The Un-Selfie: Nov. 28, First Monday of Advent

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.
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Bruce Snowden
1 year 10 months ago
Hi Ms. Cahill, Respectfully, allow these few words responding to your Advent Prayer Meditation. I agree with you, that at prayer there must be the recognition and acceptance of the truth of our smallness and in relation to the unfathomable grandeur that is God, of our unimportance. It’s easy for me to accept my smallness even taking delight in it, knowing that God likes to make big things out of small things. Such signs abound! But it’s more difficult for me to see myself ever as “unimportant” as it conflicts with who I believe I am, a child of God. However, I do sense your meaning and so it is true in comparison to God I am in fact an unimportant nobody, kind of jarring to admit, because how can I truthfully say that any of God’s creations are unimportant? Jesus did say that prayer should be offered in simplicity and truth, the most imperative of the two is truth, if we want God to “pay attention” so to speak. I thin His focus on truth as the most essential element in prayer is validated by His words, “If you ask the Father for anything in My Name, it will be granted.” Jesus has many names preeminently “Truth” as Pilate discovered in a sneering remark to Jesus, “What is truth?” at the Praetorium. Jesus answered with body language looking at the Governor straight in his face, using no words, the message clear, “I Am!” So I do understand that real prayer concerns itself only with what God sees as true. Obviously praying for anything that doesn’t exist in the Mind of God that is, without a truth-foundation, is absolutely futile. Thanks for your Advent reflections. I will try to pray in truth this Advent, I mean “truly pray” realizing even more deeply a belief expressed earlier elsewhere, Prayer is about GIVING, not GETTING. This, my Un-Selfie, Selfie,


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