I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat
falls to the ground and dies,
it remains only a single seed.
But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Prayer awakens us. Prayer is a source of conscious contact with the One who is Life itself. So how is it that prayer is also the experience of dying? What might it mean that prayer leads us to fall, like a kernel of wheat, into the ground and die? In what way do we die? In what way do we, like the seed come back to a life that is fuller, richer, multiplied?
When the seed falls into the ground and dies, the hardened outer crust, which protects the inner life of the seed, slowly softens and falls away. As this happens, the inner core of the seed is exposed. This inner core is where the true life of the seed lies hidden. The outer shell was nothing but a protective crust. And, until it dies, the true life hidden in the center of the seed cannot blossom.
This is the image Jesus used when calling us to experience the prayer of dying. Jesus was saying that it is our protective outer shell that needs to die. The part of us we sometimes call our false self needs to slowly soften and fall away.
Our false self is the self we present to the world. It may be an angry self, a compliant self, a happy self, an in-charge self, a rebellious self, a clown self, a hard working self, an addict self, an intellectual self, a religious self. Our false self can have a hundred faces.
This outer shell was formed, usually without our full awareness, to protect us from whatever wounds we experienced in life. Our wounds usually leave us with fears about ourselves and about life. Because we cannot tolerate the pain of living with these fears, we instinctively develop some kind of defense or protection in order to cope. The wounds we experience in life can leave us afraid that we are unloved, worthless. At the same time that this fear is developing, a protective strategy is born. We began to protect ourselves by trying to prove to the world and ourselves that we have value. Whatever form this protective outer shell takes on, it is a false self.
Over time our protective strategy, our false self, becomes more and more robust and resistant to change. We may begin to think that this protective outer shell is actually who we are. Or we may fear that the part of us that is full of fear and shame is who we really are.
It is this false self that has to fall, like a seed, into the ground and die. Every day. So that our true self can emerge. So that the beloved child of God that we really are can blossom.
This is the gift of the prayer of dying. Whatever is false, whatever is prideful, whatever is self reliant, whatever is defensive, whatever is not real, needs to die, so that who we really are can live and produce more life.
You call me to die.
You invite me to let go of all that is false,
all that is prideful.
all that is an attempt to prove something,
all that is driven by fear,
all that is defensive.
It feels like a death.
Who will I be if I don’t have my defenses?
Will I exist at all?
Today I give myself to this prayer of dying.
May all that is false and hard and proud in me die today.
May the fears that are exposed as this protective shield falls away be healed by you.
May the kernel of true life that you created in me, lie exposed and vulnerable.
May the naked seed of my true self
take root in the soil of your love
and blossom into fullness of life.
Ask God to reveal to you what needs to die in your life. Ask God to show you whatever is false or defensive. Ask God for the willingness to pray the prayer of dying.
Allow yourself to see the image given to us by Jesus: let yourself be the seed falling into the rich soil of God’s love. Feel yourself held and surrounded by God’s love. See the outer shell of your false self softening and falling away.