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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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Novena to the child Mary for the feast of her Presentation in the temple Day Seven

To begin, make the sign of the cross and pray the Sh’ma, a prayer the little Mary would have grown up reciting every day with her Jewish family and community:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Holy Child Mary, gentle and humble of heart, you are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you are the fairest honor of our people!” (see Judith 15:9)

Reflection:

Little Mary’s pure and open heart is the reflection of our beautiful Christian life of union with God; a reflection of sacrificial love for Him and all humanity, on fire with the Holy Spirit, flowering with every grace, blessing and virtue.

“Draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.” *  Following in her heart beats, we are to be directed by the the love of God: wholly pure, wholly given, fully human. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God,” because when we are pure of heart, all we see is God.

Her heart is utterly pure beyond our comprehension, pure as Eve’s before the fall; then made even more beautiful by Mary’s heroic merits, her sacrifices, her complete alliance with God, her total love, and her compliance with His will and plan.

How can we imitate the child Mary by heart? We are so often unlike her inside.  Sometimes we seem hopelessly off track. Mary’s heart’s simplicity and hidden life in God are hard to cultivate, but this is what true holiness is, loving God as she did; in stark faith, hope, and love, in simplicity of heart.  We walk with young Mary in simple faith and learn Christ from her. We listen, we let go and let God, trusting in His grace that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.

Her dedication at the Temple, running up the steps of her own accord, is a symbolic for-shadowing of her whole hearted cooperation with God years later when she said, “I am the littlest of the servants of God. Let it be done to me as you have said.”   This is what our own hearts echo in the spiritual life if we allow God to work with us, and Mary to teach us. We become more and more attentive to His Word  in our lives. We learn to be in silent communion with Him in the quiet of our hearts and we become more and more aware of His indwelling. It takes training ourselves to be quiet and commitment to spend time with God every day in whatever way we are capable of. We can entrust our formation to Mary.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is an icon of the heart of prayer in its perfection.

*An antiphon from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Little Mary, gentle, joyful, and humble of heart, make our hearts like your own, that we may reflect the love and life and joy that comes from the freedom of the children of God. 

Imagine Mary as a little girl; innocent, kind and wise. Take her hand and ask her to pray for you.  Think about your life, and what you need the most. Place your concerns in her hands to take to the Father. Know that her heart is love, and that it is filled with tenderness and open to the Spirit. She does not judge you, but sees you in humility, purity, and simplicity of heart. She sees who you are in God. That is what she sees. Open your heart to her.

Then pray, “Hail Mary…”

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Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

 

St. Margaret Mary’s apparition of Our Lord with a visible Heart is known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this image, His heart is on fire with His divine love for us, radiant like the sun, surrounded by thorns symbolizing His suffering and death, and topped by the cross, the symbol of His victory.

 

This is a very dearly loved image of Jesus, and one of great meaning for us. Jesus’ heart is the center of His being, the seat of His human consciousness, the abyss of His Divine love, mercy, and compassion.

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Jesus living within each of us has experienced our loves, humiliations, betrayals, rejections, our own sufferings, deaths and resurrections. We, living in Him, as His Body and Bride, the Church, have experienced His life, too. The Sacred Heart in religious art can also be seen as a symbol of this solidarity and union, this communion and humanity we share with Christ, as well as the mystical union we have with His divinity. More obviously it is a symbol of His love for us, all of us.

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I have to think,  in these dark times, during this epidemic of heartlessness, when so many seem determined to enrich the powerful and take away even the most basic of needs from the poor, the disabled, children, and the sick;  when Black Americans are shot for little to no reason, even in front of their little children, and at an alarming rate, and there is not enough love in our society to make it stop; when people are dying from gun violence and we can’t even hear each other enough to problem solve in a meaningful way, when every day we have to find ways to decompress from all the hatred and stress, when people who raise the standard of morality and compassion are undervalued, that it’s time to look to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What are we doing? The opposite of the Gospel.

We’re finding ways to keep our life, not lose it to love and compassion. We are jealous of our stations in life, we fight to keep our own privileges, our own rights and freedom at the expense of others. We fight  to be as heartless and greedy as we want, to not have to consider the pain we cause when we speak without compassion. We say we speak the truth in love when we want to justify our harsh talk that only turns others away from religion.

We need hearts. We need Jesus. We need the One who said, “Come to me, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

 

 

 

 

“Ask the Friend for Love.

Ask Him again.

Ask Him again.

For every heart will get

What it asks for the most.”  

~ Hafiz

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The moon in my heart

 

 

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Thinking and dreaming and having tea with Mary

In the briefly blooming rose of evening.

We sit together silently, night’s growing darkness cloaking us,

Warm about our shoulders.

Through the window we can see the sun’s glow cascade ecstatically over the top of Howell’s Grocery,

Pour itself over the edge of the earth into space;

A passing caress over the other side of the world

As she turns on her axis.

We sit.

Mary’s hand touches mine,

The warmth of her tea cup still on her finger tips.

I sense her encouraging nod in the darkness.

She is with me.

“Remember,”

Says the brush her of fingers,

Remember day when you forget.

I am always with you,

I will bring for you the moon,

Reminding you of the sun

The deepest glow of God

Present in your heart.

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  • Sky photos by Renee Bork

 

The little One (a little meditation on Christmas)

Warm, soft, vulnerable and alive, this sleeping One in my lap. I caress the tiny forearm, touch the curled, unsure hands. I can’t stop kissing his fast-beating heart, listening to his unpracticed, uneven breath. I touch his soft, dark, baby hair, nuzzling the top of his head with my nose. His little feet, slightly cold- so tiny and perfect- have never yet touched the ground. I hold them in my hands to warm them. I kiss their satiny soles. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” my heart in wonder repeats, repeats. I press him to me, this Lord of mine, with a profound, peaceful, joyful gratitude and love, a protective love. He opens his eyes, still that deep slate gray of the newly arrived human. They hold the newborn’s sage, open gaze; mildly curious, seeming to drink in the powerful love pouring out of the utterly enchanted person looking back at them. He blinks innocently at the tears falling from my eyes into his.

 

I am cold, my arms flailing awkwardly and out of my control. I’m confused. I don’t know what’s happening. I need comfort, warmth, nourishment. And then I am warm, pressed soothingly all around. A deep, sweet peace flows into my mouth and through my body as my unruly hands tangle in her hair, Mama, Mama. The only thing I know is this love, this union, this protection and assurance. I relax completely.

I am that I am, Being, Love, Light and Life. I surround my Son, inhabit my Son, I am within my Son, I love my Son, I am my Son. I have remained what I have been and will be eternally, and I have become what I was not. In my love of humanity, I have finally become fully human, entering the world of time and space in the most profound and humble way. So great is my love, I have been conceived and born into this human cloud of unknowing, emptying Myself, taking the form of a slave, in order to free and divinize my beloved humanity, made of dust, that they might share my Divine Life.

Vulnerable, human, innocent and unknowing, be, oh Christian soul. I have shown you the way to Me: this little Child, this Way, this Truth, this Life, full of humility and trust, gentle, humble, simple, with the need, the open-ness of the newborn. Come to Me, forgetting everything but Love Itself, and be born again. Be little, be free, be loved. Never be afraid, it is I, the Little One, asking for your love.

Answer Me, say from the heart:

Truly, I have set my soul 

In silence and in peace

As the Divine Child has rest in His mother’s arms,

Even so, my soul.

Children of God,

Hope in the Lord forever. (a variation on Psalm 131)

On this Holy Night, take time to be little, humble, simple, trusting, and close to God, like a child.

 

Holy Name of Mary

“All generations to come will call me blessed.” Luke 1″48b

Today, September 12, the Church celebrates and reflects on the Holy Name of Mary.

According to custom, Our Lady’s parents would have named her eight days after her birth, like any other Hebrew girl. Most likely her parents had ordinary hopes for her. They would have the  joy of raising a daughter who would love them, learn from them, live and play and pray with them. They likely had expectations for her of a future husband and family of her own.

All these things Mary did, but in an extraordinary way, and for a purpose no one knew.

Her mother and father fittingly named her Mary (Maryam or Miriam.) I wonder if they were thinking of the prophet Miriam, sister of Moses, who partnered with Moses and Aaron in leading his people to freedom through the Red Sea.

The Church sees the journey through the Red Sea as a metaphor prefiguring Baptism in Christ. This little one was a new Miriam, who would partner with her Son in His work of our Salvation.

I am enchanted by the fact that the origin of Mary’s name was most likely taken from ancient Egyptian; from mry “beloved” or mr “love.”  She is beloved and her name is love. That reminds me of Romans 1:7, which greets the Christians of Rome as, “Beloved of God and called to holiness.”  

In a way, every Christians’ name is “Love.”

The Son of Mary taught us that holiness is love.

As the Beloved Disciple said, “And we have come to know and believe in the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16

Blessed little Mary, I will take up your holy name, “Love,” many times each day. Come to me, and lead me through every challenge, singing of my victory.  Today as I honor your childhood, inspire me to walk ahead through all that life brings, made brave for love by the companionship of your spirit. May I may live in love, live in God, and God in me. Help me to follow Jesus with faith and simplicity of heart. 

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