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Stations of the Cross, with love from Mary

 

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After Christ’s Ascension, Mary, the mother of Jesus, would go out and walk the way of the Cross again, the way of our salvation and hers. She could be seen sometimes in the early morning, walking slowly, pausing.”He fell here. And again here. He spoke to the women here.”

Her prayers of Good Friday returned to mind, “My Son, my Son, my Lord, how far will this go? How much of this will You allow? If it be Your will, let me  suffer all with You, die with you! My Son, God’s Son. I will go with you as far as I can.”

She remembered, “This is where our eyes met. This is when I knew. Here is the place where Simon of Cyrene took up the Cross. Here is where Jesus was crucified and- unthinkably, died. Oh what those people said to Him, what they did to Him! Father, forgive them! May His mercy capture their hearts forever! Let me lead our children, Father. Allow me to lead them by heart and prayer, to our Son.”

And then she would walk back to her home with John, grinding grain and making cakes for his breakfast, kneading bread for the visitors who would come, spending her day in prayer and service, humbly telling the story of her Son to all who wanted to be set free.

So much of the Gospel depended on her witness. And her sons, the Apostles, needed her prayer and presence. She would stay as long as she was needed, until God took her home to her Son. As Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she prayed for, companioned, and mothered the early Church, living also as a daughter of the Church as long as God willed her to stay on earth.

People started to follow her when she walked the way of the cross. At first a small group of the women disciples walked with her. Soon many people went out early and walked with her in the quiet morning, recounting and reflecting on the Lord’s Passion and death, reflecting on what had been done for them, and that His spirit within them was so real it would raise their bodies, too, from the dead. In awe of the living proof and witness of His divinity and humanity that she was, they, too, paused in silence, and in that silence the Scriptures were opened for them, and their hearts burned within them as the Spirit, too, accompanied them and taught them all they needed to know as they walked with His Bride, the little and simple, humble and human Mary, mother of Jesus.

As persecution grew, barricades were set up by the authorities to keep the Christians from walking the Via Dolorosa, and the Apostle John took Mary with him to Ephesus for her protection.

There, she carried stones she had brought from Jerusalem to the back of the house and set them along a path she marked out in and around the garden. She would pause at each one of the markers she had made, pause and remember: Here He fell, and again here. He spoke to the women here. Our eyes met here. Simon took up the cross here.

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In the end there were fourteen stations where she could stop to pray. The Ephesians from John’s church would visit her and walk this way of the Cross with her, and with her remember and reflect on all that had happened.

The Gospel had not yet been written. But it was recorded and treasured in the heart and in the footsteps of this mother who, lowly and barefoot, walked and pondered, in remembrance of her Son’s suffering and death. This walking reflection of hers became the Stations of the Cross represented in every Catholic Church, on which we meditate each Friday of Lent to this day, and especially on Good Friday, the day of our Redemption.

This is only a legend about the evolution of the Stations of the Cross, filled out by my prayerful imagination, but it makes deep sense to me. In a way it is true whether it’s factual or not. Mary is the one who treasured the truth about Our Lord for us in her heart. She was the one person who truly knew where He came from. There are parts of the Gospel that could have only come from her, including some of her inmost thoughts… and the fact that she treasured and reflected on all these things in her heart. Even if she never walked the Stations of the Cross in such ritual fashion while on earth, though it is easy to imagine she did, we know she carried it in her heart. We remember her, and she remembers us when we pray it now, and she joins us, her Son’s Church, in prayer, as she always did.

I attended the Stations of the Cross the evening of this writing. This time I walked it in my soul with Mary, from the original events of Good Friday to after the Ascension, to her last days in Ephesus, joining her on the Way of the Cross, consciously drawing on her memories.

Learning from Mary is so easy. She is full of grace. It’s what she has to share.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you–because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

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Let yourself be loved: a challenge for Lent

11807668_10204788835148991_8324002849966595646_o-116x190The sunlight obscures him in its intense brightness on the horizon, but I can still see his figure walking ahead as I follow at a distance. I have to run a little just to keep him in sight. I am wondering if he wanted some desert alone time and whether I should let him be. He seems to sense my hesitation. He turns to glance back at me, stops right away, turns on his heal and heads toward me more quickly than I would have thought walking would bring him.

“Follow me. I have something I want to teach you this Lent.”

We walk in silence for a while. Eventually he leads me to where he has set a camp fire in front of a small cave. I am surprised he seems to be cooking. I thought we were fasting. He has made me a simple meal of lentils and bread.

He explains to me that he knows that for me, especially at this time of shock, grief, and upsetting change in my life, eating is harder for me than fasting. This is why he asks that, for now, I take up the discipline of eating, of letting him feed me. This brings us to a larger issue that he wants to sit and talk over as we eat.

He hands me a clay cup full of water and we sit on the warm ground to eat our meal.

Even though we are quiet after the meal blessing, I sense that he wants me to remember that he understands what I am going through and that he experienced it himself. Briefly I remember it as he remembers it, that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief of every kind. He wants me to remember so that I will feel deeply understood by him, and I do.

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He wants me to let go of what anyone else is doing, and of what unfolds around me, even and especially the things that hurt me the most.

“Just seek healing for these forty days. Care for yourself as I care for you, let yourself be loved, and pay attention to your prayers. I want you to stop worrying about things that are mine to take care of. I would like you to stop wasting energy doing things I am not asking you to do, and to say yes to doing as I am asking. When you do what I have not asked, you wear yourself down for nothing. When you do as I am asking, I will give you all you need to accomplish everything.”

I have to think about this. Then I start worrying about certain situations in my life. “Trust me. Get out of my way and let me care for you in all those situations that are not really yours to do anything about, but mine.”

I have to think about this, too.

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He opens the conversation by saying he has heard my prayers asking what he would like me to do for Lent.

His answer is that he wants me to take care of myself in ways that are hard for me right now.

He goes over with me his idea of my to-do list.

Me eating on a regular basis seems to interest him a lot. Me paying my bills on time and taking care of other things that are mine to take care of are high on the list. Me standing up for myself in certain matters that he wants me to seems important to him, too.

He wants mercy in this: that I let other people love me, that I let him love me, that I take care of myself and my life with love for his sake.

Well, this is different than what I was thinking. But I can see he’s serious. He has given me a lot to think about. In fact, I feel a bit upside down right now.

The lunch he made is good and we eat in appreciative silence next to the fire in the shade of a rocky hill. I glance into the cave at his simple belongings- a bag of some kind, a sleeping mat.

He catches my eye, and I look at him across from me, chewing casually on his piece of bread. Then I catch my breath because suddenly his eyes go straight to my heart, his gaze like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, laying my broken inner world open before me. I can see it in metaphor; a bombed-out building I have been trying to live in as if it were not rubble. I see the chaos from the outer world that I have let in like a flood of bad water over what little I had left to live on.

I see that I did not welcome him when he came to pay his mourning call to me to comfort me.

I had given him his usual seat, I had sat near him, so to speak, but did not allow more than his proximity most days. I did not care for myself, nor did I let him care for me. I did not see him cry for me. I was not looking.

I don’t even know how to fix this problem; not this broken heart, not my inability to open it right now.

He gently helps me understand that even this is not mine to do. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be willing.

I feel at peace as I look up and see only him, still chewing on his bite of bread, gently brushing off an ant.

“In silence and in hope will be your strength,” crosses my mind.

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He says, “Just don’t move without my will.”

He shows me myself moving in tune with him through my days as I set about my house work, my bill paying, my phone calls, my cooking, driving, working, my encounters with others; in all these allowing him to care for me in how I care for myself.

He shows me myself quiet in my prayer, breathing his gentle love, his presence, his mercy, his holy Name, into my broken heart, allowing him to rebuild, to redefine, to transform.

The tenderness I feel from him is almost frightening right now, and I realize it is because of all the pain I have been feeling but trying to carry alone without realizing that was what I was doing. I need to trust him. I need to let him in more to the places that hurt. That is what he wants.

He says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save.”

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I understand what he is asking me to do.

I have to do what I am supposed to do in life right now, and it isn’t very much. He will take care of the other things.

He will protect my heart.

He will defend my heart.

He will heal my heart, no matter how impossible it may seem, or how many times it must be renewed or even remade.

He will do what it takes.

He already did all this with his willingness to have his own heart, his own life, broken for my sake. I understand that he stepped radically into my sorrow, inhabiting it himself in his incarnation, his life, suffering and death.

“Let yourself be loved,” wrote St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.

“You are not your own,” says St. Paul. We are each bought at an infinite price and are of unspeakable value to the Lord of love.

To love ourselves perfectly in God, through God, and for love of God, is the fourth and highest degree of love, that signifies union with him, wrote St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

It seems to me the deepest and most humble of surrenders.

This is my challenge to grow toward for Lent 2018.

I look up at the bright sky, and suddenly he showers me with rose petals of every color. They smell beautiful as they fall around me and over me, sticking to my face and shoulders, piling up in my lap, getting between my toes.

He is laughing. I smile. Jesus is Lord. He can laugh and dump rose petals over my head if he wants to.

I will just have to get used to it.

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Something related you might like to try: 

Prayer of the Heart (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition)

Sit quietly and recollect yourself.

Imagine your heart, visualize it and keep your attention there.

Lead the mind from the head into the heart, and say mentally, with your breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” slowly and reverently. Imagine you are breathing “Lord Jesus Christ.” into your heart. Then on the out breath, think, “have mercy on me.”

If your mind starts doing its usual job, thinking, gently bring it back to the prayer and continue mentally repeating it, visualizing your heart and keeping your attention there.

Be patient and peaceful, spending some quiet time with God in this way.

 

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Lent: luminous darkness, hidden seeds

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I love Lent.

I am always happy to hear that I am dust, and that to dust I shall return.

When I close my eyes to pray, I can really tell I am dust. In here where I live, it’s quiet and dark. Simple. Nothing to it.  Who am I?

Dust.

Clay.

Nothing.

Everything.

Inwardly quiet and dark,

yet full of exploding light in the cave of my heart,

just like you.

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As St. John of the Cross points out, sometimes what seems like darkness is the over-whelming brilliance of God’s light.

Maybe that is why we close our eyes when we pray. Outside what we can see with our senses is wonderful, but only a reflection of the invisible God. When we close our eyes, we are alone in God’s luminous dark within us. We know there is light in us by faith. We know our being is created in the image of Him who is light.  Even though we rightly experience ourselves as dust, our hearts are secretly bright because of Who lives there.

At this time of year, roots, bulbs, and seeds under the soil that have “fallen to the ground and died,”  all winter have been nourished by the Lord of mystery and love, though we the farmers are unaware.

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How did Jesus rise from the dead? We don’t know. We know it happened, and Scripture says we also will rise, “through the power of his spirit dwelling in us.” And this is so real it is a physical truth as well as a spiritual one.

In the dark secret of the tomb Jesus physically and spiritually, in divine mystery, rose again.

I want to follow Jesus into the desert and recommit my life to the Father. I want to share the Passover with Him and the family of the Church, I want to accompany the Lord on the Way of the Cross. I want to wait quietly in the dark simplicity and trust of the grave.

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I am dust returning to dust, but my Christian soul is empowered by Him to do and be all these Christly mysteries.

So let us return to be fearlessly this dust in desert wind, this Way of the Cross, this dark quiet of faith, this soil seeded with mystery.

At the same time as we traditionally renew our commitment to Jesus and his mission, to His Church, to the poor and marginalized, to fasting, penance, and to prayer as we know it, let us also re-consecrate ourselves in silence, and holy solitude, resting in the starry night of expectation.

As children of God we know that darkness also brings forth love, unfurls light, and floods our souls with renewed grace during this sacred time we are given that is Lent.

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We surrender to this Lord of mysterious rising. We consecrate our souls to His purposes in ourselves and what He wants us to bloom into for Him, for this world, for the sake of His Kingdom.

We step into this night of Lent consciously.

We can remember this intention in our moments of stillness and waiting. We can take a little time each day also to purposely  rest in quiet love and allow ourselves to be prepared for Spring in secret.

Let us make Lent a secret retreat into our hearts. It only takes faith, hope, and love and God will pour over us the brightness of his invisible light.

Let this Lent be a time for seeds, for dark, shining mysteries at work in we who believe… until the morning star rises in our hearts.

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  • Warning: God is a creative genius and anything can happen when we surrender to Him completely. We might emerge from Lent new creatures in the power of His Resurrection. Let’s expect it!
  • Inspiration here: https://youtu.be/eDA8rmUP5ZM

Don’t Freak Out

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photo Maire Manning-Pauc

Putting up with things that irritate us builds character. I think that is because when we are in a situation we can’t change, the only option is changing ourselves. “This is a good life skill,” I tell my kids. It is also a good skill for developing the spiritual life because it’s good training for the mind, for self control and endurance. Besides it’s no fun to freak out all the time. What does it get us…. but a lot of freak-out? And there’s nothing you can’t make worse by more of THAT!

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Art by Bob Chapman

Here are some things I have tried to help me not freak out.

Paying bills can be stressful. You know how when you are paying bills your shoulders get really tense and sometimes your back too, and if anybody says anything to you, you say, “Leave me alone I’m paying BILLS!” I decided that attitude needed work.  I tried a change of venue. I picked a place that it seems silly to pay bills. Then I could be amused. I try to amuse myself as often as possible. It helps a lot with life. So I paid bills in the tree house. I kept smiling because it was a goofy thing to do.

I wrote,  ” thank you so much,” on each bill. Thank you for the electricity. Thank you for the car. Thank you, veterinarian,  for helping when my dog was sick.
Thank you, God, that I can pay these bills. Thank you. Gratitude is an even better tool than self -amusement.

I enjoyed puting rose petals in the envelopes of each payment. I imagined the various possible reactions to this. “Made my day? Is it anthrax? Who’s does that?” This also amused me.

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Loud neighbors can be annoying. I had neighbors last year who screamed at each other and honked car horns several times a day. One time when the screaming and car horns started, I thought. “I HATE THIS!” This is a red light for me mentally. I usually don’t allow my mind to think, “I hate this,” about anything since that thought never leads to anything good. I took a deep breath, and I remembered St. Therese the Little Flower and all she did to train her mind in the face of annoyance to leave it free and peaceful for God. What could I do?

I told my family that from now on that screaming and honking was code for, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It worked. From then on whenever the yelling started, one of us would say, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” and we would start laughing. I’m glad we learned how to let that frustration go. When my husband was sick, those very people came over and helped me when I needed it. If I had stayed mad at them all the time and just thought of them as “the screamy neighbors,” I would never have gotten to know them. They had some wonderful qualities.

The young people who live next door now play very loud music at times. I was enjoying a quiet fall day on my front porch one time when they started that noise. First I amused my self with the thought that I can out blast them any time. I have some enormous speakers. What got me laughing and letting go was the funny thought of getting a recording of a nice, quiet fall day and blasting that. Suddenly the young people would be overcome with an unaccustomed sense of inner peace, and they would be stunned! That made me laugh. They turned it off after a while. I diffused my inner volatility with a series of funny images and thoughts. I win!

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Waiting in line or being stuck somewhere can be maddening.  One wild grocery store day, stuck in line, I tried looking at the covers of magazines by the register to entertain myself. These seemed not good for anyone to look at ; you know- magazine covers about who looked bad in her bathing suit this week, or with titles like “Potato Juice Keeps You Young and Sexy.”  My other choices seemed to be  lighters, candy and soda. I asked Jesus silently, “What would You look at if You were here?” The thought came to me that Jesus would look at the people. “Look at the people and love them.” So I started working on that. I looked at each person around me and noticed how they seemed to be doing. I mentally blessed each one or prayed for each one. I felt very peaceful and entertained.

During long, boring trips to Lowe’s with my husband, Bob, I always had a rosary in my pocket. I thought I may as well try and be useful to the world while I suffered. Another thing I tried was to ride in the cart and have him push me around. That helps too. He wanted to bring me, after all. It made us both laugh for me to do this. He enjoyed throwing his items into the cart on me too.

Being overstimulated makes it difficult to think.

If there is too much going on and I need to concentrate, I go within myself as I would for prayer. I close my eyes, and I go to that dark interior center of myself where God is. Staying there even for a second can restore me to sanity and renew my perspective. I might imagine resting my face on Jesus’ chest for a minute. I may go someplace calm in my mind momentarily. It helps.

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photo Shawn Chapman

We Catholics have a great array of “mantras” of our own; prayer words, short prayers, and litanies that are useful when we feel overwhelmed. I have a little note up that says, “Keep calm and say a Hail Mary.” Or I repeat the Jesus prayer or the Holy Name, or one of those one-liners like “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised adored and loved.” Saying over some memorized Scripture is helpful too in times when I feel a sense of overload, frustration or impatience.

When somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, my daughters know I will growl, “RAWR!” Then right away I will say, “God bless you have a nice day and I hope  there is a happy surprise for you when you get home, maybe cake, maybe puppies….,” and I’ll go on with this stupid list of things until either I’m laughing or my girls are.

Being interrupted is irritating. When I am interrupted, it helps if I interpret the interruption as the Holy Spirit’s action in my day. Sometimes I plan one kind of day but it works out totally differently. It can be jarring to be interrupted  when I am busy or to have my day go “out of control.” It helps if I let go and let God order my day. I ask Him to show me what He wants. I try to forget what I wanted to do and just be with who ever I am with, pay complete attention to what’s happening in the moment I am in. Often when I get to the end of a day that could have been exasperating, I will see the grace in the interruptions. It is usually the demands of love and relationship that interrupt us. At the end of the day that’s what matters most anyway… the love and the relationships.

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My daughter Maire, my grandbaby boy, Blaze, and my son-in-law, Jon

Philippians 4:8 tells us to fill our minds with beauty and we will know God’s peace. Jesus said peacemakers are children of God. Sometimes temple tables actually need to be over turned or some Pharisees stood up to. However most of the time, I think I should tend towards a more peaceful, elastic, accepting mind that God can work with. My brain believes what I tell it. Usually I tell it stuff is funny and that everything is in Divine Order. Sometimes I say to myself, “This will make a great story some day.” And it does.

By the way, as I wrote this article, I was interrupted twice by each of my kids and also had to listen to some music I didn’t really like and the kitten would not stop mewing. But I didn’t freak out. 😉

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photo Shawn Chapman

 

 

 

Potholes along the path of prayer and what to do about them

I have been writing about the Prayer of Recollection.  If you have begun and continue to practice this prayer consistently, you may have noticed some things; maybe some potholes along the path; maybe some flowers, too. How we respond to each of these will be important for our growth in prayer.

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One of these, as I mentioned before, are distractions. Again, I want to emphasize that distractions are normal, and to some extent, in the work of prayer, we will always have them. It’s important not to be mad at yourself about distractions in prayer. They are what the human mind does. In this prayer, we are training the mind to remain with God in a conscious, continual way for a time, so that we might grow in intimacy, love, and knowledge of the Lord, the “Friend who we know loves us,” as St. Teresa of Avila calls Him.

Our Friend knows our minds are unruly, that we are anxious and worried about many things. He knows. You have chosen the better part, though, and it will not be taken from you. He will complete the good work He has begun in you. He Himself will fight for you. You have only to remain still.

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So when distractions come, recognize them, and gently bring yourself back to the presence of the Lord, over and over again. I promise it gets easier as your mind comes more under control with practice. And God will give you strength.

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Another pothole along the road of prayer is aptly called aridity, or dryness. Prayer starts to feel like reading the phone book. Remember that St. John of the Cross teaches us  that prayer is the secret, quiet inflow of God. Sometimes that quiet inflow is even secret to ourselves. It feels like nothing is happening, or that prayer is painful and empty. This is when we go on trusting that God is in us and working in us whether we have any sense of that or not. As I am fond of saying, the quality of our prayer, and God’s power to work His will in us is not limited by our personal perception or experience of how “well” prayer is going. Do tell God how you feel and ask Him for what you need. St. Teresa said we need determined determination to continue on the Royal Road of prayer. I think of it as the dogged pursuit of God in prayer. The mystics of our faith say that God deepens our prayer and blesses us all the more for our faithfulness and love for Him in times of aridity. Be strong and take heart. God is with you.

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The opposites of dry spells in prayer are usually called consolations. You may sometimes feel a deep sense of peace and joy when you pray, intense love or even feelings of euphoria. You may experience the sensible closeness or touch of God on your soul. You may receive flashes of understanding or the unravelling of a difficulty. There is nothing wrong with these things. Carmelite wisdom says enjoy them while they last, but don’t try to cling to them or perpetuate them. Understand that these experiences come and go. Try to be peaceful and accepting when they stop. These are wonderful gifts. They draw us closer to God within and away from outward show. God gives us this sweetness from time to time. Consolations can be very healing and inspiring. When these good things are withdrawn, though, we need to allow them to go easily. Simply continue the prayer, with your focus on the Giver. In this way, you will be learning to love Him more and more for Who He is in Himself, whatever He gives or does not give.

When consolations come, then, just smile, be thankful, receive. Then let go as easily as a breath. Keep loving, keep praying, keep present. If we practice this easiness about the presence or absence of consolations, our prayer life grows immeasurably.

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As Our Lord said to St. Angela of Foligno, “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make of Myself a torrent.” 

He’s kind of sneaky so His torrent could feel any number of ways to us. But if we persevere in prayer, we will see the fruits of it in what Gandhi called “the total transformation of character, conduct, and consciousness.” These are the fruits of the life of prayer.

All God wants of man, is a peaceful heart. ~ Miester Ekhart

If we dispose ourselves to Him, in the way St. Teresa has taught us, and we don’t give up, then He will surely come to us, and we will grow in awareness of His indwelling.

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How to pray the Prayer of Recollection

 

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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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Pause a while and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10

Guided Prayer of Recollection (8 min.)

 

 

An easy way to learn “The Prayer of Recollection” of St. Teresa of Avila is to try this guided mini version; a recording I made and posted with ATX Catholic. Take a short break (8 minutes) in your day that can make a difference all day long. Come hang out with Jesus and me.

http://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2015/10/8-minute-guided-prayer-of-recollection-of-st-teresa-of-avila/#.WlPjCyMrIy8

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Christian Mantrams for the New Year

January is the month we focus on the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated January 3.  It’s also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1. As the eve of the New Year leads me to reflect on the past year and my resolutions for the year ahead, I feel that God is re-directing me to a new way to make use of a fruitful practice of mine. I understand that it will help me again to heal from trauma, to walk free from injustices, losses and grief that I can do nothing more about now that I have done all I can with God’s help.

I have wondered how I will ever heal, ever be able to forgive, ever be able to be whole again. I begin to see the way, and I have a powerful tool to start with.

I can take the reigns of my mind once again. I can draw it constantly back to the healing, freeing presence of God, turning painful memories, overwhelming thoughts and situations over to Jesus and to the prayers of His Blessed Mother and ours by repeating their holy names when that sense of helpless outrage rises, or bitter thoughts try to take over my life.

This will be my main resolution: to repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary, as others have for centuries of Christian history, as a way to attaining the mind of Christ, and to cultivate in my battered soul the beautiful receptivity of Mary. May God give me the grace to follow through, and if I fall away from this constant prayer, to draw me back to it. I have already begun to experience mental freedom and soul healing in making a new beginning with this prayer.

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Should you be interested in joining me, but perhaps “Jesus Maria” doesn’t appeal to you, there are other choices that run deep in our faith tradition. They are oft repeated prayers that shine like paths well trodden by holy feet, blessed by the Communion of Saints, for you to choose from and make your standard in the battle of earthly life.

Eastern religions make use of mantrams (or “mantras,” as one hears more often.) We do too. We may not realize that we Catholics have some mantrams as well, and that we could put them to good use in our spiritual lives.

This is one way to pray without ceasing, one way to occupy the mind properly during a difficult temptation, or slow it down when it is racing or dwelling on something that makes it angry or destructive, a way to harness the power of anger, or to find guidance and inspiration, and to grow constantly in love of God.

As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, God is accessible only by the little spark of love, that impulse toward Him, even if for a moment we  lift our hearts toward Him, this is how to reach Him as well as any arrow hits the bull’s eye on the target. This impulse of love is the way to penetrate the overwhelming mystery of God and to possess, even apprehend Him by love in a way our intellects are not capable of. A mantram gives voice to that spark of love and helps us consciously place all of our lives in the presence of God throughout the day.

For those of you familiar with “Centering Prayer,” (a form of Christian meditation, or mental prayer using a prayer word or phrase ) you will already have an idea what I mean.

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This short prayer can be done all the time, even when we are busy, or bored in a lobby somewhere, or sweeping the floor. We can pray those moments  with a word or phrase that we repeat either vocally or mentally.

Don’t worry. Vain repetition means just that: vain. Are you being vain or mindless? Is it vain to repeat something that means all the world to you: the Name of Our Lord perhaps, or of Our Lady, or both? Of course not.

Some Christian mantrams:

In the Eastern Church the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) is used in a mantram fashion. One is encouraged to repeat it constantly from the heart… until it begins to pray itself within us on it’s own and becomes as much a part of us as breathing or the heart’s beating.

St. Francis is known to have stayed up all night at times repeating, “My God and my all, my God and my all, My God and my all!”

St. Rose of Lima memorized the Names of God from Scripture during a period of terrible aridity for her. She would say them over as she did embroidery and this practice gave her light.

The prayer received by St. Faustina is a good one to base our lives on, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends simply the word, “God.”

The angels sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” It seems like they are always saying it. We join them   at every Sunday mass. Why not as often as we can?

There are a lot of very short, one line Catholic prayers that make good mantrams.

“Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls,” is one I have heard people use. An elderly Carmelite told me it was her constant prayer.

“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored and loved,” is good.

Imagine how much good a constant spiritual communion would do. “Lord come spiritually into my heart.”

There is that great word from Revelation, too, “Maranatha” Our Lord come!

And then, there is the Holy Name itself, which, as St. Bernard says, brings to us Jesu dulcis memoria, “the sweet memory of Jesus.” Repeating it is a beautiful way to consciously live in His presence.

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My mother used to say during chemo, “Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy,” especially since she was afraid of needles. If she started saying other mantrams that were not so good for her I would laugh and remind her of “Divine Mercy.”

Each of my daughters has a personal mantram that they repeat in times of trouble or difficulty praying or temptation or stress. Maire’s is “Stella Maris” or (Star of the Sea), one of Our Lady’s titles. Roise’s is, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” or “Ave Maria, Ave Maria…”

My fiancee, Mark, is beginning to explore the use of a mantram prayer. His choice is “Baruch atah Adonai.” It is Hebrew for “Blessed be the Lord,” a phrase that has been sanctified by centuries of pray-ers.

Mine, I got from my beloved St. Joan of Arc, from the words on her banner, “Jesus Maria.” I hope I’m saying it when I die, to accompany me into the the arms of Jesus and Mary.

 

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Some ways to use a mantram and some practical advice:

When you’re mad or worried about something, a brisk walk repeating your mantra can really help put you in the right frame of mind. The mantram is a good way to pray when you are at a red light or a seriously dull meeting or doing something tedious. It is great during hard, physical work to keep you going and dedicate your work, says my fellow Carmelite, George. It’s not bad for when a mean dog is chasing you, either, according to my kids.

If you are not having to concentrate on anything like navigating  freeway traffic or doing a delicate repair that requires all your attention, the mantram can and should be said anytime.

One of my favorite ways to use mine is when I am falling asleep. If I’m good about staying on it, my heart will repeat it all night and if I wake up I notice I am still at it.

I try to pray it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Sometimes it helps me get out of bed.

Sometimes when I am too upset to pray the rosary I just hold it. Sometimes I am in need of the greatest simplicity; something for my mind and heart to hold onto. A mantram prayer is perfect for that.

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I would say don’t change it once you have chosen it. This way it will become part of you and sometimes your heart will start it on its own. It will grow with you and be with you all of your life. I have had mine for about twenty years. When I fall away from it, it is not too hard to get back to because of that. It has become a part of me, and my response to it is quicker and deeper now because it has grown over the years.

There’s nothing useless or vain about a mantram. Think of it as steps that lead you closer and closer to Heaven. Just choose it carefully so that it has the most meaning to you in your faith journey.

I have a little book I write the mantram in at times. I might dedicate a page to peace or to someone in trouble. There are several pages on which I have drawn pictures with the mantram in different colors and shapes. You will be amazed what a calming, peaceful activity this can be. It’s fun to do as a family too. We have made some mantram art together with all our different mantrams making a picture. Some of these hung on our refrigerator for years, serving as continuing prayers, and signs of family unity.

 

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Try a mantram prayer with me this year.  It couldn’t possibly hurt you. Most likely it will get you all straightened out when you need it and help you not waste time that you would ordinarily just use to worry when you are stuck somewhere or letting your mind go all over the place in unhelpful ways.

Perhaps it will help you regain focus on the present moment,

and to be present in the moment,

the **sacrament of the present moment,

where God always is.

It’s been very good for me.

I like to think of every repetition as a rose petal that drops into my heart as a gift of God, or that I let go into the wind to bless someone else, or the world in general.

 

The mantram “Jesus Maria” is my constant companion and has done me nothing but good. Have fun choosing yours, choose it carefully, make it part of your every day.

Maybe you will see what I mean.

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*I am much indebted to one of my favorite spiritual authors, Eknath Easwaran, for first teaching me about the mantram and finding it in my own faith tradition.

**Jean Pierre de Caussade

Related and also by me:

http://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2017/01/holy-name-jesus/#.WkmbTCMrI1I   

https://bethanyhangout.com/2016/09/12/holy-name-of-mary/

https://bethanyhangout.com/2017/09/23/this-is-how-jesus-says/

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