Thoughts on prayer: the Trisagion, Ho’oponopono, and more

Some have wondered about the name of this website, In The Spirit of Truth. As mentioned in my Welcome page, the URL is from a line in one my favorite prayers called the Trisagion, which means “thrice holy.”

The Trisagion (tri-SAH-ghee-on) is a set of ancient prayers from the Orthodox Church that are used at the very beginning of most corporate and private prayers. Sort of a prayer before the prayers. Paraphrasing Fr. Bill, the Trisagion is about making sure you’re reaching the right person. It’s like having your friend’s phone number. You wouldn’t key in some random set of numbers and expect to hear your friend answer. Opening prayers with the Trisagion is dialing up the exact right divine nonphysical entity, the Holy Trinity. Once you’ve got them on the line, now proceed with specific prayers, such as traditional Orthodox common morning prayers, special occasion prayers, or your own private personal prayers for any other purpose.

Below is the text of the Trisagion prayer. It is usually spoken but portions are also sung, in the clip below.

The Trisagion

+Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious One.
+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. [3x]
+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake. 
Lord, have mercy. [3x]
+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Usually the Trisagion is spoken, but can be sung or chanted such as this excerpt from the Akathist of Thanksgiving.

The Lords Prayer, I particularly love the way Orthodox sing. The recording below is from an Orthodox wedding. The Lord’s prayer is also part of the Trisagion, but not usually sung at that early part of prayer. (I used to sing it to my daughter when she was a baby, during our prayers at home.) I just love this!

Focus and Practice

What’s most important is focus and practice. When I first started coming to the Orthodox liturgy, I was uncomfortable and critical of how prayers were repeated all the time, the same words used, week after week. I shared my feelings at Intro to Orthodoxy class and Fr. Bill explained that learning how to pray is very much like learning how to play an instrument. Just like practicing scales over and over again until they become second nature, you practice to the point where you don’t have to think about them, and now you can become a conduit for creativity. Then you can start making music. He said it’s the same with prayer. That made a lot of sense to me.

Neurologically, when we practice anything it’s like making a path through the woods, but in our brains. The electrical impulses actually cut a “neural pathway” through our brain. Repeating anything does. Driving to work. Habitual thoughts. Practicing scales. They all  create paths of least resistance for neural impulses to travel — over time and with repetition it becomes easier and easier than hacking through thick brush with a machete. Getting good at anything is the same. Walking. talking. Communicating.

Prayer really is a form of communication.

In its simplest most basic form, communication is a sender, a receiver, and a message. The goal of course being the conveyance of a message and connection to another– the very definition of relationship. For connection and communication to occur, both parties need to be speaking the same language, not have any interference or noise, and each party takes turns speaking (sending) and listening (receiving). They are two different modes. One cannot speak and listen at the same time.

Remember the game “Telephone” in kindergarten? Everyone stands in a circle, the starting person whispers a phrase into the ear of their friend on the left (sending), who hears it (receiving) and passes it on by whispering into the ear of their friend on their left, (sending) and so on. Lowering the voice to a whisper represents a form of interference (noise), because there’s not enough amplification for the conveyance of all the nuances of the sounds of the words, thereby interfering with communication. By the time the message gets conveyed to the last person, it is usually quite changed from the original message. Imagine if nobody listened, but everyone talked or whispered. That’s kind of how our lives are these days.

Here’s what I think. People who believe God isn’t there, isn’t listening, is unresponsive — they have it backwards. The Blessed Elder Paisios said God is broadcasting 24/7; out job is to tune ourselves to his frequency. We are the ones not listening.

Truly, in my own experience — and I’m not a pro at prayer like the monks of Mount Athos, are — and in that of concert musicians and painters and anyone creative —  it is normal to experience and receive communication a higher Source.  To quiet the mind is key: stopping thought, getting into listening mode. It’s not hard, really. You can do it right now, while reading this. Close your eyes for just a few minutes and notice your breathing. Or a meaningless sound like a fan or clock ticking. Notice how as soon as you start listening, your mind shuts off, not thinking. You can focus attention, and shift your focus. Notice your heart beating. Now notice your breathing. Now notice any other sound in the room or outside the room. Tap your foot on the floor and hear that. That ability to focus attention and listen is the key. Focus on listening, receiving thoughts, instead of thinking thoughts.

Another analogy: baseball. You’re either up to bat (sending) or you’re out in the field waiting to catch a fly ball (receiving.) They’re completely separate modes, and you can’t do both at the same time.

Thoughts are like a roaring wind over the pond of the mind. The waters of the mind churn in the wind. But stopping the wind of thought allows the waters of the mind to become still. Once the roar of the wind is stilled–now you can hear a beautiful bird singing or crickets chirping. When the mind is still — that’s when prayer becomes a conversation. Also, if you are worrying, upset, or feeling angry about anything it is virtually impossible to come into real communication, to listen, in prayer.

Recently I wrote about my experience of a very painful injury and how offering a prayer of appreciation at that time was a kind of sacrifice. It’s also a kind of sacrifice to remove  overlook –withdraw attention–from what is unwanted, and find things to appreciate and praise. Over the years I have come to find that offering prayers of appreciation are the most satisfying.

I love just reading the text of the Akathist of Thanksgiving. I find it moving. Hearing it beautifully chanted (below), is beautiful. (The word akathist is Greek meaning “standing prayers.” Orthodox stand a lot.)


 

The Jesus Prayer

I have found great benefit from two other very simple prayers: the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me,” repeated while working, is very transformative and comforting. It is particularly effective if having trouble sleeping,  feeling afraid of anything, having lack of confidence. I find that the aroma of Frankincense, or a blend containing Frankincense or other wood oils, such as Balance, is also very comforting and calms the mind.

Ho’oponopono

Another very short and effective practice of getting in and out of the modes of sending and receiving, is the practice of the traditional Hawaiian prayer called Ho’Oponopono, which translates into English as “to make right,” or “prayer of forgiveness.” It entails simply focusing upon the following four emotional states in succession:

“I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”

The key is focus attention, recalling something that evokes the target emotion in a strong way. For example, for “I love you,” I like to think about snuggling with my dog. I just love him and he is so unconditional, I can really deeply feel into the feeling of love.

For “I am sorry,” I think back to the worst offense I ever made to someone I love. Like my mother.

For “Please forgive me,” I thinks about asking with great intention for the forgiveness regarding the above offense. Because I really want to set it right.

For “Thank you,” I feel into the sublime appreciation of receiving forgiveness from that person, or animal, from whom I ask forgiveness.

Besides documented evidence that a traditional Hawaiian practitioner once used Ho’Oponopono to cure the emotional ills of staff and inmates of an entire hospital for the criminally insane in Hawaii, I myself have experienced small miracles with the practice. Such as the time I was catching a 9 am flight from Milwaukee to LA to attend a conference. I made a mistake in putting the wrong time into my phone, and miscalculated my departure from the house to drive through downtown Milwaukee to catch the flight. I raced out of the house a full hour later than needed!

For the entire 30-minute drive from to the airport during weekday morning rush-hour traffic in the rain, I repeated the prayer, over and over, feeling into each expression:
“I love you, I am so sorry, please forgive me, thank you.”

I will never for that drive. It felt like the parting of the Red Sea. The traffic just opened for me, I drove solid freeway times without a single slow-down and arrived 25 minutes before my flight. A pre-TSA boarding pass came out of the machine; I ran through the airport with my bags in hand as it was too late to check them. Security waived me and my bags through. I RAN through the airport and heard my name called out over the intercome twice before arriving at my gate, just as they were the closing the doors and I made it onto the plane.

So…that’s where In The Spirit of Truth comes from, and some of my experiences with prayer. Do you have any experiences with prayer to share? Thanks for reading!

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