“Hello world, here I come!” This was my mother’s joyous announcement as she was walking out of the house in the morning with keys in hand to take us to school or softball or shopping. She greeted the world with optimism for the day, trusting the world would respond in kind. We were not always as enthused, especially early in the morning heading off to school. We chalked this up to one more of her quirks. Every now and then her saying comes to mind and I use it when heading out for the day.
I’ve never been much for positive affirmations, even though I’ve tried them. I want to believe they work. I want to be able to see right before my eyes the manifestation of my hope or saying. Usually it’s an echo back at me leaving me feeling silly. Maybe positive affirmations aren’t for very practical things like this, “My water bill is going to go down this month.” One I saw in a book worries me: “My seeming impossible good now comes to pass, the unexpected now happens.” What if the unexpected may be an unpleasant unknown?
Yet, I don’t hesitate to pray. Isn’t that weird? Prayer for me is making connection with a Divine source of life, with the Creator. I don’t practice prayer as a positive affirmation, but both seem to have an implied hope for something different. Except maybe a prayer of thanksgiving. Gratitude lists or prayers have become very popular as a means of recognizing the good in one’s life, which is both a positive and prayerful thing.
Prayer includes a broader range of life’s dimensions such as: a lament over grief, need for forgiveness, prayer for a friend or to just be still and listen. I can’t count how many times patients I worked with, who said they didn’t believe in anything, found themselves praying anyway. Prayer or conversation with God seems to be a human need at some point. In fact, we say it so often we don’t even realize it, “OMG”. Oh my God. What exactly are we saying? That God is amazing, or that God is ours or that something beyond God has happened?
Metaphysical author Florence Scovel Shinn, who wrote many books about how our words impact our lives in positive ways, based affirmations on her interpretations of the Old and New Testaments. As a basis for her affirmations she believed this quote from Mark’s gospel 11:24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
She wrote: “Our words have the power to change our lives. By paying more attention to how we speak, and hence how we think, we can change our circumstances for the better. The Power of the Spoken Word will help you make the positive changes that you’ve always wanted to make.”
She used affirmations like, “My good now flows to me in a steady, unbroken, ever-increasing stream of success, happiness and abundance.”
“I am fearless in letting money go out, knowing God is my immediate and endless supply.”
(Quotes from Wisdom of Florence Scovel Shinn, 1989)
When compared with prayer, these seem narrow in scope.
Using positive thoughts and attitudes are good cognitive behavioral changes, but they aren’t rooted in a relationship with the Mysterious or the Unknowable. The world may not ‘return in kind’ and the bank account will go ‘empty if fearlessly spending’. The paradox is we can always hope for kindness and God is our immediate and endless comfort. Spirituality is about paradoxes and perplexities, as author Krista Tippett outs it:
“Spiritual life is a way of dwelling with perplexity—taking it seriously, searching for its purpose as well as its perils, its beauty as well as its ravages. In this sense, spiritual life is a reasonable, reality-based pursuit. It can have mystical entry points and destinations, to be sure. But it is in the end about befriending reality, the common human experience of mystery included.”
-Krista Tippett, Becoming
Wise: An Inquiry into the
Mystery and Art of Living, page 167