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Becoming what you are

Article by Georgina Alexander

I imagine that to say that prayer is the way to become ‘what you are’ would surprise most of us. Most people, if they do think about it at all, believe that they are already what they are.  They think that prayer, if they do practice it at all, is a way of saying words to God or to the saints or to Mary. Prayer can be thought of as, hopefully, a way of getting what we think we need or asking for what we think other people need, or indeed a way of telling God what to do. In other words telling him what we think is best, both for ourselves and for those we love. That is because we still see things from the centre of our own point of view. We haven’t yet met our deep true selves, when we can truly say ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
Prayer is, in fact, the beginning of a road to relationship with God. It is the means by which we can become transformed into a likeness of Christ, so that he can continue to live his life through us in the world as it is at this present time. “The aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, that we might be transformed into a likeness of Christ”[1].
Much of the teaching we receive in the church is about the Christian way of life, about the virtues and about moral standards and rightly so, for a foundation for our lives. It is about learning how to study the Bible and to understand the significance and meaning of the liturgy as a basis to our Christian life and practice, but there is much more to it than that. We don’t have to stop there and neither should we. The Christian life is really more about loving than about being good, it is about loving God, and ourselves, and our neighbour [2].  We do indeed need that basic moral framework from which to grow and that is indispensable, but we have so much more potential than most of us realise.
The belief that God loves us, that he knows us and all that we do and did, and yet he still loves us; that belief, that faith, will get us to the place where we really will know who we are and to the place where we will become what we are meant to be. That is because He is at the centre of our being; if he were not there we would not exist.
Each one of us is a unique individual, with great potential for growth in grace and in giftedness; the problem is that we have a deep, though usually unrecognised fear to let go of who we think we are [i.e. our false self].

At first, and maybe for a very long time, it would seem a terrible loss to let go of who we think we are, because who we think we are is so deep within us, deeper than superficial consciousness.

Becoming our true selves is indeed a process that has to be gone through, or a pathway that has to be trodden, with love and with care and with faith, not with ambition, but with hope.  Ambition is still to be found in an ego-based spirituality.  In other words we have to follow in all humility, though it may be some time before we realise the value and truth of that gift. He is at the other side of all our thoughts and feelings, the other side of all our fears and inhibitions. As we mostly identify with no other than that surface self it requires a great deal of faith and hope and perseverance before the transformation can take place.
God is always calling us into relationship with him and yet we cannot even begin to follow until we become aware that we are called. That is the crux of the matter, to become aware of His call and to begin to follow it.

[1] St Seraphim of Sarov

[2] Thou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul with all your strength and your neighbour as yourself. Mark 12: 13; Deut. 6.5

Definitions below are from Thomas Keating's Invitation To Love.

True Self: the image of God in which every human being is created, our participation in the divine life, manifested in our uniqueness.
False self: the self developed in our own likeness rather than in the likeness of God; the self-image developed to cope with the traumas of early childhood. It seeks happiness in satisfying the instinctual needs of survival/security, affection/esteem and power/control and bases its self-worth on cultural or group.

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