PRAYER: The True Self by M. Basil Pennington

The True Self by M. Basil Pennington

From An Invitation to Centering Prayer

When we were born – of course, most of us don’t remember it for ourselves, though it is all written deep in our memories – we experienced ourselves as little bundles of need.  We needed warmth, we needed stroking, we needed nurture.  All these things were very important to us.  And we yowled to get them.

And most of us got them.

Our consciousness expanded.  The persons who supplied these needs became very important to us.  There was a deep bonding.

As we grew and our consciousness continued to expand, we became aware of how important were the things we did, our doings.  We learned that if we acted in a certain way, people would give us what we wanted.  If we kept certain people happy with the way we acted, rewards would be forthcoming.  And we would be the envy of others.

Gradually out of all of this came a sense of self – unfortunately a false sense of self.  We saw outselves as what we had, what we could do, what others thought of us.

That’s how most of us still see ourselves, most of the time.

Have you ever noticed how often, when a man introduces himself, he immediately tells you what he does.  And when he doesn’t, how quickly do you ask him that question: What do you do?  That’s why it is so difficult for many men to retire – they have so identified themselves with what they do that to no longer do it is like losing a big part of themselves.

In the past, women didn’t do this so much.  They weren’t thought to do anything significant, being just housewives and mothers.  (What a strange sense of values we sometimes have!)  They often identified with what they had: their clothes, their jewelry, their hair.  But it was the same false sense of self showing up.

Times have changed, of course.  Today, Mrs. Jones is apt to be president of the company while Mr. Jones may be wearing his gold bracelet, neck chain, and even earrings.

It is a very fragile image, made up of what we have, what we do, and what other people think of us.  We can so easily lose things, lose our ability to perform, lose our hold on others.  We tend to be very defensive.

We tend to be competitive.  After all, the more he gets, the less I get.  The more they like her, the less they are going to like me and take care of me.

This false sense of self leads to frustration and even to violence.  If I sense that I must always do what others want, that I must please them to get what I want, deep down I resent it.  I even hate them.  Of course, I can’t admit that, even to myself.  I have to keep pleasing them to keep getting what I want and need.  So I repress my resentment and live with frustration.  And then one day we come to our senses….

Our false sense of self flows over into our experience of God.  For many people  God is just the big one out there somewhere, the giver of the real goodies that last forever.  We have to satisfy him, or else.  This is their sense of religion: satisfying God to get what they want – and resenting God for making such demands on them.

But all of this is not the reality.  It is not who we really are.  It is not the way things really are.

God is not somebody out there who is going to give us eternal goodies.  God is a loving friend who dwells within us, wanting to dwell within so that God can teach us all things and, above all, tell us of God’s love.

We want to come to see our true selves, that self who dwells in God’s creative love.  At our center we are not empty, needy little things.  At our center we are full, very full – full of God with all his creative love.

We don’t have to care about what other people think of us.  God thinks the world of us – he made the world just for us.  “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”  We can do whatever we want: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”  We can have whatever we want: “Ask and you shall receive.”

We want to truly experience our selves.  We want to discover not only how rich and powerful and beautiful we are – discover how much we are loved, because God does dwell with us as a most loving friend and teacher and Lord.

But how do we come home?

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