Prayer and Self Awareness
A reflection on Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In recent posts we have been looking at how we might develop our spirituality, intentionally seeking God’s presence within. One of the reasons that we are not aware of this presence is because we tend to live our lives on the surface, via the external facing ego where the things of the world are more important to us. That’s not to say that we are called to withdraw from the world on the spiritual path, but rather we are called to live in the world through a Christ consciousness and not our ego consciousness. But in the first instance this demands a degree of self awareness. We have to recognise our egoic failings, know how proud our hearts can be and how our egos have a somewhat selfish approach to navigating us through the vagaries of the external world. At our most surface level we are both blind and ignorant to the sacredness of the presence within us and equally blind to the actions of the ego as it attempts to influence and control external reality.
As we become more self aware we see this and realise the futility of the ego’s actions. We begin to see that the real path to peace is to trust in God. But the movement from our egoic self towards trusting fully in God is one of humility. It is one of knowing who we are before God. Our self righteousness must go and a desire to discover and be led by that inner presence must outweigh the ego’s need to call the shots.
In our Gospel reading we hear about the two men who go to pray one is a Pharisee the other is a tax collector. The Pharisee’s job was to ensure that the Jews kept strictly to the religious laws. Often the demands for adherence to the law were harsh and unnecessary and had absolutely no touch of the spirit of love about them at all. There was a blind self righteousness depicted in the stories of the Pharisees which reflects our own. It typifies egoic pride and the lack of awareness of the inner presence of God whose fruits are compassion for the world. The other person who went to pray was a tax collector. Now tax collectors were hated! Their job was to collect the taxes for Rome, which were already high and after they had added their own slice on top many people struggled to live. They were despised by their own people for making them suffer and were rejected by the community.
Anyway, they both go to pray and the Pharisee makes his prayer saying ‘I thank you that I am not like other people thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector’ I fast twice a week I give a tenth of all my income.’ So here is a man who is totally blind to his own egoic failings, no self awareness at all, he has no idea of the spiritual harm he is doing with his cold, erroneous, literal application of scripture. He clearly goes through the motions of religious life so believes he is right with God.
But the tax collector, we are told, is standing far off, not even able to look up to heaven but was beating on his breast and saying ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’. Now here was someone who knew himself, he knew his failings and came in complete humility recognising who God is the greater order of things and could not face Him in the knowledge of his own wrongdoing! We are told that it was this man who went home justified before God. So it was his own self awareness, his humble awareness of God and understanding the right order of the relationship between the two that justified him in the integrity of his prayer.
Now as with all of these stories, they remain nothing but ancient stories without our applying them. The real point of the parable is to highlight the influence both of these archetypes have within us. Which is a much deeper truth than any literal event
We all have times when we are blindly self righteous and are ignorant of the effect this has on others. We go through the motions of church going and charitable giving and we think we are OK with God. But equally we are capable of taking a long hard look at ourselves and knowing that there isn’t a day that goes by when we haven’t hurt someone or engaged in gossip or some other such activity that directly or indirectly hurts our neighbour or the wider world. It is our awareness of it and our preparedness to offer it to God in humility that makes all the difference because it signals an intention to make that movement closer to placing our fullest trust in God and not the ego.
Daily confession is a really healthy way of praying, not that we might be absolved of guilt and then just carry on as blind as ever, but done properly it increases our self awareness of the lengths our own ego will go to to remain in self righteous control. Sharing with God in this way, asking for our blindness to be healed that we might come to experience His presence within, will transform our dealings with the world. In time we will notice a change in our spiritual chemistry and our minds and actions are changed accordingly.
The prayer of Examen is a daily practice that is used to help us grow in our awareness of self and God. Below I offer the steps of that prayer.
The Examen prayer
Become aware of the presence of God who is always with
Take some time to reflect on all the things for which you are thankful for on this day and all of the blessings you have received. Take time to relive these moments as if they were happening again.
Review your day, ask God to show you the times when you felt you were moving towards His love and when you felt you were moving away.
Call to mind something for which you are sorry…and then experience His great love and mercy
Plan to do something differently tomorrow…what practical actions can you take based on the awareness received in this prayer.