God, be Merciful to Me, a Sinner

Yesterday I was lying on the floor surrounded by Tibetan singing bowls at a healing generously offered to our small contemplative art group. A practice originating in the time of the Buddha, this singing bowl healing is meant to be a way to cleanse the chakras and bring them into harmony.

Having never experienced this before, I was curious to see what would happen. I anticipated that any tension I was carrying would be calmed in the process, and I wasn’t wrong.  The deep, resonant tones of the bells sang along my nervous system in a process not unlike Healing Touch, profoundly restorative.

What I did not anticipate was the clearing away of my self-doubt.  In the silence as I listened to the tones of the bowls, I discovered a different sort of imbalance within.  I came into the awareness that I often second-guess my motives, worry about how I come across, fear that there is more I could be offering, and doubt my competence.  Restored to balance, I realized there is a lot that I know.  What a surprise it was to me, first, that I doubted myself and, second, that I didn’t need to.  I came to the resolve that I would act from my wisdom.

I came back and rewrote this reflection.  I was talking about humility, which I think of as the openness to outside influence.  Good listening and good praying both depend on a willingness to set aside one’s knowledge and assumptions in order to attend deeply to what the Other is trying to tell us.  It’s the only position from which we can learn, and therefore it is the position that is justified by God.  In today’s Gospel story, the Pharisee’s sin is not that he thinks so highly of himself per se, but rather that he thinks so poorly of the tax collector.  He is not open to taking in the tax collector’s reality.  He is not deeply attentive, and therefore he misses the whole connection between the tax collector and God, the tax collector’s belovedness.

After my experience yesterday, I want to add another dimension to this rumination about humility.  The openness of humility can be shut down not just by thinking too highly of oneself but also by thinking too little of oneself.  Self-doubt tends to be broadcast.  It tends to get in the way of good listening.  Humility means listening without assumptions – simply listening – to others and to God.  This is no easy task.

So, it is important to be like the tax collector standing in the temple, afraid to raise my eyes to heaven.  But after that it is important to be like the tax collector who hears he is forgiven and beloved.  I want to know in my soul that I am precious and appreciated for everything that makes me who I am.  And I want to remember that this is true for everybody else, too, no matter how they seem to me.  This is the security that grants me openness.  It is from that place of humility that I can both listen and pray.

Painting by James Tissot

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