Friday, March 01, 2002

Theta Waves, Mantras & The Lord's Prayer

When asked how to pray, Jesus advises in Matthew 6:7:

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."

‘Vain repetitions’ is also translated as ‘babbling’.

I’ve heard it suggested that the lesson being given here is against producing the kind of rote chanting common to eastern religions, whereby the practitioner repeats a word or phrase over and over. That is, don’t confuse the recitation of a mantra for prayer.

Jesus was concerned that repetitive chants lost their meaning –became, in fact, 'vain repetitions' when delivered by rote, with no conscious intent behind them.

He therefore prescribed the following as a model for prayer:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

We call this prayer ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, because it is the prayer Jesus used to teach his disciples how to pray. Given that context then, shouldn’t The Lord’s Prayer be a model of conscious prayer; not a prayer itself; and certainly not chanted or repeated verbatim by rote, as it so often is?

The Catholic Encyclopedia reports:

“In many monastic rules, (The Lords Prayer) was enjoined that the lay brothers, who knew no Latin, instead of the Divine office should say the Lord's Prayer a certain number of times (often amounting to more than a hundred) per diem. To count these repetitions they made use of pebbles or beads strung upon a cord, and this apparatus was commonly known as a "pater-noster", a name which it retained even when such a string of beads was used to count, not Our Fathers, but Hail Marys in reciting Our Lady's Psalter, or in other words in saying the rosary.”

But to my mind, this is in fact exactly the opposite of what Jesus intended.

He said: “…when ye pray, use not vain repetitions.”

Vain repetitions have their place though. It is said that chanting in a such a way to stimulate a deep meditative state induces the brain to slow down from its normal beta state (13-30Hz) to the alpha (8-12 Hz) or the even slower theta state (4-8 Hz).

And apparently that’s a good thing. Theta waves are linked to “creativity, intuition, daydreaming, and fantasizing and is a repository for memories, emotions, sensations. Theta waves are strong during internal focus, meditation, prayer, and spiritual awareness.” (

Therefore, one might conclude, that in fact:

When ye pray, by all means use such vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for by thinking not –and despite reports to the contrary– you will be rewarded with abundant creativity.

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Click on any link below to read the entire Mystic Audio Series:

1. Glossolalia: Speaking In Tongues
2. The Ur-Song
3. Theta Waves, Mantras & The Lord's Prayer
4. Atomic Rhythms
5. Thai Drum Samples For Sesame Workshop