When I was a kid there was an unwritten (though oft-spoken) rule in our house that when you came home from Tashua Pool in Trumbull you were to hang out your towel to dry in the backyard. I usually complied with this rule, through there were times when I would just leave it on the floor in the car, rolled up in a ball. But I did learn the reason for the rule when I wanted to go to the pool again and my towel was still there on the floor of the car. Although the parts of the towel that were exposed to the sunlight were dry, the places inside the folds of the towel were still damp. Worse, if a few days had gone by, those damp areas started to get a little funky. And so I realized that if I wanted my towel to be refreshed, I’d have to stretch the towel out flat, so that every part of the towel could be touched by the rays of the sun.
This might sound strange, but I think the funky towel is a helpful image for the spiritual life. In our relationship with God we can treat our hearts like a beach towel. Maybe we allow the Lord into some of the places in our hearts, but then keep other parts hidden in the shadows. This is foolish, of course. God knows what’s there, and He knows that those places that we keep hidden are the places most in need of His healing and strengthening grace. Like the beach towel, we need to stretch our hearts out and expose every part of them to Him.
I find this to be an especially helpful practice in Eucharistic Adoration. The monstrance in which the Host is displayed is shaped like the sun for a reason. Like the sun, the Host radiates the life of God upon us, like the sun radiates light and heat and makes life on earth possible. Sitting before Him, we expose ourselves to Him, allowing Him to touch those parts of us that need healing, things that we have hidden from our own eyes, that have become musty and funky from their time hidden in the shadows.
This is good prayer. It is reminiscent of the Lord’s parable about the Pharisee and the Publican found in the Gospel according to St. Luke (8:9-14). Christ addresses the story to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” He tells a story about two men who go to the Temple to pray. One is a Pharisee, who takes his special place in the Temple and prays thus: “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” The other man, a tax collector, stands far off with his eyes lowered, beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” And the Lord says that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, returned home justified. “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humbling ourselves means revealing ourselves to the Lord. But, again, the Lord knows everything about us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. It’s silly to treat our conversations with the Lord as a kind of job interview, trying to put our best foot forward. To do so is to expose only the superficial parts of ourselves to Him, to show him only the outer folds of the beach towel. That’s why we must ask for the confidence to expose to His gaze even those dark and hidden things about ourselves, realizing that when we do that we are really just allowing ourselves to consider them within the unassailable refuge of His love. There we share our lives with Him in a living relationship, that heals us, transforms us, and refreshes our souls.