A Prayer of Self Disclosure by Lloyd Edwards Introduction
In most printed prayers (e.g. The Book of Common Prayer), and in most public prayers, the emphasis is on God and not on self. This is in keeping with traditional religious attitudes, where God is to be glorified and self is to be deprecated. In those prayers, and in prayers based on traditional religious attitudes, we usually hide ourselves before God's grandeur, like an errant child “keeping a low profile,” or like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden. In emerging religious attitudes the ego is to be healthy and strong but not imperial (Jesus certainly had a strong ego), and prayer is where we bring the self before God. This means that we do not need to hide in our encounter with God; on the contrary we need to disclose what we know of who we are. We need a way of praying that allows us to bring ourselves before God, to name ourselves so that God, who knows our true name, can illuminate and correct our partial self-knowledge. Here I present a form of prayer that meets this need. Many to whom I taught this form of prayer report that they have indeed been blessed by it. The skeptic may object, “God knows what we need and who we are. Why should we have to tell God what's going on inside us?” The problem with that objection is that God knows who we are, but we may not. “Learning who we are” is a lifetime enterprise, and we are often ignorant or in denial of our feelings. If we learn to name them, we take a huge step in learning who we are. If we name them before God and let God accept us totally, including our feelings, then we may be blessed by God. Many writers have noted that knowledge of self and knowledge of God increase together. To offer ourselves to God for such a blessing, I propose a way of praying that I call a “prayer of self-disclosure.” It is probably not original; in the spiritual tradition few things are. But I do not know of an earlier similar proposal in the Christian spiritual tradition. (In one of the Native American traditions, one begins by naming oneself: “It is I, Lloyd, who speaks.” This is a step in the direction proposed here.) The prayer of self-disclosure is based on the ideas in the book Focusing, by philosopher Eugene Gendlin1 and elaborated in other books2. Focusing is a way of listening to one's interior “felt meaning” (Gendlin's phrase) to discover the wisdom of one’s body, expressed through one’s feelings; Focusing helps to translate the feelings into words. When I direct my attention to what I call “I”, located in the interior of my body, I go first to my current feelings and body sensations. For many of us, how I feel in the moment is who I am. In this proposal, I assume that the same thing is true for those who might use this way of prayer. Method Here is the method of the prayer of self-disclosure, presented in imperative statements for clarity. 1. Place yourself before God in whatever way suits you. Take a few moments to let God's loving gaze behold you, something like letting the rays of the sun warm and illuminate you. The image here is Jesus' use of the term abba (papa or daddy) for God, implying that we approach as a young child, perhaps three or four years old, and we receive the dependably loving gaze of our (ideal) parent. 2. Direct your attention inside your own body and ask, “What's going on here?” You may notice feelings or sensations. Whatever you find, name it. “I am feeling a little tired.” Often we find that we feel neutral. If so, stay with this exploration until something else emerges. The four “basic feelings” used by many therapists may be useful here: in a given moment, I may feel mad, sad, glad or scared, or some combination of these. If you feel neutral, then ask: “Do I feel mad (angry, resentful, etc.)?” and wait for an answer. If nothing emerges, ask: “Do I feel sad (down, depressed, blue, etc.)?” and wait for an answer. Continue similarly through glad and scared. Whatever you find, name it without judging it or yourself. 3. Suppose you complete step 2 with the awareness that you feel a little angry. Offer it to God. “Right now I am a little angry,” in the assurance that God accepts you in whatever state you approach God. Then return to the interior of your body, and ask, “So I feel a little angry. What else is going on?” Give the answer time to emerge. Suppose you get, “I'm a little angry, and feel a good bit of excitement or energy in my body.” Again, offer to God your present awareness: “God, I am a little scared, and also feel a good bit of energy.” Then take a few moments to be aware of God's acceptance and love of you as you are, however you are. 4. Repeat step 3 several times. Many people say that after several repetitions, they experience a sense of relief in their body, as if their body was relieved and grateful to be heard. 5. Complete this part of the prayer by offering to God all of yourself that you are aware of, including the feelings that you have identified, and again sit for a few moments in the warmth of God's love for you. 6. Finish this time of prayer in any way you wish. Do you notice a difference in your sense of who you are in your body? Do you notice a difference in your feelings toward God? Summary We often say that God loves us, but that may be something that we know with our mind, because we believe that God loves us, but that we have never felt in our body. The prayer of self-disclosure may give us the felt experience of being loved and accepted by God. It is surprising to read, in the Christian spiritual tradition, what a negative role the body plays. This is probably due to the influence of Gnosticism and, more generally, to the dualism in the culture into which Christianity was born, a culture that valued the mind or spirit much more than it valued the body. Paul writes about the “resurrection of the body,” but dwells much more on the transformation of the mind, and makes his well-known distinctions between spirit and flesh, with spirit always more important than flesh. It is time to bring the body back into the Christian spiritual tradition in a more positive way, as a blessing rather than a burden. I offer this as a way to begin. ------ 1 Gendlin, Eugene, Focusing (New York: Bantam Books, 2nd (revised) edition, 1982). 2 For example, see Cornell, Ann Weiser, The Power of Focusing (Oakland: New Harbinger, 1996).
For more resources, see the Focusing Institute website at www.focusing.org.