The Use of Words in Prayer and Practice

What is Important is the Meaning Behind the Words

The words we practice are not important in themselves. They are simply a doorway to a certain meaning. The words call to mind the meaning. Therefore, we must not get caught up in the words, but rather focus on the meaning, try to allow it to sink into our minds, think about it, try to feel it. In essence, our minds need to go beyond the words to their meaning. When we have fully embraced that meaning, we no longer need the words.

Then close your eyes and tell yourself again, slowly and thoughtfully, attempting to allow the meaning of the words to sink into your mind, replacing false ideas: (W-pI.95.11:3)

Think of what you are saying; what the words mean. (W-pI.41.9:2)

Repeat this several times, and then attempt to feel the meaning that the words convey. (W-pI.95.11:5)

His confidence in you will bring the light to all the words you say, and you will go beyond their sound to what they really mean. (W-pI.98.7:4)

Let each word shine with the meaning God has given it, as it was given to you through His Voice. (W-pI.rIV.IN.7:4)

To say these words is nothing. But to mean these words is everything. (W-pI.185.1:1-2)

And I would go beyond these words today, and past all reservations, and arrive at full acceptance of the truth in them. (W-pII.284.1:8)

What is Important is the Desire Behind the Words

We do not pray with our words but our desire. Words only are able to help us concentrate on our desire and keep our minds from wandering off. In other words, at best they only focus our desire, help us keep our minds on it.

Strictly speaking, words play no part at all in healing. The motivating factor is prayer, or asking. What you ask for you receive. But this refers to the prayer of the heart, not to the words you use in praying. Sometimes the words and the prayer are contradictory; sometimes they agree. It does not matter. God does not understand words, for they were made by separated minds to keep them in the illusion of separation. Words can be helpful, particularly for the beginner, in helping concentration and facilitating the exclusion, or at least the control, of extraneous thoughts. Let us not forget, however, that words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality. (M-21.1:10)

God Gives Us Words to Use

Words are gateways to meaning. Because the meaning we seek is not of us, but of God, He should be the one to provide the words that will take us to that meaning.

These words are sacred, for they are the words God gave in answer to the world you made. (W-pI.162.1:4)

These are the words the Holy Spirit speaks in all your tribulations, all your pain, all suffering regardless of its form. (W-pI.193.5:2)

And is it not a kindness to yourself to hear His Voice and learn the simple lessons He would teach, instead of trying to dismiss His words, and substitute your own in place of His?

His words will work. His words will save. His words contain all hope, all blessing and all joy that ever can be found upon this earth. His words are born in God, and come to you with Heaven’s love upon them. Those who hear His words have heard the song of Heaven. For these are the words in which all merge as one at last. And as this one will fade away, the Word of God will come to take its place, for it will be remembered then and loved. (W-pI.198.5:3-6:7)

Words Cannot Truly Describe Reality

Reality can only be known through direct knowledge. It cannot be known through perception, in which the subject stands apart from the object it seeks to know. As soon as you stand apart from reality, you cannot know it. This is why words cannot describe reality. They are symbols, and symbols by nature stand outside that which they point to. They therefore put one who approaches reality through them in that same position. He becomes one who stands outside the reality he seeks to know. He becomes a perceiver. In the perceptual realm, words do not pose a problem. They merely point at something that is already considered outside of us. They act like our own finger, which points at something in our environment. Yet this means they naturally tie us to a realm in which we can only stand outside and point. They cannot take us to the place where subject and object are perfectly one.

Revelation is intensely personal, & is actually not translatable into conscious content at all. That is why any attempt to describe it in words is usually incomprehensible, even to the writer himself at another time. (Urtext version of T-1.II.2:1-2)

Comment: Revelation is so absolutely direct (personal) that it can’t be put in terms the perceptual (subject-object) mind can understand. That is why it can’t be put in words–because they are the tools of that mind.

This is true, but it is hard to explain in words because words are symbols, and nothing that is true need be explained. (T-7.I.6:4)

Comment: Words are symbols. They stand apart from what they symbolize. They don’t yield direct knowledge.

And God Himself speaks to His Son, as His Son speaks to Him. Their language has no words, for what They say cannot be symbolized. (W-pI.129.4:2-3)

Comment: Again the reason words are ultimately inadequate is tied to the inadequacy of symbols. The truth cannot be symbolized because its very nature is directness, knowledge.

We say “God is,” and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless. (W-pI.169.5:4)

Comment: Again the inadequacy of words is tied to the directness of knowledge.

Therefore it uses words, which are symbolic, and cannot express what lies beyond symbols. (C-IN.3:3)

Comment: Again the problem with words is that they are symbols.

Let us not forget, however, that words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality. (M-21.1:9-10)

Comment: This says it explicitly. Symbols by nature are removed from reality.

Nor is there any need for us to try to speak of what must forever lie beyond words. (T-18.IX.11:2)

Yet even they will be exchanged at last for what we cannot speak of, for you go from there to where words fail entirely, into a silence where the language is unspoken and yet surely understood. (W-pI.129.3:3)

In this eternal, still relationship, in which communication far transcends all words, and yet exceeds in depth and height whatever words could possibly convey, is peace eternal. (W-pI.183.11:6)

The truth of what we are is not for words to speak of nor describe. (W-pII.14.2:4)

Going Beyond Words in Our Practice

The Course thus has two different attitudes toward the use of words:

1. Positive: Words stand for meaning.

They thus can carry our minds towards a new, higher meaning. They can keep our minds focus on the meaning we desire. Therefore, it is important to use the words in such a way that you go beyond them. We do this by concentrating on the meaning they represent. When we fully experience and embrace that meaning, we no longer need the words.

2. Negative: Words stand for something beyond themselves.

The very fact about words that makes them so useful also limits their usefulness. Because they speak of something beyond themselves, they place that something “out there,” outside of us. They make us into a perceiver, a subject trying to perceive what they refer to. They thus block true knowledge, in which subject and object unite and reality is known directly, without the mediation of symbols.

The Course thus affirms the use of words in our prayers and practices, and affirms going beyond words into wordless silence where we wait for direct experience. How does it work out this dichotomy? It sees us making a journey from one to the other. We start out relying heavily on words. But this reliance slowly diminishes. First we introduce wordless practice into our repertoire. These times of wordless practice are usually preceded by verbal practices that prepare us for the silence. As we go on, we not only do more wordless practice, when we do use words, we use fewer of them. We may get more out of practicing with a single word than we used to get from many words. Finally, we go beyond the need for words altogether. We are able to simply direct our minds to sink into the peace of God.

The words are only aids to be used at the beginning and end of practice

We practice wordlessly today, except at the beginning of the time we spend with God. We introduce these times with but a single, slow repeating of the thought with which the day begins. (W-pI.151.13:1-2)

Yet are the words but aids, and to be used, except at the beginning and the end of practice periods, but to recall the mind, as needed, to its purpose. We place faith in the experience that comes from practice, not the means we use. We wait for the experience, and recognize that it is only here conviction lies. We use the words, and try and try again to go beyond them to their meaning, which is far beyond their sound. The sound grows dim and disappears, as we approach the Source of meaning. It is Here that we find rest. (W-pI.rV.IN.12:1-6)

We say some simple words of welcome, and expect our Father to reveal Himself, as He has promised. (W-pII.IN.3:3)

Our final lessons will be left as free of words as possible. We use them but at the beginning of our practicing, and only to remind us that we seek to go beyond them. (W-FL.IN.1:1-2)

Reducing our words

No other word we use except at the beginning, when we say today’s idea but once. And then God’s Name becomes our only thought, our only word, the only thing that occupies our minds, the only wish we have, the only sound with any meaning, and the only Name of everything that we desire to see; of everything that we would call our own. (W-pI.183.6:5-6)

No prayer but this is necessary, for it holds them all within it. Words are insignificant, and all requests unneeded when God’s Son calls on his Father’s Name. (W-pI.183.10:2-3)

Instead of words, we need but feel His Love. Instead of prayers, we need but call His Name. (W-pII.IN.10:3-4)

Perhaps he needs to remember, “God is with me. I cannot be deceived.” Perhaps he prefers other words, or only one, or none at all. (M-16.10:5-7)

We have no words to give to You. We would but listen to Your Word, and make it ours. (W-pI.rV.IN.2:3-4)

When you experience what lies beyond words, they become superfluous

Words alone can not convey the sense of liberation which their lifting brings. But the experience of freedom and of peace that comes as you give up your tight control of what you see speaks for itself. Your motivation will be so intensified that words become of little consequence. You will be sure of what you want, and what is valueless. (W-pI.In(181-200).2:3-6)

Going beyond words means going into direct experience

We will attempt to get beyond all words and special forms of practicing for this review. For we attempt, this time, to reach a quickened pace along a shorter path to the serenity and peace of God. (W-pI.rVI.IN.4:1-2)

Words will mean little now. We use them but as guides on which we do not now depend. For now we seek direct experience of truth alone. (W-pII.IN.1:1-3)

Our use for words is almost over now. (W-pII.14.2:1)


[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]