The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” ~ Mtt 8:8
Of the many manifestations of the cult of self-importance that has overtaken our civic, cultural and political life, perhaps the most telling is the “selfie,” in which photographer and subject merge into one tight little bundle of narcissistic preoccupation. Perhaps this could more accurately be called the “Self-I,” since it is fundamentally all about the individual and his/her supposed importance to the world.
While this posture of preening might play well on Facebook and Instagram, if we are serious about developing a habit of prayer, we need to practice a different posture: humility. The beginning of prayer is an honest assessment of our own smallness and unimportance in relation to God. The more we turn the camera on ourselves, our own concerns, our achievements and successes, the less likely we are to direct our attention to God, where it belongs. In his day job, the centurion—a senior officer of the Roman army—was the master of many. Yet in the presence of Christ, he readily acknowledges his insufficiency.
We like to promote our own views and visions, concerns and opinions. But as British mystic Evelyn Underhill observed, “We make the first and greatest of our mistakes in religion when we begin with ourselves, our petty feelings and needs, ideas and capacities.” To pray from the heart, we must leave self-importance at the door and enter the spaces of prayer with a keen sense of our own insignificance against the magnificence of God’s power and love.
God of all creation, bring me to my knees as I come into your presence to pray, and make me fully aware of your glory. Amen.
Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill is an author, lecturer and Biblical scholar. She is the co-author, with Joseph Papp, of Shakespeare Alive! (Bantam Books), and is a contributor to Commonweal and America.