How am I doing? The dangers of comparison

Comparison is a dangerous business – we are rarely level-headed in our judgement when we compare ourselves with others. Either we find fault with others and serve ourselves a little slice of ‘superiority pie’ or we feel intimidated by their brilliance/effectiveness/giftedness/fruitfulness and we defeat ourselves by picking up an inner badge and wearing it all day long – a badge that says “I’m inadequate I’ll never be that …… ” (fill in your own choice of golden quality to which you aspire).

For the last three weeks, I’ve been reading the same quotation every single day – yes, it’s that good!

Why every day? Because I have been practising (and believe me I need to) silent, sometimes called ‘Centering Prayer’ .,Yes, there IS an app for it and that IS how ‘centering’ it is spelt in the US – sorry, forgive the aside from British spelling pendant.  Here is what it looks like (the app, that is)

centering prayer

The idea of being silent is, rather obviously, trying to use as few words as possible to put and keep yourself quietly aware of being in the presence of God.  And if you believe that God is the Source of all life and loveliness, why would you not want to do this?

But it isn’t easy. This app helps, it takes you through 3 steps, a short reading from the Bible – I use the same one every day, a period of silence which it will time for you and ring you in to and out of so you don’t have to fidget and look at your watch and a final reading.

In the silence you take a word or phrase that you can breathe in  and out, preferably a short breath in and a longer breath out. My current favourite is ‘Be Loved’ but the word really doesn’t matter that much it’s just a point of focus, your mind needs something to focus on if you are asking it to be still. When you reach a period of contented silence in your head, you can let go of the word and just be. The word is not there to be repeated mechanically.

Anyway the app offers you a choice of scriptures to open your silence and a choice of quotes to close it. This was how I fell over the quote by Thomas Keating that I have found so nourishing to chew over and over and over.

Scroll down for the quote in its entirety if you don’t want my commentary.

The way of pure faith is to persevere in contemplative practice...” if the phrase ‘contemplative practise’ trips you up or feels weird to you substitute ‘staying in the flow of the Holy Spirit’, staying connected to God’

without worrying about where we are on the journey and without comparing ourselves with others or judging others gifts as better than ours” – this is what I said at the start about ‘superior pie’ or ‘badge of inadequacy’.

We can be spared all this nonsense if we surrender ourselves to the Divine action, whatever the psychological content of our prayer may be”  He’s saying here that it is allowing God to do what God does that matters not what we say, but we get so obsessed with what we do in prayer and whether we are doing it ‘right’. So I read some books and am convicted to be praying in tongues, I read other authors and learn that I should journal. Some streams of Christianity despise written corporate prayer and yet others feel uncomfortable with extemporary (freestyle ie use your own words) prayer. What Keating is saying in this phrase ‘whatever the psychological content’ is that none of that matters. Pray however you like, use words, no words, pray in tongues, journal, draw pictures, use your body to pray…. what MATTERS is what God does when we pray, not what we do or how we do what we do.

the divine action” is how Keating describes what God does – and by this he doesn’t mean that God rushes off in response to our prayers, like some servant to whom we’ve just handed instructions, this isn’t about God graciously answering specific requests which he sometimes does, “the divine action” is God being present in our lives and growing us in the same way that light grows a seed.

In pure faith” he goes on “ the results are often hidden even from those who are growing the most…the Divine light of faith is totally available in the degree that we consent and surrender ourselves to its presence and action within”.

That last phrase tells me that the only thing that limits my growth in my awareness of God and his influence in my life… is ME. He doesn’t limit how much of him I can have. How much do I ‘consent and surrender’ or even simply remind myself moment by moment of God’s certain but intangible and invisible presence with me, within me, beside me, in front of me, behind me…. moment by moment, throughout the day.

The way of pure faith is to persevere in contemplative practice without worrying about where we are on the journey and without comparing ourselves with others or judging others gifts as better than ours We can be spared all this nonsense if we surrender ourselves to the Divine action, whatever the psychological content of our prayer may be. In pure faith the results are often hidden even from those who are growing the most…the Divine light of faith is totally available in the degree that we consent and surrender ourselves to its presence and action within.

Thomas Keating Invitation to Love

I don’t know who said it but this is good too:

Better a heart without words, than words without a heart…

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