Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

Overcoming emotion before it takes over – a followup

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

You may recall in a previous post the story I shared about how anger and aggravation overcame me beginning with the task of vacuuming the pool. I shared that story with my spiritual mother who advised me to say the Jesus Prayer before I begin, and during the task. It worked like a charm! I vacuumed the pool yesterday and the prayer lifted me outside of myself so that I could remain peaceful throughout the task. It had all the elements of being just as aggravating as the last time, but this time I was armed with prayer. Yet another lesson in the idea of detaching from emotion through prayer.

You would think I would then immediately apply prayer to any other time when emotion would overtake me but I still have a long way to go with this lesson. Letting go of aggravation and anger was easy in comparison to letting go of grief and self-pity.

Holidays lately have been a little difficult. I still haven’t grown totally into the empty nester role and therefore miss the kids terribly. I grieved the loss of our family together over the 4th of July holiday. Add to that a dose of self-pity because our efforts to go kayaking were thwarted yet again, this time by my husband’s back pain. I felt very badly for him, but felt sorry for myself too.

It took all weekend to turn to prayer but I finally did as I waited for a fireworks display. I had asked my husband if I could go and he said that was fine. I went and found myself feeling especially lonely and nostalgic for past days when we would go as a family. Seeing other families around me just added to the pain. I felt totally alone, until I realized I wasn’t ever alone – God was with me if I would just call on Him.

I began with the Jesus Prayer and quickly turned to the rosary. At first I looked up at the sky, thinking of heaven. Then I turned my gaze on all the people around me, asking God to bless them, and I began to see Christ in all of them. The feelings of loneliness, grief and self-pity slowly began to dissipate as I became aware of the presence of my very best Friend, the one who will never leave me, deep in my heart, and all around me too in those people.

The fireworks display seemed extra lively and bright now that I felt surrounded by friends. Maybe next time I won’t wait so long!

Run, don’t walk, to this website!

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

If you desire to pray the Divine Office (aka the Liturgy of the Hours) that our clergy pray daily but have never been able to figure out how to use the book. That’s why DivineOffice.org is such a Godsend! All the prayers are available for each day, and presented beautifully, both visually, and through their audio podcasts. The lectors read exquisitely well and the music is also quite beautiful. I was very honored when I was asked to contribute some of my music. Run, don’t walk to this website!

Dry as bones

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Prayer is a tricky thing. Because as human beings, we are imperfect, prayerfulness is oftentimes hard to achieve. Worldly concerns can interfere a great deal with prayerfulness, which is, in essence, remaining close to God. Certainly world events in the last couple of months have proven extremely distracting for me. Between the economic meltdown and the election, my prayer life is as dry as bones (I’m imagining that reading from Ezekiel, chapter 37, in the valley of bones), and I am feeling the consequences with ever increasing anxiety and stress. I am also painfully aware of that awfully bright spotlight that God will shine on your soul every now and then which clearly reveals every fault and shortcoming. I do realize that this is a grace, a wonderful grace.

I’ve lost my way to prayer and need to find it back. None of the various methods I usually use are working. It’s time to be totally open, vulnerable, naked before the Lord. Ouch!

I would love to hear feedback on your experiences with dryness in prayer and how you returned to a prayerful state. I am certain I am not alone in this and we could all benefit from the wisdom in this community.