Today I gave a talk about the Prayer of Recollection of St. Teresa of Avila, a prayer she said the Lord Himself taught her. She confessed that she had never known what it was to pray with satisfaction until the Lord taught her this method.
How to pray the Prayer of Recollection
First, go somewhere that is quiet enough you can concentrate, and private enough that you can close your eyes without worrying anyone, and where you’re not likely to be interrupted for a few minutes. Hide if you have to. Tell your phone you won’t be answering calls for a while. Take a timer that doesn’t tick loudly or have a jarring alarm. I use a timer so I can let go and not worry about time for a while. I know the little bell will call me back to my day when it is time to go back to it.
Set your timer for the amount of time you plan to spend in prayer; such as five minutes, 15 minutes, or thirty minutes. Thirty is standard, but do what you can!
Sit in a comfortable, supported position.
Calm the faculties. Put your hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Slow down your breathing. Pay attention to all the sounds around you; sounds outside, sounds in the room, the sound of your breathing. You might think to yourself as you breathe in, “I let go,” and as you breath out, “and I let God.” Relax anywhere you feel tense. Some people will become uncomfortable physically just by trying to sit still. It will help to imagine your in- breath soothing and calming the anxiety throughout your body. Then send the stress out with your exhale.
Do what works for you to relax, and get centered; to step out of the mad pace of life for a while and do something to ease your overwrought body and mind so you can best pray and be receptive.
Make an examination of conscience or pray an act of contrition. If you don’t have much time, a heart beat or two of contrition will do. This is simply putting yourself in reality and letting go of any barrier or mask between you and God so He can see your beautiful face, even if, like a good parent, he has to wipe your nose a little. He doesn’t mind. He loves you. Allow Him to tend to you. Then put your burdens and worries in His hands for a time so you can be all His.
Pray a slow, silent, attentive Our Father. Pay attention to the words you are “saying”, and to Whom you are saying them, fixing your inner gaze on the Lord in whatever way works for you. In this way go over the words of the prayer silently, keeping your awareness with Jesus.
Next, let yourself say whatever you need to say to Jesus. Is here anything you need to tell Him? Your troubles, your questions, your gratitude? Would you like to tell him that you love Him? Tell Him whatever you like to now.
Then, drop off into interior silence. Just be quiet with God, staying present to Him.
Your mind is going to go everywhere. Don’t worry. When your brain starts worrying, remembering, planning, dreaming, gently bring it back each time you notice it straying.
Use some simple means of “looking” again at Jesus.
Silently say His Name.
Imagine Him with you or sit in the cave of your heart with Him.
Or just remember His tenderness and love is with you in this moment.
Repeat a phrase from Scripture such as, “Come, Lord Jesus,” or say “My God and my all,” with the Apostle Thomas to the risen Lord, to help yourself remain in conscious contact with God.
Put yourself into a Gospel story and imagine it. Be Nicodemus asking for wisdom in the dark of night and hearing the surprising answers of Jesus.
You might pretend you are the Samaritan woman at the well and Jesus is thirsty. Give Him something to drink. Ask Him for living water.
Be Mother Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms.
Or you may wish to choose a prayer word to softly draw yourself back again and again to being with God attentively such as “God…. God…. God.”
Choose a way that works for you to maintain your focus on God; not to reason about Him or think about Him, but to be with Him.
Recognize your distractions, let them go and use one or more of these tools mentioned above to bring yourself back again and again. Take heart that St. Teresa says that even if our intellects are running wild at times, our souls can be fixed on Jesus and in communion with Him.
Carmelite wisdom would say your prayer is even more meritorious before God when you had to fight for it but you did it anyway for love of your Lord.
You can’t sit in the sun and not get a tan whether you are thinking about the sun or not. You can’t be in the rain, set down your umbrella, and not get wet! Just put down your parasol and umbrella, that’s all. It’s your intention, your will, to remain in His presence for this little bit of time, that matters. His power can’t be limited by your own perception of how “well” you are praying. Just keep turning your attention back to Him.
Allow Him speak to your heart or sit silently with Him and have a conversation without words. It feels like work. But after a while you realize it’s love; love worth fighting for. So try to be patient when it’s a lot of work in the beginning. Bring yourself back to the love.
Continue in this loving awareness until your time for prayer is up.
To close, pray a slow, attentive set prayer that you like and have memorized, such as the Hail Mary or the Glory Be, again being attentive to whom you are speaking and what you are saying.
Make the sign of the Cross and step back into the stream of life. Know you are better for this time you took to be with Christ. The stream of life itself will be bettered too by the grace you just let flow into it by your prayer and availability to God.
Pause a while and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10
*You may also like: guided-prayer-of-recollection (8 minutes)