Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality,
DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_13, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
Individual Religious and Spiritual Practices
In the last chapter, we examined communal aspects of religious and spiritual
practice. In this chapter, we will look at practices that are more individual in their
orientation, although as we shall see they have communal aspects as well. In par-
ticular, we will look at the practices of prayer and meditation, as well as ascetic
or lifestyle practices that support these spiritual disciplines.
13.1 Religious and Spiritual Practices: Prayer and Meditation
Prayer and meditation are perhaps the most important individual spiritual practices.
They have also been the focus of an important dialogue with psychology. An under-
standing of both prayer and meditation is thus very important.
Prayer is a central feature of many religious traditions, an activity that gives voice
to religious experience (Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2003, p. 6; Putt,
2005). It is typically associated with Christianity, although many people in the devo-
tional traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism also practice it. In the early Christian
was variously defined as a petitioning of God for what
is fitting (Basil), and ascent of the mind or spirit to God (Evagrius), or a conversa-
tion with God (Origen, 1994; Spidlik, 1986, pp. 308–311; 2005, pp. 34–36). This
activity can be of two types: an effortful,
involving speech and
the imagination or an effortless letting go that allows God to speak as found in
. Christian and Buddhist approaches to prayer contain exam-
ples of both types (Pennington, 2001, pp. 60–61; Barry, 2001, pp. 98–99).
In the Christian tradition, prayer is ideally a transformative experience. In
advanced prayer experiences as described by masters like Teresa of Avila, our previ-
ous ways of looking at the world and ourselves are called into question in a kind of
state that opens up possibilities for conversion and transformation (Welch,
1982, pp. 24–38; see Section 12.4.1). Ideally, prayer moves us away from illusion,
although some have pointed out that like any spiritual practice, prayer can become
magical or illusionary if practiced in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons
(Nouwen, 1975; Fuller, 1988, p. 124; Johnson & Boyatzis, 2006). It also orients
us toward a deep relationality, trust and recognition of dependence and away from