Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).
Years ago when I took up a more intentional practice of daily prayer, I learned more about myself than any previous time. One of the richest and most humbling lessons came when I caught myself trying to make an impression on God: I wanted to look good. I wanted to be the Teacher’s pet. Never mind that God knew me infinitely better than I knew myself and loved me warts and all for who I was, not for the fine mask I kept beaming at the heavens.
With a little mindfulness and, I suspect, a gentle invitation from One who loves me as I am, I realized the absurdity of this. I laughed at myself, and in doing so, I offered a much better prayer than any of the fine words I issued a few moments earlier. Authentic prayer emerged from my heart.
As we discussed the quest for the true self in the last three posts, our spiritual guide on this journey, Thomas Merton, helped us to see the need to become acquainted with our true selves, for through knowing ourselves we come to more intimately know and glorify God. It is a healing insight, full of power and purpose. As you can imagine, he has much to say about the true self’s foil, the false self:
All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.
Merton also wrote and taught masterfully about contemplative prayer, the kind of prayer I prayed when I came to my senses and caught myself trying to make an impression on God. Such prayer is longer on silence than speech, on unknowing than knowing, on loving more like a child than like a champion. During such authentic prayer, one listens and offers oneself to the Potter’s hand.
Many find authentic prayer challenging because they project a perfectionistic and austere god who makes a list, checks it twice, bound to find out who’s naughty or nice. That is the false self’s version of god, a deity for a self striving to become the best commodity on the identity market.
God only wants the real you, whoever you are, as you are. That is God’s righteousness and yours. Authentic prayer is easy when you face the reality of God. Being yourself is easy when you rest in God’s love.