Neil Douglas-Klotz is the author of Prayers of the Cosmos, Desert Wisdom , and The Hidden Gospel. As an independent scholar of religious studies, spirituality, and psychology, he has worked for decades to revive the body-based forms of prayer and meditation practiced throughout the Holy Land of Jesus' time. Here, Neil Douglas-Klotz reflects upon the connections between scriptural meditation and body-based prayer—and why the Lord's Prayer may be the perfect framework for marrying these two practices.
Sounds True: How did you become interested in the study of Aramaic, and in the practices of body prayer?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: I was raised in a family with both a Jewish and a Christian background, and one where I heard many different languages spoken while I was growing up. So I've always been interested in language and how it influences our perceptions and thoughts. Later, I learned Aramaic and Hebrew, and I chose a doctorate in both religious studies and somatic psychology because I felt that only by using both language interpretation and a knowledge of body-based psychology could I approach the unity of what Jesus' words meant to his original listeners.
Sounds True: Why did you choose the Lord's Prayer as the framework for Original Prayer and Prayers of the Cosmos?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: The Lord's Prayer, or Prayer of Jesus, expresses in compact form the principal teachings that make up the mysticism that Jesus expressed. Until recently, it has been obscured by centuries of inadequate translations and dualistic Western Christian theology, which makes the need to reclaim this mysticism even more important than ever.
Sounds True: You've said that prayer is “not simply a petition to some being outside ourselves, but a whole process.” Can you tell us about this whole process?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: Aramaic doesn't have a separate word for prayer and meditation. It doesn't even have a word that separates the inner and the outer life. The word “prayer” in Aramaic means “to open oneself to allow the sacred to fill one's life, inside and out.”
“God” in Aramaic means “One Being-ness”—not some thought-form image outside of oneself. As I sometimes say, “God” in Aramaic means that no one and nothing is excluded. The prayer that Jesus gave can guide one through a meditative process that begins in blessing and proceeds through letting go, vision, embodiment, and compassionate sharing of the gifts of creation with all of one's community, human and non-human.
Sounds True: What indications do we have that Jesus and the early Christians prayed like this, rather than the way many do today?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: When the word “God” means “All that Is,” there is no separation between inner and outer. Simply saying words to a thought-form ideal “out there”—outside of the self—would have no meaning to a first-century Middle-Eastern mystic like Jesus. In the “original prayer” of Jesus, one would bring an affirmation into action in one's outer community, in the form of social justice, as well as into one's inner community—what we would call the subconscious—in the form of inner healing.
Sounds True: Could you tell us about the Aramaic meaning of the phrase “thy kingdom come”?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: The Aramaic word for “kingdom,” malkuta, is gendered feminine, so it is better translated as “queendom.” And the word's root really refers to what I call the “I Can” or empowerment that comes when one receives a vision that makes sense of one's life, inner and outer. So the “kingdom of heaven” that Jesus came to bring was both inner and outer, both personal and political. It means that one should link up again to the “I Can” that pervades the waves of sacred vibration throughout the cosmos. This latter part is the actual translation of “heaven,” not some place or reward that one receives for behaving or acting a particular way. That type of heaven is a product of Western Christian theology, and would have been entirely unknown to Jesus and his listeners.
Sounds True: Why is breathing so important in the practice of body prayer?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: Aramaic has only one word that means “breath,” “wind,” “air,” “atmosphere,” or “spirit.” So if Jesus said anything about “spirit” or “Holy Spirit,” he was also talking about breath. My breath connects with our breath, which connects to the breath of the whole planet, which connects to the source of all breath and atmosphere throughout the cosmos. This Source of Breath was called the Ruha d'Qoodsha—Holy Breath. In denying this Holy Breath, we cut ourselves off from Alaha, the Only Being. And this is the only “sin” (literally, “separation”) that cannot be healed—until we begin to breathe again with less ego and more humility. In this sense, we, the human species on this planet, need to take a big, conscious breath.
Sounds True:Finally, how do you envision the future of Christianity?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: My hope is that Christians of all persuasions will be inspired to experience what Jesus did, and to do as he did: heal the sick, love the outcasts, and accept all in compassion. No matter what one wishes to believe about who Jesus was, I hope that Christians can meet those of other faiths around a common table, sharing the wisdom of Jesus, rather than making claims of exclusivity about him. This is a way forward for peace not only among Christians, but between Christians and other faiths around the world.