioner. Normal indirect 
suggestion increases suggestibility; normal direct suggestion 
decreases suggestibility. Life is all the while subconsciously 
interpreting life. When doubts and fears assail the prayer 
life, the person should have the courage of a scientist to examine 
and sift the facts of religion. There is time enough to discard 
prayer after it has had a hearing and been found wanting. A 
scientific interpretation of prayer often creates a breach in the 
religious consciousness, a breach which only a wider conception 
of the universe can heal. To point out the wider considerations 
which grow out of a scientific description of prayer is the task 
of the next and last chapter. 



That private prayer is suffused with auto-suggestion is 
the conclusion to which this study points. The varieties of 
private prayer do not involve an equal and even distribution of 
auto-suggestion. In some cases it is more prominent than in 
others. In petitional prayers answered 
through the individual himself the ele- 
Auto-Suggestion ment of auto-suggestion is most pro- 

in Private nounced. In prayers answered through 

Prayer the co-operation of others social sug- 

gestion is the chief element. In devo- 
tional prayers, such as those of confes- 
sion and praise, the influence of psychoanalysis is marked, but 
these prayers may lead to others involving a decided element of 
suggestion. When an evil is not consumed through the process 
of confession itself, its eradication or modification may be accom- 
plished through petitional prayers. Although psychoanalysis 
characterizes the prayers of thanksgiving, adoration and worship, 
they may be continued until one-sided mental activity coupled 
with a general tendency to hallucination leads to a state of 
ecstasy describable in terms of auto-suggestion. 

Such a reduction of prayer to the operation of mental laws 
combined with a religious flavor and sanction, raises vital ques- 
tions the answers to which demand wider considerations. Should 
the prayer-habit be discontinued? How does the reduction 
of prayer to psychological principles religiously sanctioned affect 
the doctrine of the freedom of the will? How does such an 
interpretation influence the conception 
of the nature and character of God? 
^ . These questions aim at the center of 

^ . J things by which men live, and merit 

serious consideration. They are spe- 
cializations of the inquiry as to whether 
such a description of prayer is recon- 
cilable with a religious, self-determinative, idealistic pholosophy. 

122 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

To be sure the science of phychology is chiefly concerned with 
mental processes as such and when it undertakes to view its 
data in relation to ultimate realities it has become for the time 
being philosophy, and still it may not be amiss to suggest a pos- 
sible adjustment of prayer as set forth in these pages to a spiritual 
conception of the universe. 

Should the prayer life be cultivated or uprooted? When 
we can dispense with the Christian religion with profit, we 
may at the same time discard prayer. Christianity and prayer 
stand or fall together. It is the function of religion to adjust 
the self to what it conceives to be the plan and purpose of 
God. Prayer in some form is the means through which the self 
makes this adjustment. All the lines of Christianity converge in 
prayer. This type of religious behavior is essentially prayerful. 
Prayerful adaption to a spiritual order exerts a reflex 
influence on the adjustment to the 
physical environment, on the biological 
Should life of man. Holding the question of 

Prayer Be the existence of a spiritual basis of the 

Retained? universe in abeyance, let us be content 

to rest the case of prayer on its contri- 
bution to a better adjustment to man's 
environment. J[fjt can be shown tjiat prayer is a signal factor 
in the biological fortunes of man, there Is "sufficient 'rea~son Tor 
its use. The question, tKeri,""Ts7 Is pHyer^^ 
in man's struggle for more physical life? Has it selective value, 
that is to say, in the process of evolution are the praying in- 
dividuals, other things being equal, selected out and numbered 
with the surviving fittest? The writer is fully persuaded that 
prayer bristles with signs of selective value. Passing in rapid 
review a few typical results of prayer may establish the truth 
of this statement. 

Let us note the biological value of personal petitions. 
Surely regeneration, the breaking of evil habits, the cure of dis- 

Wider Considerations 123 

ease, help in a predicament, coming in response to prayer, 
play an important part in the process of natural selection. Byj 
virtue of new life-forces released within I 
him, a deep-seated peace with the uni- \r\ ( 
Personal verse, high aspirations and noble en- \^ 

Petitions and deavor, the social life of the Church, \ 

Physical Life the reading of wholesome literature, j 

the expansion of the personality in / 
deeds of mercy and help, — by virtue of I 
these and unmentioncd factors, the regenerated man is likely ( 
to survive his unconverted neighbor who stands in need of a i 
recasting of the self. Religion at its best promotes the normal 
functioning of the organism: evil associations, a nameless dread 
of the future, are physically depressing.^ Two persons, let us 
say, are painfully aware that an evil habit is the occasion of 
their maladjustment to the environment. To the one praying 
for it deliverance finally comes, and his organism in the course 
of time recovers something of its old-time vigor. The one who 
persists in his riotous living pays the penalty in decreased bodily 
strength and premature death. It requires no gift of prophecy 
to foretell unto whom the race of life will be. Prayer for the 
cure of disease concerns itself directly with the preservation of 
biological life. In a crisis when life hangs in the balance belief 
in the power of prayer may be the factor which determines the 
recovery of the patient. Since beliefs tend to realize them- 
selves, the sick who pray for recovery are more likely to live 
than their fellow-sufferers who disdain prayer and are certain 
that they are about to die. Still another poignant illustration 
of the biological significance of prayer is the answer to the pe- 
tition for help in a trying situation. In an extremity the person 
prays that he may be divinely guided: the petition calms the 
mind and enables him to think clearly; it relieves the body 
of the tension of fear and makes effective action possible. His 
troubled but disbelieving rival struggles on in increasing con- 
fusion and panic which inhibit incisive thinking and successful 

^See H. Begbie, Twice-Born Men. 

124 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

muscular activity. In the struggle for physical existence the 
odds are against him and in favor of his prayerful neighbor, 
other things being equal . 

Nor is selective value confined to petitional prayers: de- 
votional prayers abound in it. The qualms of conscience make 
progress difficult. The prayer of confession restores peace of 
mind. It is self-evident that he whose prayer of confession has 
been followed by a sense of union with God is better fitted 
for the struggle of life than he who is tormented by the con- 
sciousness of disharmony with the uni- 
verse. The unconfessed element dis- 
The Selective turbs the unity of consciousness, and as 

Value of Devotional a consequence physical maladjustment 
Prayers to the environment follows. Much the 

same may be said concerning the prayers 
of adoration, thanksgiving and worship. 
When the impulses to worship, adore or thank God are set free, 
a sense of satisfaction and relief obtains, which favors the 
physical life. But when the impulses to devotion are not liber- 
ated and only half-suppressed they haunt the mind and, in cases 
of extreme nervous instability, induce hysteria. Ordinarily 
the partially repressed impulses bring on nervousness than which 
state of mind none is less conducive to physical efficiency. Other 
things being equal, the devotional life by reason of its unity 
and freedom is likely to survive the irreligious life. 

Nor are the prayers that mean to enlist the co-operation of 
others wanting in selective significance. Finding it impossible 
by his own unaided eiforts to adjust himself to circumstances, 
the person invokes the Deity to place at his disposal the resources 
of the more fortunate. The help that comes in response to 
the petition enables him to make the adjustment and to con- 
serve life. Thus far the selective value of the prayers intended 
to conserve and enlarge the devotee 
himself has been considered, but he is 
The Selective usually solicitous not only for himself 

Value of Social but also for the welfare of the species. 

Prayers He prays for others. His most fervent 

prayers of intercession are for the mem- 
bers of his own household who bear his 
name and strain. Such prayers may have their genesis in an 

Wider Considerations 125 

instinct to perpetuate himself by doing his utmost to make his / 
children fit to survive. But the intercession is not necessarily ' 
restricted to one's blood relatives; specific prayers for others i 
in whose w^ell-being one has become interested may be made. \ 
Whenever his intercessory prayers are answ^ered, the seeds of \ 
an individual's personality have sprung up to bear fruit after his \ 
kind. In helping others to make a better adjustment, he is in- \ 
creasing his own life, for the personality is enriched by giving 
as well as by taking. It is reasonable to infer that he who | 
never makes intercession foregoes a means of quickening his 
own personal life and those to whom he looks for the continuity / 
of his name and blood. The sacred flame of the torch of life / 
which is handed down to future generations will be the dimmer j 
for the lack of intercessory prayer. / 

In the light of the above facts i& would seem that one is li 
justified in holding that the praying individual, other things I 
being equal, will survive his unbelieving fellow-man in the | 
struggle for physical existence. In most instances, it is safe i 

to say, the biological bearing of prayer I 

is at the remotest remove from the \ 
Prayer Stands mind engaged in prayer. The prayer 

the Test of is generally made to obtain immediate 

Utility satisfaction without any reference to 

a more remote biological purpose. 

Nevertheless, prayer does work of the 
highest order in furthering adaptations to the environment. ■ 
Weighed in the balances of utility it is by no means found 
wanting. It is a reckless hand that would relegate it to the 
rubbish-heap which has accumulated during the upward trend 
of mankind. Unlike the more than seventy vestigial structures 
in the human body, prayer has not lost its function in the ^\ 
development of the race. It must not, however, be understood ■ 
that prayer subserves only biological ends, that it has no func- 
tion other than to give more physical life. It will be recalled 
that it was agreed to limit the discussion of prayer to its bearing 
upon the biological fortunes of man. A more comprehensive 
evaluation would disclose its significance as a molder of char- 

126 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

acter, and character persists when the body has served its purpose. 
The second question which arose is, How does the reduc- 
tion of prayer to psychological laws affect the conception of 
man as a free agent? Psychology as the study of the mental 
process as such does not presume to answer the question of free 
decision ; nevertheless, pWchologists 
hold opinions on the subject which are 

T^ , entitled to respect. There is a growing 

Prayer and. , ,11 

_ J tendency among many psychologists and 

philosophers to deny much which the 
older champions of freedom insisted 
upon, and to grant much which the 
modern determinist affirms, and at the same time to conserve an 
element of free will of sufficient importance to make man a 
morally responsible being. These thinkers call themselves self- 
determinists. While they admit that heredity and environment 
are factors to be reckoned with, they deny that the basis of 
man is materialistic. They assert that there is in man an element 
not reducible to the strains of heredity or the environing forces. 
On the other hand, they modify the sweeping statement of the 
older exponents of freedom, and ascribe to heredity and environ- 
ment many reactions which some have regarded as the outcome 
of free decision. The self-determinist takes issue with the 
libertarian who holds the theory of contingent choice. Professor 
G. F. Stout, a leading psychologist and self-determinist, says, 
"By contingent choice is meant a choice which does not issue 
out of the total processes of mental life in accordance with 
psychological laws, but springs into being of itself as if it were 
fired out of a pistol."^ He defines self-determination as self- 
control which consists in "control proceeding from the self as 
a whole and determining the self as a whole."^ 

Some of the leading psychologists detect an element of 
freedom in voluntary attention. They maintain that heredity 
and environment cannot explain away the voluntaristic strain 

^A Manual of Psychology, p. 614. 
Hbid., p. 615. 

Wider Considerations 127 

manifested in the effort to restrict the field of consciousness. 
Voluntary attention is elemental : it cannot be reduced to other 
and lower terms. To quote James once 
more, "Effort of attention is thus the 
Prayer and essential phenomenon of the will."^ 

Voluntary Another writer has a word to the point, 

Attention "The will reveals itself most directly 

in attention. It is often said sweepingly 
that a man's environment makes him. 
Not to insist upon the obvious fact that there must be a germ 
with a certain nature in order that any environment may work 
its effect, it is particularly important to notice in the case of 
man that not his entire environment, but only that part of his 
environment to which he attends really makes him."^ Now 
we have observed the important part which the attention plays 
in prayer. The forcing of the prayer upon the mind was de- 
scribed in terms of the attention. Without a marked degree of 
attention true prayer is impossible. Voluntary attention in 
prayer is selective in nature. Out of a number of possibilities 
the attention selects out and makes prominent certain objects 
of prayer. In order to sustain the contention that prayer may be 
an expression of the will, it is wholly unnecessary to prove that 
each and every prayer has its genesis in free decision; it is suf- 
ficient to point out the fact that an occasional prayer is due to 
choice. The vast majority of prayers are doubtless induced by 
environing forces impinging upon the self, but it is the small 
minority still unaccounted for that attest the element of self- 

Man has the innate power to attend or not to attend to 
prayer the realization of which may make or mar him, further 
his adjustment to his environment or even change an unfavor- 

'^Principles of Psychology, Vol. ii, p. 562. 
^H. C. King, Rational Living, p. 169. 

128 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

able environment. Unless the will expresses itself in attention, 
the laws governing prayer are not made operative. Some one 

has well said, "Human purpose and 

volition are perpetually playing into 
Voluntary the system of law, thereby realizing a 

Prayer and multitude of effects which the system, 

Its Laws left to itself, would never produce, yet 

in such a way that no law is broken. 

Natural law of itself would never do 
any of the things which men are doing by means of it. The 
work of the world is done by natural forces under human guid- 
ance. It is the outcome at once of law and purpose."^ In view 
of the fact that an act of the will may make operative the 
principles which underlie prayer, it is puerile to raise the question, 
Why must we pray at all if a divine Intelligence broods over 
us and knows our every want long before we can formulate it? 
rPrayer is not a dumb-waiter bringing down from heaven gifts 
ready-made for those who are too indolent to exert themselves. 
Here also it is true that God helps him who helps himself. To 
demand that God set aside the natural order to grant a favor 
to an inactive and passive petitioner, would be no more rational 
than to expect to reap a harvest without sowing, or to live 
without eating."} In the matter of prayer man is self-deter- 
minative in so far as he by his own volition can attend to 
certain objects of prayer the automatic realization of which 
affects his personal life. The writer subscribes to the view 
that man is morally responsible because he on his own initiative 
may make operative the laws which determine his character. 

The third question which this study raises has reference 
to the nature and character of God as revealed in a psychological 

^B. P. Bownc, The Essence of Religion, p. 136. 

Wider Considerations 129 

description of prayer. A study of the mental processes involved 
in prayer neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. 
The affirmation or denial of the exist- 
ence of God is more a reflection of one's 
The Existence vrorld-view^ than an inference drawn 

of God and frow the findings of psychology. 

Prayer Psychology by searching cannot find 

out God. The writer accepts the ex- 
istence of God because his philosophy 
is idealistic. Contrary to popular opinion, the reduction of the 
facts of prayer to recognizable mental operations does not make 
the existence of God unnecessary and therefore highly improb- 
able. Only the superficial mind consigns God to innocuous 
desuetude when once his modes of self-expression are discovered. 
This study points toward a God who reveals himself in law 
and order. He is not the author of confusion but of regularity. 
The phenomenon of prayer is not only in a universe of law, 
but is also an integral part of it. To assign to prayer a well- 
merited place in the realm of natural law is to rescue it from 
the chaotic and capricious, from the weird and bizarre, from 
portents and prodigies, from infractions of and departures from 
the natural order. If God operates through law it follows that 
wherever laws are to be found he is manifesting himself. But 
let it be said with emphasis that to reduce prayer to laws written 
within us is far from offering an explanation of those laws, un- 
less explanation is simply to show that a given fact is related to 
another fact with which we are already acquainted. The prayer 
life, even when reducible to law, is still an impenetrable mystery. 
The most that can be said is that prayer as a regular phenomenon 
seems to express the orderly nature of the Power sustaining it. 
And that is after all a great deal. Ten- 
nyson in his justly famous apostrophe to 
Prayer the flower in the crannied wall says that 

Reflects God's if he understood it root and all he would 

Orderly Nature know the nature of God and man. Yet 

this much we know about a flower: it 
cannot transcend the laws of its being; 
it cannot grow suspended in midair in a perpetually dark cave. 
Although it holds in its petals the secret of the universe it pro- 

130 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

claims to all the world that its author moves in an orderly 
fashion. In a similar way this study looks toward a God who 
is continually realizing himself in terms of the generalizations 
which we call the laws of prayer. 

The conception of a God who lives apart from man out 
yonder on the most distant star in the stellar universe, self-con- 
tained and self-sufficient, should no longer obtain. The doctrine 
of the immanence of God sees in God the soul of the universe, 
the sustainer as well as the creator of all that is. Furthermore, 
the artificial barrier which has been 
erected between the so-called sacred 
The Sacred and secular should be demolished, 

and the The distinction is unfortunate. When 

Secular we reflect that the psychological ele- 

ments in the conversion of a Christian 
are akin to those in the conversion of 
a Sioux Indian, that the elimination of evil through prayer 
does not difFer essentially from the breaking of a bad habit 
through suggestion, that the answering of the prayer for guid- 
ance out of a perplexity and the subconscious solution of a 
mathematical problem arc reducible to the same mental processes, 
that the cure of hysteria and the relief afforded by the prayer 
of confession and praise are describable in terms of psychoan- 
alysis, that divine healing and mental therapeutics owe their 
efficacy to suggestion, — when we carefully weigh all of these 
facts we feel compelled to posit a God principle broad enough 
to be the common source of these manifold phenomena. One 
and the same God manifests himself in the law of gravitation 
and in the answer to prayer. There is no separate and distinct 
system of law exclusively devoted to the answering of prayer. 
In the wise economy of the natural order answers to prayer 
and phenomena other than answers to prayer are the product 
of one and the same system of law. It is unfortunate that the 
things wrought through prayer have been invested with a peculiar 
sanction to the disparagement of the same things obtained 
through other means. A cure resulting through the skill of a 
physician has been regarded as secular, and a cure in answer 

Wider Considerations 131 

to prayer has been considered a special manifestation of God's 
power. When once the significance of the immanence of God 
is grasped, all healing is divine, all guidance is providential, all 
elimination of evil is the work of the Eternal. 

If it be true that answer to prayer is obtained through 
the mental laws made operative by man, it follow^s that the 
purpose of man himself and not the mind of God is changed 
through prayer. The true end of prayer is the construction of 
a personality at one with God, and not the changing of the 
plan and purpose of the Eternal. In 
the equation of prayer man is the vari- 
Prayer Does able and the purpose of God is the con- 

Not Change stant factor. While we hold that God 

God's Purpose is the same yesterday, to-day and for- 

ever in his unchanging attitude toward 
man, it is equally and marvelously 
tenable that the answering of prayer through man is God's best 
opportunity for self-expression and self-expansion. Only as 
man chooses to express himself in highest terms of conduct does 
God himself come into his own. In a very vital sense we not 
only live and move and have our being in him, but he, in turn, 
lives and moves and has his being in us. 

Manifestly nothing of eternal value is lost in a psychological 
analysis of prayer. We have observed that prayer is useful , 
that it furthers adaptations to the environment, that it is com e 
that we might have lif e and that we might have it more abun- 
dantly, that, other thin gs being equal, the praying individual is 
like ly to survive Hsjrieighbor who neglects prayer. Prayer is 
not a pathological disturbance, but a 
normal source of power. We have seen 
that the attrlBute^f freedom, elemental 
Summary in nature, expresses itself in voluntary 

attention and ef^Eort in prayer. Con- 
cessions to heredity and environment are 
freely granted, but a strain of freedom 
significant enough to make man morally responsible is conserved. 
Not every prayer made may be born of free decision, but only 

132 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

an occasional and exceptional one. The exceptional case reveal- 
ing an element of moral choice is of sufficient importance to 
establish the presence and potency of the will. Given the ex- 
istence of God, the psychology of prayer reveals his orderly 
nature, breaks down the deistic distinction between the so-called 
secular and sacred, recognizes his presence in natural law, and 
holds that his attitude toward man is unchangeable. The doc- 
trine of the immanence of God is in harmony with the facts of 
prayer as psychology interprets them. The psychology of prayer 
does not presume to prove the existence of God, but it 
aims to show how God answers prayer. From the point 
of view set forth in these pages, prayer involves the 
co-operation of God and /man, being an act of the 
will making operative the laws of God written within 
man. Such an interpretation conserves the utility of the 
life of prayer, an element of self-direction in man, and 
an immanent God; are these not enough? 


The following questions mean to throw light on the sub- 
ject of prayer, its nature and scope. This is not an attempt to 
establish any doctrine, but to find the principles which underlie 
prayer. The success of this study will in part depend on the 
number of persons who are willing to sacrifice the time and 
effort to answer the following list of questions. 

Every confidence will be sacredly respected. We thank 
you in advance for any response you may see fit to give us. 

1. Are you conscious of the presence of God when you 

2. In your prayers do you make constant use of the 
promises of the Bible? 

3. Do you really believe that God will answer your 
prayers ? 

4. Has your prayer life been hindered by any of the 
following things: haste, irregularity, want of faith, lack of 
definiteness, etc.? 

5. Are your prayers sometimes answered in unexpected 
ways? Give instances. 

6. (a) What things do you make objects of prayer? 
(b) What things, if any, do you regard as improper 
objects of prayer? 

7. State what success you have had through prayer in 
the following cases: cure of disease, change of heart, temporal 
blessing, purity of life, elimination of evil, etc. 

8. How do you account for unanswered prayers, if 
there be such? 

9. Which do you find the more effective: public prayer 
by either the minister or the congregation, or private prayer? 

10. Give an account of any extraordinary answers to 
prayer you may have had. 

134 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

11. Were you accustomed to pray as a child? 

12. Were there any family prayers in your home? 

13. Please give 

(a) Name, (b) Age, (c) Sex, (d) Church affilia- 
tion, if any. 



Biederwolf, W. G., How Can God Answer Prayer? 
Chicago, 1906. 

Dominican Father, A, The Rosary, New York, 1900. 

Gordon, S. D., Quiet Talks on Prayer, New York, 1904. 

Holmes, E. Yj., Prayer and Action, London, 1911. 

Lawrence, Brother, The Practice of the Presence of God, 
Chicago, 1895. 

Mott, J. R., The Secret Prayer Life, New York, . 

Murray A., With Christ in the School of Prayer, New 
York, 1885. 

Phelps A., The Still Hour, Boston, 1859. 

Torrey, R. A., How to Pray, New York, 1900. 

Trumbull, H. C, Prayer, Its Nature and Scope, New 
York, 1896. 

, Illustrative Answers to Prayer, New York, 






Beck, F. O., Prayer, a Study of Its History and Psychology, 

Amer. Jour, of Rel. Psych, and Edu., ii, 1906. 

Coe, G. A., The Religion of a Mature Mind, 'New 
York, 1902. 

Cutten, G. B., The Psychological Phenomena of Christi- 
anity, New York, 1909. 

Goddard, H. H., The Effects of Mind on Body as Evi- 
denced by Faith Cures, Amer. Jour. Psych., x, 1889. 

136 Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

James, Wm., The Varieties of Religious Experience, New 
York, 1902. 

Marshall, H. R., Instinct and Reason, New York, 1898. 

Pratt. J. B., An Empirical Study of Prayer, Amer. Jour, of 
Rel. Psych, and Edu., iv, 1910. 

, The Psychology of Religious Belief, New 

York, 1907. 

Ransom, W. S., Studies in the Psychology of Prayer, Amer. 
Jour, of Rel. Psych and Edu., i, 1904. 

Segond, J., La Priere, Paris, 1911. 

Starbuck, E. D., The Psychology of Religion, London, 

Strong, A. L., The Psychology of Prayer, Chicago, 1909. 

Worcester, E., McComb, S., Coriat, I. H., Religion and 
Medicine, New York, 1908. 

Wundt, W. M., Voelkerpsychologie, \\, Leipsig, 1909. 

{NuTiibers refer to pages.) 

Allen, Robert, 82. 
Aristotle, 98. 
Arnold, Matthew, 57. 
Augustine, 69. 

Bacon, Francis, 46. 
Beethoven, 12. 
Begbie, H., 123. 
Biederwolf, W. G., 109. 
Book, F. W., 13. 
Bowne, B. P., 46, 128. 
Buddha, 51, 63, 64, 77. 
Butcher, S. H., 98. 

Carlyle, Thos., 60-61. 

Carpenter, W.'B., 62, 63, 73. 

Carrington, H., 29. 

Coe, G. A., 56, 75, 108, 109. 

Coombs, J. v., 66, 69, 70, 89. 

Curtis, H. S., 84. 

Curtis, O. A., 60. 

Davenport, F. W., 81. 
Dessoir, Max, 83. 
Dominic, 36. 
Dominican Father, 37. 
Donaldson, 83. 

Eddy, M. B., 67. 
Ellis, Havelock, 114. 

Freud, S., 96-97, 98. 

Goddard, H. H., 68, 71. 
Gordon, A. J., 70. 
Gordon, S. D., 105. 

Hamilton, Sir W. Rowan, 62. 
Hanson, F. C, 84. 
Harlow, W. E., 66. 
Hart, E. B., 19. 
Hippocrates, 98. 
Holmes, E. E., 90, 100. 
Howell, W. H., 33. 
Hyslop, T. B., 70. 

Jackson, H. H., 107. 

James, St., 113. 

James, Wm., 32, 34, 41, 44, 49, 

53, 56, 102, 126. 
Jastrow, Joseph, 11, 76, 84, 90. 
Jesus, 24, 43, 48, 64, 110. 

King, H. C, 126. 

Lawrence, Brother, 35, 95, 101. 

Lehmann, A., 84. 

Lessing, 100. 

Leuba, J. H., 30, 56. 

Lindley, E. H., 27. 

Luther, Martin, 23, 61. 

McCauley, Jerry, 81. 
Marshall, H. R., 28. 
Mott, J .R., 24. 


Auto-Suggestion in Private Prayer 

Mueller, F. Max, 25. 
Mueller, George, 81. 
Muensterberg, Hugo, 41 

90, 91. 
Murray, A., 43, 48. 
Myers, F. W., 52-53. 

Nachet, M., 62. 

Oldenberg, H., 63. 

Parish, E., 75, 90. 
Paul, 58, 59, 61, 100. 
Phelps, A., 30, 43, 111. 
PiUsbury, W. B., 26. 
Pratt, J. B., 19, 92. 

Reed, C. H., 70. 
Ribot, Theo., 31, 32. 
Robertson, F. W., 52. 

Scott, C. A., 28. 
Scripture, E. W., 46. 
Seashore, C. E., 69. 
Sidis, Boris, 20, 83, 114, 115. 
Sinclair, Upton, 28. 
Socrates, 74. 

Stanley, S. T., 19. 

Starbuck, E. D., 12, 49, 56, 57, 

Stephen, St., 58. 
Stout, G. F., 126. 
Strong, A. L., 106, 112. 
Sunday, W. A., 72. 

Teresa, St.,- 31. 
Titchener, E. B., 33. 
Todd, H. S., 19. 
Torrey, R. A., 43, 109. 
Trumbull, H. C, 43, 76, 86. 
Tylor, E. B., 36. 

Unbekannt, 52. 

Wattles, John, 86. 
Wenham, F. H., 62. 
Wesley, John, 60-61. 
Wiggins, Mrs., 117. 
Woods, J. H., 64. 
Worcester, E., 47, 67. 
Wundt, W., 84. 

Zeller, E., 74. 







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