An aspect of the rosary I love is that praying the mysteries, the stories of the lives of Jesus and Mary helps us remember that the Virgin Mary was and is a real human being. Her life, entwined with her Son’s was an actual earthly life just as ours is. That seems like an obvious thing to say about her but do we really think of her as a real person? Sometimes, though our stylized and symbolic depictions of her are pretty, I wish at least sometimes her Immaculate Heart would be drawn or painted more anatomically, like a Frieda Kahlo heart perhaps. I think this type of image would bring us closer to the everyday very real Mary who had a beating human heart in her chest.
Or maybe we could see her represented working hard with sweat under her arms for once!
Don’t you feel closer to her if you imagine her feet in the dirt of her garden or the weave of the rough fibers of her homespun dress, or when you imagine her laughing? I do. I always do.
I want her to be a sister and a friend to me as well as my teacher of prayer, mystical queen and holy mother.
I love the way Our Lady is presented in all of those gorgeous poetic prayers. But I need a hug. I want to put my face on her shoulder and smell that Mary smell.
I want to love Jesus as completely as she does. I want to see everything and everyone through God’s heart as she sees all of us.
I want to pray simply as clear morning light, pondering Jesus in my heart and the law of love continually in all I do, in all Mary and I do together. I want her always with me and I want myself always with her.
I want to practice Marian mindfulness, being always aware of the presence of the Lord and his beauty.
I want to be ready for anything God gives or calls me to, and to “arise with haste” and joy to go and act on it, share it with people and all of life as Mary did and still does from Heaven. I want to help her with her work for the kingdom, wherever she wants to take me. She is always reminding me to listen and to do whatever Jesus tells me.
I want to come home to Mary and cook dinner with her. I want to listen to her concerns for her children and I want to be able to comfort her. I want to walk with her, hear her stories and share her happiness.
I hope to plant more roses in her garden. I’d like to pick some too, and sprinkle the petals over her head and watch her laugh.
It’s so easy to make her smile.
When you think of Mary, when you pray the rosary and let her guide you through the mysteries of Jesus, let her be real to you. It will make all the difference. It will make you smile too.
Lectio Divina is an ancient prayer form developed by the Benedictines in the 6th century, a way to deeply pray with Scripture. One read attentively, pondered, as Mary did, the word of God, responded back to God, and rested in simple contact with him. In the 12th century a monk called Guigo decided to divide it into more definite steps. For me over time this prayer became less formal and more of a flow that happens naturally in the Spirit. In fact with long practice it is just the way I hear and respond to Scripture when I am really paying attention. Maybe that is how this prayer arose before it had a set of concrete steps to follow. The pray-er experienced a natural, Holy Spirit guided progression between attentive reading, deep prayerful pondering and simple rest in loving awareness and receptivity to God’s presence.
It was cool of Guigo to organize this into steps however. The steps helped me a lot when I was new to it and still do sometimes especially when I am upset and can’t focus. Also everyone is different. Some people pray more freely with a sense of order and clarity. Others do best with spontaneity and receptivity. God loves both of these and can work with equal grace with every soul, no matter the preference.
Here are the steps.
Step One Lectio: First, slowly and reflectively read a passage of the Bible three times, paying special attention to any word or phrase that catches your attention.
Step Two Meditatio: Quietly ponder the word or phrase that stands out to you slowly repeating it in silence. Ask the Lord what he is saying to you in this Word, brought to your attention by the Holy Spirit.
Step Three Oratio: When you receive light on what God is saying in your soul through that word or phrase, respond back to God in prayer, perhaps asking for all that you need to carry out his will, or maybe in praise and thanksgiving; whatever is appropriate. Have a conversation with him.
Step Four Contemplatio: Rest now in simple love, in communion with him for a time.
Some people will add:
Step Five Actio: Like Mary after the Annunciation, arise with haste and act on what you have received in prayer! (Luke 1:39)
Encounters with God don’t always lead us into immediate service but if they do go with it!
If I don’t have a particular Biblical passage in mind I choose from the mass reading of the day. I consider the readings of the day to be chosen by the Holy Spirit. If none of these particularly catch my attention I pick the Gospel reading. 🙂
The number of minutes you pray Lectio Divina is up to you. God will definitely be there throughout regardless. He is unlimited by time. 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes will all work. I tend to set a a quiet alarm so I am not tempted to worry about time. I know the sound will call me back at the right moment and I can relax into prayer.
If you are new to silent interior prayer, I suggest you start with 5 or 10 minutes at first. You are more likely to make a habit of prayer when you feel you can succeed and are less likely to feel overwhelmed and avoid it. Baby steps!
Some people say to pray at the same hour in the same place every day. You may find this helpful in creating the habit and sticking with it. At times I have found that helpful too.
To me any quiet and solitude I can find will work. And anyway I like to change things up now and then.
Always remember that God responds to any good faith approach. He doesn’t get all weird, scrupulous or worried about things the way we do. He just wants to be with us.
“All I need is Jesus, His will, and silence.” – St. Miriam of Jesus Crucified
What is Christian love? After my conversion to Catholicism (quite a leap from the way I was raised which was without religion,) my family had adjusting to do. My brother was the person I was closest to. We were symbiotic and as my mom said, “joined at the hip.” For me to make such a radical change in my world view seemed like a kind of betrayal by me. In the beginning we argued. I would say I loved him, which wasn’t especially well received when he was mad. Once he said, “I don’t want your ‘Christian love.‘ I just want you and YOUR love.” This upset me. I thought “What’s the difference?”
Pondering this interaction on the drive home, I realized what he meant and what his fear was. When we were kids my parents were very young, idealistic and nonconformist. We looked different. Our Hippie family was ill treated in the small Texas town my parents had moved to for school in 1968. It was a college town, yes, but unbelievably conservative. They did not allow women into the University unless they were married to a male student until 1972.
A lot of people who said they were Christian didn’t let us play with their kids, talked mess about our parents right in front of us, were harsh and cold with my brother and me and we didn’t understand why. We saw them as alienating people with fake smiles, and vacant eyes who were prone to heartlessness. When they said anything about loving us for Jesus’ sake it just sounded like they didn’t want to “love us” (whatever that meant) but Jesus wanted them to play nice. Which they didn’t.
My brother was afraid I would now love him in some generalized fake way, judging him as a person the whole time. It took him time and experience with me as a Catholic to disabuse him of that notion.
What does Christian love really mean? What does it mean to love someone for Jesus’ sake? I do think sometimes people don’t go very far with this. Maybe sometimes we do think it means to play nice.
Someone on social media told me he was tired of the Church being “the Church of nice.” I said I knew we weren’t supposed to be “the Church of Nice.” No we are supposed to be the Church of radical love.
I’m still working this out. All of us are, as my granny used to say, “full of prunes.” We don’t know what we’re talking about and we think we do. We think better of ourselves sometimes than we really are. We can wake up feeling like we love everybody and we hate everybody by 2 O’clock, or at least we hate several people. Some people. I’m no different. Sometimes I tell Jesus, “I know I’m not allowed to hate that guy. I know you love him, I know.” I tell him all about it. Then there is a glimmer, a hint, of what Jesus feels for that person, and I can’t go on with my tirade or hot headed attitude. I can perceive my self both as the fool I am and the affection and love God has for me. Most of the time peace comes to me pretty quickly if I’m willing. Life is so hard and I don’t know why it has to be so hard. It just is.
In that glimmer of understanding and touch of peace, I think lies the answer of the beginning of Christian love, real love, personal love for a unique and unrepeatable human being we may not know as well as we could, or a transformed love for someone we know as we know ourselves.
He has put into my heart a marvelous love
– Psalm 16:3a
Christian love comes from union with Christ, the transforming love of “putting on the new self.” (Eph. 4:24. This is how we begin to love others as Jesus loves us. (See Jn. 13:34.) I don’t think this ability comes from baptism alone. I think it comes from prayer and time spent consciously in God’s presence. It is prayer that taught me how to love more fully, to examine my inner motivations and attitudes toward others and myself. Prayer and fledgling love of God inspired me to own up to my character defects and wrongheaded, prideful or selfish way of loving- even my brother.
With prayer and being with God we receive a new clarity and freedom of heart. This doesn’t happen right away. It takes so much time that often I get frustrated with myself. I have to remember that God will “complete the good work he has begun in [me.]”
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.
Teresa of Avila wrote about detachment in relationships, especially in Chapter 7 on spiritual friendship in her book The Way of Perfection. “Detachment” sounds cold to us today. Based on my own experience I think I know what she means a little bit that we can apply here. This doesn’t mean less love for someone! It really means a detachment from self, from selfishness in our relationships.
How do we do that? Admittedly I don’t have this figured out yet. However, there is a lot of mystery involved so I don’t blame myself for that!
Similar to our efforts and experience of prayer there is an active part to this new kind of human love, and a mystical part.
The active part is more obvious. We decide to be more self aware to notice what to let go of in our ways of relating. Some of this is simple. Let’s have a look at my brother and me. When he went to rehab at age 16, we learned from the staff there how to better communicate. At first we felt silly like we had to learn to talk all over again and we would get tired of it sometimes and revert to old ways. Or we lost our tempers and had outbursts. We talked about this. We decided to see our progress. The progress was we noticed what we were doing wrong. Then with practice we got where we noticed even before we were mean and stopped ourselves. Then later, we didn’t even think about being mean anymore. Or controlling. Or selfish anymore. This is basic stuff for some people but to us it was a whole new fish bowl.
In the mean time I was learning to pray. I must have been quite an emergency to God because he set about teaching me what real love felt like right away. It was the way he loved me, and the way I learned to love him back. His love is simple and tender and clear. It stops the thoughts and worries running through your mind and you don’t even think “Hey I’m being loved.” It just is.
My own love started to simplify itself, both my love for God and my love and regard for other people. I learned to listen to people in the same way I was learning to listen to God. This took work and came from an urging I think was from him, that I do so. But the transformation took time.
My brother decided I was still me and that he didn’t have to worry about me turning into someone else or loving him in some impersonal creepily fake way. He noticed me growing as a person and that he could translate my new language of spirituality into his own understandings about life and his pragmatic view of spiritual things. He noticed I judged him less, not more. Sometimes, like his early sober days, we reverted to old fears in our relationship, both of us afraid of not being accepted as were were. We both learned, we both grew. We learned to accept one another.
And that’s how it is. What do you know? When we are able to love someone in a Christly way, they don’t just experience Jesus through us, we experience Jesus through them as well, whether they are Christian or not. We want to know a person better when we meet them and we know that every one of them belongs. We may not know how we know, but we know.
And pretty soon the whole thing gets out of control and our way of loving grows a new dimension. The world opens up and the possibilities are endless.
What does God say about this?
Beloved, we are God’s children now. What we shall be has not yet been revealed. However, we do know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he really is.
Applied to learning to love others, I take this to mean in this case that we are already God’s children, but we ourselves are a mystery unfolding, known only to God. The closer we get to the Lord, the more we are transformed as we come to know him and love him as he is, which is for himself; the way he loves us. We will not be perfect at this in this life. However we can cultivate God’s kind of love through prayer, self awareness, God awareness, and the service he inspires. In his mysterious way he will work his beautiful will in us all our lives more and more in pathways of love.
And then we have so much to look forward to: the absolute fullness of love, the fullness of God and union with him.
And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
No matter the method of meditation, each one employs some kind of anchor to help us master our thoughts during prayer;a scripture passage, a set prayer, a holy word or phrase help us return again and again when the mind wants to do its busy work. In Christian Meditation, this anchor will also be a way to root us in our intention of prayer, openness and presence to the Beloved
There is often a format, a structure that helps us to make our prayer a process, a movement, a conversation, an exchange of love.
The basis of all Christian prayer, including holy meditation, is Jesus.
Moreover it is our intent to connect to this Lord that makes our meditation prayer rather than a mental exercise.
Please don’t worry too much about whether a method is what you think it should be or whether other people should be using it. Use discernment in your choice, but know it is not as if doing the “wrong” one is going to make your or anyone else’s prayer go down the wrong pipe and not to God. That’s just plain silly.
To me prayer is about love and my will to be with God, no matter what technique I use to learn to be ready for an encounter with the Friend. Prayer is less about me and more about God. In my experience, when I seek his will he responds and when I am open and willing to be corrected, he will correct me. This seems to run true for others as well. “If I am wrong, Lord, change my heart.”
The author of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing ( the “cloud” representing the fact that our intellect cannot reach God sufficiently) tells us to use our anchor in meditative prayer as a spark or arrow of love, to pierce through the “cloud of unknowing” straight to the Heart of God. That is a beautiful way to think of it, and it also rings true.
If a certain technique confuses you or you feel you aren’t making good progress with it, make adjustments and carry on. Yes there are pot holes on the road of prayer. I think I have fallen into them all along the way, though I eventually overcame, thanks be to God and God willing, I will continue to.
I am concerned that a lot of people seem to be overly cautious about Christian Meditation or about this or that method. Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but don’t freak out. Just move on if something you try isn’t right for you. Be free about this. I am. So far liberality of spirit has born great fruit for me,
If you are striving to grow, and you are guided by love of God, faithful in practice, doing your best to conquer sin, if you are living a sacramental life, loving more, then I think you are fine to set out on the Royal Road of contemplative prayer, or to stay on it, wearing the shoes that fit you best.
When I wake up on Easter morning what I usually feel is happy for Jesus. He is the first person I say “Happy Easter” to. Happy Easter, Beloved Lord. You win!
Love is stronger than death, oh Love Itsef!
Then I think of the Church all over the world and how we are all together in spirit, experiencing this day that is not just a remebrance of the past, but something happening now, a special time of grace from Heaven as we all celebrate together.
Then I think of all the people I miss, especially my family that have died, and I am so grateful I will see them again because of this Lord who accomlished it.
Granted this has been the strangest Easter in any of our lifetimes, but that’s another thing about Easter. Jesus is unstoppable.
I had a good enough day, and was able to pray with my youngest daughter and her four year old in our traditional way. I heard from my eldest daughter, and my friends too. I have had time to pray and reflect and listen to music that is special to me at Easter. It was sad to be away from mass and that is an understatement. I am sure you can understand too.
It was a quiet day, and pretty outside. I blew bubbles on the back porch with my granddaughter, a sweet way to end the day.
And now my place is quiet again. I think about how this is the time maybe the disciples settled down enough they could just enjoy Jesus.
All day he was playing hide and seek, surprising different disciples in different places and in different, wonderful ways, all of them crazy. It had been an overwhelming day, a world inside out day.
They had laughed and cried and screamed, tried to understand and experience impossible things and some couldn’t even believe their own eyes. It was too astonishing.
All that was settled now, and they said, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”
They got to be with him for 40 more undoubtedly beautiful days.
It must have been hard to stop looking at him, hard to stop hugging him, hard to calm down and just be with him. Maybe it was easier in the glow of the fire to relax in his presence, to enjoy his tenderness and love for them.
To me the signature of the touch of the Lord is tenderness. This is something I am deeply grateful for today.
Sometimes I don’t emotionally identify with Easter that much. My life feels like a long Holy Saturday after several Good Fridays. I’m not complaining. I want to say that I am aware that I possess a much deeper joy than emotional happiness, though I would say I am happy enough, even after all the losses. I have been aware of this joy through it all, not to say I haven’t been desolate because I have. It’s the joy of that rock solid knowledge of God all the way to the center of my soul. I don’t think I would have that if I hadn’t gone through hell so many times; emotional hell, and spiritual desolation.
“My one companion is darkness,” the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 81.) In some ways this is still true, my soul cleared of so many things that filled it. But there is something beyond that emptiness. That something is what I am made of now. The darkness has a radience to it. I lost all the lushness of my spirituality and gained infinitely more. Maybe the disciples found something in their own souls similar after the Ascension.
Carl Jung, asked if he believed in God, said, “No.”
And then he added, “I don’t believe, I KNOW.”
I can identify with that.
I don’t believe in the Resurrection. I know. And that’s a gift of the Resurrection itself, of the power flowing from it.
Even when I don’t necessarily “feel” God I just know and that’s enough for me.
When I do sense his presence, that tenderness I also know as his sign. I hope he feels my tenderness too.
Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” (John 14:18)
For me Holy Saturday is usually a quiet, meditative day spent with Mary.
Normally the parish church would be open, but quiet and bare. Catechumen and Candidates would be gathering for Morning Prayer with their teacher, their sponsors perhaps, and the pastor. The feeling would be somber and expectant too, this last gathering before the class would be baptized and/ or confirmed at the Easter Vigil.
Mary seemed to sail through Great Silence like a sparrow released into a moonless night. The others watched her closely for signs of life and awareness, but her heart was fully awake.
“Mother, please,” Magdalene said, “Have something to drink. For me.” Her sisters had brought breakfast. Something hot and steaming was pressed gently into her hand. The cup warmed her fingers. She looked at the tear stained faces and worried eyes around her and took a small sip. She felt the weave of the mat she sat on, the movement of air, the stillness of earth.
The room filled with the others who also sat. As the strips of light from the shutters moved across the floor, no one spoke.
The cup grew cold.
At home I keep my little apartment quiet except for playing some Marian chant now and then. I pray the Hours too.
Our family altar is bare as well.
The door is open.
For you, my God, my soul in stillness waits. Truly my hope is in you.
(See Psalm 95/Catholic Hymn “My Soul in Stillness Waits” by Marty Haugin)
“In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees in the Chapel.”~ Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite Lay Brother (d. 1691.) He had an intense realization of “the fact of God” while looking at a dead and leafless tree. He had been a soldier, and after being wounded he became somewhat lame. He then became a footman but, as he said, was “a great clumsy fellow who broke everything.” He no doubt was feeling like a dead, leafless tree himself at that time. But God opened a way for him to find life again. He became a Lay Brother in a Carmelite monastery; cooking, (a job he disliked right away) running errands, sweeping floors and of course, praying and discovering God within at all times and sharing this way he called The Practice of the Presence of Godwith others.
By making active use of the teachings of The Practice of the Presence of God we can learn to be continually recollected in God, which keeps our souls most open for God’s grace and at his service at all times.
The flow of our lives then becomes a conscious flow of God’s transforming love.
The consequences of this simple practice seep into our personalities and the way we are in the world. We find we even touch inanimate objects with love. We feel affectionate and open towards people. We feel happier, more peaceful, certainly more in tune with God.
1. Morning Offering.
Many Catholics begin the day by dedicating/offering it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a Morning Offering. If you already do this, try to do it more consciously than usual. Pay close attention to what you are saying and to Whom you are speaking. Reflect on what the words mean to you.
If you don’t do this, you could start doing this. Write a Morning Offering on a post-it note and stick it on the coffee maker. You could write your own dedication instead of the traditional one if that would be more meaningful to you.
2. Address your thoughts to God.
This may sound overwhelming to do all the time but even recalling God and restarting your conscious awareness of him whenever you remember to, during the day can have a noticeable effect that will grow.
While you are at it, try turning your grouchy thoughts into prayers of praise. No really. So many things in the course of the day are annoying to us. Figure out how to make prayers of praise or gratitude out of these irritating things. You may be surprised how amusing this can be, and how it becomes second nature after a while.
Turn your thoughts into a continual conversation with God. We all live in a river of thoughts, images, memories, plans, worries, what have you. Turn this river toward the Lord, as often as you can remember to.
I think about my daughters more times a day than I care to enumerate. So, for example, I can try to talk to Jesus about them instead of only thinking to myself or worrying or dreaming for them, as parents will.
Today my daughter is moving, My other daughter and her husband are helping while I watch the grandchildren and hope the three year olds get along and the baby isn’t too distressed by the whole thing. I can talk to the Lord about this. “Calm any fears that arise, Lord. Help us to make this a joyful day.” Or I can express my concerns to him if I want to. As Winnie the Pooh says, “It’s friendlier with two.”
3.Turn your suffering into prayer
The best way is to hold your pain up to God just like you used to bring your bumps and bruises to your mom for her to kiss. Words are unnecessary here unless you want them. Let God sit with you like a loving quiet friend when you are hurting. You probably know this is harder than it sounds.Try it anyway though.
Catholics also have the habit of offering up our suffering in union with the suffering of Jesus. We call this being co-redeemers. When something bad happens to me I consider myself a treasure of grace and try to offer my suffering as prayer for everyone who needs it.
4.Purposely invite God into even the smallest things you do each day
This is at the center of Brother Lawrence’s teaching, and a big part of The “Little Way” of St. Therese as well. Instead of rushing through a task or just trying to get a thing done, it helps to slow down and concentrate on it. As Eknath Easwaran says, “Concentration is consecration.”
Offer your task as if it were an act of prayer and then it will be.
St. Therese would offer the difficult things she had to do for missionaries or for priests. Maybe you would like to offer your work for something you care about to help the world or the Church.
Your offerings can be as simple as saying, “Lord here is my little pancake for you” if you are cooking, for instance. Maybe this sounds silly to you but I recommend you try it for a while and see for yourself. Maybe you too will find God “amidst the pots and pans.”
“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”~ Brother Lawrence
This habit of being aware of God in your actions takes a lot of practice but even if you only remember to do this a couple times a day God will bless it and you. You will soon notice a difference in how connected you feel to God at all times.
When you are in line somewhere or at a red light (we spend a lot of our day waiting) use some of that time to connect to and talk to God. It’s easy.
5.“Listen” for God with an open heart
No matter where you are, whether you are alone or with others, hanging out with your friends, at work, petting your dog or talking to a small child, try to maintain a sensitivity to God in all situations. You will sense a heightened awareness and connection to other people and all living things when you do this. You will notice beauty you used to miss. You will be more and more able to register signs of God’s will or voice in the events and conversations of your day. It will become a working part of you in time.
We hear a lot about these concepts lately and I think that is good. As Christians, being present in the moment and being mindful in our daily lives is going to mean conscious awareness of God in the present moment, mindfulness of God in all we do and experience.
Fr. Greg McLaughlin said to me once, “You are not on this planet! I don’t think you are even in the solar system! God is in the present moment. God is right here! And right now, right here, he is saying‘ Where are YOU?”
To be absent minded is to be absent to attentiveness to God who is here with us now. This one has been a hard one for me as I am given to day dreaming. I have learned that we don’t have to be perfect at this present mindedness. But every little bit helps.
St. Teresa of Avila’s way of thinking was that “God is within us, and we should not leave him there alone!” She thought we should imagine the Lord beside us at all times until that active mental effort becomes internalized and natural, part of consciousness.
7. Repetition of the Holy Names
Brother Lawrence doesn’t talk about this in his letters or conversations. However this can be a useful key to keep on your key ring that can help you in your quest to cultivate the constant sense of the presence of the Lord in your life during your day. It can open the door for you.
When I am doing a task that doesn’t require a lot of thinking, I repeat the names of Jesus and Mary. For me it does the trick, and brings me into conscious awareness and attentiveness to the presence of God. It is also a prayer because I am calling on them in my heart and dedicating whatever I am doing to them.
Doing this in the waiting times of our lives can bring us into focus as well, so we can fill those empty spaces with the Lord.
It is very helpful in times of stress or fear too or any time I need to re-center.
St. Rose of Lima is said to have memorized the Names of God from the Bible during a time of blankness and darkness in her prayer life, and repeated them while she did her embroidery or any task that allowed it. It was her light through that difficult time.
Before going to sleep I like to tell God what I am grateful for about the day and commend all to him, good and bad.
I also try to fall asleep with the holy names of Jesus and Mary, taking them with me into the night.
“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
― Brother Lawrence
People who wrote about talking to Brother Lawrence remarked on his deep peacefulness. He was a simple Lay Brother who had had a poor and difficult life, wounded in war and witness to horrific slaughter in his own home town. Through his remarkable relationship with God, and this way he found to live always in his presence, he found deep peace and was able to help others find the same.
This way is available to all of us.
Developing these habits may sound like an arduous process. Remember that we do what we can and God will do the rest. God sees and will bless our efforts. He’s cool like that.
Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated today in the Church, and it is also considered the first day of the first novena, as Mary and the Disciples remained in Jerusalem to pray for nine days for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. This is the heart of our novena tradition.
A novena can be a special time between God and the praying soul, a pilgrimage of transformation and insight, as well as a way of “storming heaven,” with a petition. A novena prayed with faith is also a time of expectant waiting.
Whatever I am praying for, I try to ask with an open heart, one that is actively seeking God’s will.
Sometimes God does not give me what I thought I wanted when I began. Sometimes he changes me instead.
Sometimes I begin to get a sense that I should ask for something different than the petition I started with. My prayer seems to be redirected. Maybe this is so that I might pray with the Holy Spirit rather than just out of my own will.
I know, dearest Mother, that you want me to seek God’s holy Will concerning my request. If what I ask for should not be granted, pray that I may receive that which will be of greater benefit to my soul, [and the souls for whom I pray.] ~ from the Novena to Our Lady of the Rosary
Other times, my single-mindedness of purpose grows and I continue with my petition, like the “persistent widow” I am.
When I begin a novena, I am not sure what God will do but I know he will do something!
I try to be attentive to what God may want to say to me during this time of focussed, dedicated prayer.
The divine synchronicity interwoven with daily life reminds me that heaven is near, and that God is always speaking.
The symbolic meaning of having a dove land on the hood of my car and look through the windshield at me while I am praying at a red light may seem hard to miss. But it is possible to think nothing of it. I want to notice and make the connection.
If I dedicate and consecrate these nine days of prayer to cultivating my awareness of God’s voice speaking through life itself as it happens, a novena can be a time of becoming attuned to Holy Spirit and wonder.
If I am praying a novena to a particular saint, St. Therese, let us say, I try to find ways to weave her presence into my life. I may read about her or read from her writings during that time. I will talk to her as I go about my day, ask her to join me in my work and prayers.
I might do small acts of service in her honor; especially the kind she liked during her life on earth, the sneaky kind.
I may make use of imaginative prayer to go into the situation I am praying about, letting St. Therese lead me in bringing God’s light into darkness, to let her show me something, or to visually surround the people involved, with God’s love, with hers, and with mine.
I often ask friends or family to join me in praying a novena. Jesus encouraged us to join together when we ask for something, and it encourages me to know that someone I love is praying along with me.
I like to to begin a novena by going to Confession.
It always seems to me that I can “hear” God better after Confession. The grace released into my life from the sacrament enlivens my prayer.
At mass I may offer my reception of Holy Communion for the person or intentions I am praying for.
I try to drop in at church and visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament more often during my novena too, even if only for a moment. I can bring all my concerns there to him for healing; setting them at the foot of his alter for him to arrange in divine order. In his Eucharistic presence, my intentions are blessed, and my troubled heart can rest.
Sometimes I plan a series of nine Scripture verses that I think correspond well with my novena, one for each day to reflect on during the day. Bringing God’s Holy Word into my prayer deepens and interconnects the experience. “God’s word is alive.” Also it never returns to God void but always does what he sends it to do. I trust the word to act on my heart and to return to the Lord full.
I usually give up something at least for a day, or for the duration of the novena. This may be something small, like sugar in my coffee, listening to music in the car, or my favorite drink. St. Therese said her greatest weapons were “prayer and sacrifice.” Fasting and prayer are well established practices for us in our faith when we are commending a situation to God.
Right now I am keeping a novena journal. In it I am recording my prayers, thoughts, insights, Scripture passages and events that stand out to me during this time. It seems to be a fruitful and helpful way to pray, reflect, and notice how God is working in my life through my novena. I look forward to reading it through at the end.
Often when we pray a novena, it is because we are suffering in some way. Part of praying a novena meaningfully can be offering our suffering in union with the suffering of Jesus, that it may be redemptive for others, especially those for whom we pray. St. Therese once offered her difficult walk across the infirmary when she was very ill, for missionaries.
A novena can be a transforming experience when lived and prayed deeply; both for ourselves and those around us.
I like to give thanks at the end of a novena, for all God has done, is doing, and will do in response to my petition, whether or not it looks like my petition was, “granted.” I know that God will only give me what is right and at the right time.
His love never fails; nor does its power to change everything, anything, anytime.
About 800 years ago, a group of men dedicated to the spiritual life seeking silence, solitude, and community in order to deeply know, love, and serve God, began to gather and live near one another as hermits on Mt. Carmel in Israel. This mountain is where Elijah the prophet, his disciple Elisha and their school of prophets had lived near the spring of Carith. It is where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal, and God responded with consuming fire, bringing the people of Israel to their senses and back to the one true God. It is where Elijah experienced the “still small voice of God.”
The hermits called themselves the Brothers of Mary of Mt. Carmel. Each hermit lived in a cave or simple dwelling. There was an oratory in the center where they gathered for daily mass. We can reflect on this arrangement as symbolic of the entire family of the Church, that we too are arranged around Jesus in the Eucharist, around the mass which is at the heart of our faith.
Eventually they sought to have their way of life written as a rule approved by the Church. Sometime between 1206 and 1214 they approached the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert of Avogadro, to do this for them. The resulting rule of life is the shortest the Church has on record, and most of it is Scripture and references to Scripture. It was approved finally by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.
The Rule of St. Albert does not contain a lot of detail but shows in a more general way the spirit of the Carmelite’s life of prayer on the mountain. Every aspect of their lives was crafted to cultivate a continual awareness of the presence of God within and around them. This prayerful awareness practiced daily came to overflow into all of their activities, inspiring their service and leading them to the heights of prayer. They sought to experience the beauty of the Lord more and more, inspiring them to greater and greater love, until they truly prayed without ceasing and were transformed in character, conduct and consciousness* by their union with the Lord.
Paragraph two of the Rule says
Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ – how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of the Master.
For us lay people today, this can serve as a reminder. All of us whatever our station in life, or our personal religious expression within the Church, whatever ways we pray, are all called to holiness. We share a common purpose of unswerving allegiance to Our Beloved Lord.
Carmel is a excellent way. I have heard before that there is no Catholic who does not owe something to Carmel. It is a sure way trodden by saints and Doctors of the Church. Carmel’s charism is prayer, and it is a trustworthy school of prayer. I think every Catholic can benefit from Carmelite spirituality in some way.
The joy and love of contemplative life and profound intimacy with God is here for every one of us.
Hopefully something about the Rule of St. Albert will inspire your own prayer life.
These men had a very simple life free of worry about possessions, property, social obligations and engagements. Their calendars were pretty clear.
All things were held in common and distributed by the Prior according to each ones’ needs.
They didn’t have to wonder what to do. Very little planning was necessary. The rhythm of their lives was basically the same every day.
All this freed them to also have calm, quiet but rich inner lives.
Living as they did may be too much for us. But their dedicated example can encourage us to simplify our own lives and find time for silence and solitude.
So what was a day in the life of an early Carmelite hermit like?
He would be up very early like most people who live close to nature, to light lamps, care for animals, take care of chores.
He would have prayed Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours..
a collection of Psalms, canticles, Scripture readings and prayers. The Liturgy of the Hours is still prayed by clergy, religious and lay people all over the world today. A free online resource for this is Universalis if you would like to tune in to the official public prayer of the Church, weave Scripture into your day, and find a great way to sanctify time. It is also a good way to order your daily life toward prayer.
Our hermit then would have gathered with the others for mass at the chapel of Our Lady of Mt.Carmel.
Ruins of the chapel still on Mt. Carmel
He would have then followed his compatriots to breakfast, which would have been meatless, home grown or donated food.
The Rule specifies that they were to eat whatever was given to them. I think one way to translate this for our lay lives is a quote from St. Elizabeth of the Trinity “Let us lovingly eat the bread of the will of God.” In our lay Christian lives, we could take this as a profound example of reliance on God’s providence and a deep acceptance of his will in our lives as it presents itself each day.
At all meals they tried to listen attentively while someone read aloud from the Scriptures as they ate.
Our hermit would have gone on with his day of work and prayer, “keeping Scripture as an accompaniment with all [he did.] “
How did he do that? In some of the desert communities (the prototypes of Christian monasticism starting in the third century in Egypt) the Psalms were chanted while work was done. However the rule states that Carmelites were to do their work in silence. Perhaps this Scriptural accompaniment was done by pondering the Scripture in his heart and mind as he worked.
When I worked at the Eagle Newspaper in the Press Room, my job was manual labor in nature. The rolling of the press was as loud as an a jet during takeoff. During a “run” there was little conversation, only what was necessary to get the job done, speaking over a head set. I found myself doing exactly what the Rule recommends; working in silence, pondering over the Scriptures and praying as I worked.
One of the crew members and I used to give one another Scripture to memorize. I I developed the habit of keeping a verse or two in the pocket of my uniform that I was working on committing to memory. Perhaps the Carmelites prayed like that as they went about chopping wood, carrying water, working in the garden, caring for their animals , simply praying and meditating on the Scriptures through the day.
The Rule says that the hermit of Carmel was supposed to stay in his cell or nearby when he wasn’t working, “keeping watch in prayer” and “pondering the law of God day and night.” This law is generally understood to mean the Scriptures. I also think that according to Jesus the law of God is love.
O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Psalm 48:9b
How wonderful to ponder continuously the law of God which is love, and God Himself whom we know is Love.
As St. Teresa, reformer of Carmel was to say hundreds of years later, “Prayer is making time to be alone with the Friend who we know loves us.”
The Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel crafted a life of love.
On Sundays our hermit would have attended a community meeting where various issues were discussed and the brothers were to “lovingly correct one another’s faults.” us This does not sound so fun. But we do know that spiritual community and spiritual friendships are indispensable in the life of prayer. We need others to walk, pray, and talk about spiritual things with. We need people who love us enough to help us stay on track, help us to discern God’s will, and inspire us in the love of Christ. Our soul friends help us grow.
At times our hermit may have gone down the mountain to teach, preach, beg food for the community, or be of service to others in some way. When we are people of prayer, our prayer will inspire service and sharing of our faith. St. Teresa said the perfected spiritual human being will be the perfect mix of Mary and Martha: prayer and service.
Our hermit’s dinner would have been much like his breakfast; eaten in silence with his brothers as one of them read aloud from Scripture.
He would have prayed Evening Prayer, attended to any evening duties.
At about 9 O’Clock he would have prayed Night Prayer.
I expect he would have gone to bed early.
And so ended his day, well arranged around prayer, leading to an entire life of prayer and intimacy with God.
After Night Prayer the Carmelites kept a rule of silence until after Morning Prayer the next day. The rule states that “silence is the way to cultivate holiness” and urges them that even during times the hermits could speak with one another that they avoid pointless chatter.
Most of us can probably see how avoiding pointless chatter and guarding our speech would improve our spiritual lives not to mention our relationships. We can make an effort to be kindly in speech and to experiment with silence. So often people feel loved when we are more quiet and can listen to them. I am sure God feels similarly! When we are quiet we naturally turn inward where God lives.
Back to this staying in the cell thing:
Carmelite spirituality is driven by the belief expressed so well by our St.Teresa of Avila:
“God is within us and we should not leave him there alone.”
Colossians 11:27 says
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
So you could think of this cell as your heart where Jesus, as we are repeatedly told by Scripture, truly lives.
We could read “Stay in your cell” as “stay in your heart, and when you’re working stay close to your heart, keeping watch in prayer. ”
How did the hermits actually pray?
Early Chrisitian contemplative prayer was very much grounded in Scripture. The Carmelite hermits, similar to the Desert Fathers, would have spent a lot of time memorizing Scripture. The method of inner prayer they used was similar, I imagine, to Meditatio Scripturarem, a sustained going over and over a memorized passage as a way to keep continuously focussed on the Lord. That is what I think they were doing. The Hesychasm (a method of “imageless” interior prayer developed in the desert by the monks of the Eastern Church) of the Desert Fathers had not been developed yet and Lectio Divina (literally “holy reading” a way to pray with the Bible in an interactive way with God) of the Western Church had not been formalized into steps. So I am thinking they used the Scripture in a less formal way than was developed later.
In Carmelite prayer, the important thing, as St.Teresa herself said in general, is a not to think much but to love much. To me that means presence and attentiveness are the main things they would have been trying for.
Active inner prayer is about attention. The words of the Scripture, for this practice, are touch stones of focus.
If you would like to try this early Christian form of interior prayer, I have written about it here.
Carmel is a Marian order but Mary’s name is not mentioned in the rule at all except for the name the Brothers called themselves, the Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. How is Carmel Marian? Carmelites consider ourselves to be living the life of Mary, her actual spiritual life. The Carmelite strives to continually ponder God’s word in his heart as Mary did, to cherish Jesus within, to be attentive to God’s presence at all times, and to develop a listening and responsive heart. Then, as Mary did, he takes this love and experience of God to others. He prays with and for the Church as Mary is shown to have done.
The Marian devotion of Carmel is primarily imitation of her, reflecting her, mirroring her heart.
I think this is why we often call her not only our Mother and Queen, but also our sister.
Night Prayer ends each day with a prayer, chant or song to Mary.
Let’s pray one now and ask that she might impart to us her own inner life of prayer and love.
1. In what ways do you (or can you) develop the contemplative dimension of your life?
2. When is your alone time? Think about what you like to do in your alone time with yourself and God? How do you cherish and protect that time?
3. How do you pray best? What kind of prayer are you most drawn to?
4. In order to live an intentionally spiritual life the early Carmelites practiced detachment from possessions and simplicity of life. What might be the value in that? What are some ways we can simplify our lives: our physical space, our time, our days… to make room for calm, for God ?
5. How can we order our own days to find a rhythm and balance of prayer, work, community, contact with Scripture, and service to others? Do you have any ideas for your own rule of life?
* …”transformation of character conduct and consciousness” is a phrase I borrowed from Gandhi.
Note: this is an adaptation of a talk I gave at a women’s retreat recently. Minus my dumb jokes. And only because I can’t remember them.
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