Additional Prayer Resources
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence God will speak to you.”
Our relationship with God is nourished by prayer and our prayer in turn is fed by setting aside specific times in silence to simply “be” in God’s loving presence and to listen to God’s voice within our hearts. It sometimes appears hard to do that in our busy and noisy days and although this is perhaps especially true of our times of “technology-dependence” with our cell phones, i-pads, facebook and numerous developing communications the reality of making time for God in the busy-ness of it all isn’t new. Martin Luther (1483-1546) experienced something similar. He said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours of my day in prayer.” More recently, the deeply spiritual Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) the second Secretary General of the United Nations echoed this sentiment when he reflected upon his busy international lifestyle full of travel. He said that because of his hectic schedule of flights and meetings across the world he got up an hour early to pray and then he added “BUT when I’m extra busy, I get up 2 hours early to pray”! Well, we may not be able to make it two or three hours but if we want to have a relationship with God and to discern God’s presence and will in our life, as with any relationship, we need to make time. To hear God’s voice and to experience God in our lives we need to first set aside some time in silence. Here are a few suggestions for deepening our prayer.
Entering into Silence
One of the things that gets in the way of prayer and discernment is a lack of silence not only in the world around us but inside of ourselves too. Creating a special space for quietness, a space to be our best selves and to listen to God is essential for all kinds of prayer. As teachers of both Christian and Asian meditation suggest becoming aware of our breathing can be a helpful beginning point. Jesuit priest, Paul Nicholson, in his helpful booklet “Growing into Silence” says, start by sitting in a relaxed position with your back straight and your feet placed flat and side-by-side on the floor. Let your hands rest gently on your lap.
Slowly become aware of your breathing. What do you notice about it? Is it deep or shallow? Is it regular or irregular, through your mouth or your nose? Don’t try to force anything and if the exercise is in any way distressing physically stop doing it. If the breathing exercise feels comfortable, however, gently and deeply breathe in and breathe out. As you breathe in, feel yourself breathing in God’s life-giving and loving Spirit – allow God’s Spirit to fill your whole being. As you breathe out, let go of anything that separates you from God. “Let go and let God!” Rest in the quietness, rest in God, LISTEN!
Prayerful Reflection on the Day
A very helpful contemplative practice is to silently and prayerfully examine your day. It is a beautiful exercise to use at the end of a busy day in which we might wonder just where all those hours have gone! Traditionally, this practice has been called “examination of consciousness” and it is commonly associated with the Founder of the Jesuits, St, Ignatius of Loyola. There are various ways to enter into this type of prayer. Below is a suggestion for one way of doing this (again based on the booklet, “Growing into Silence” edited by Fr. Paul Nicholson, S.J.).
- Find a comfortable place and become quiet (the breathing exercise above can sometimes help as preparation)
- Enter into your prayer first in a spirit of gratitude. Reflect on your day. What has gifted you today? Realize that all is gift from a loving God. Give thanks!
- Ask for God’s light and guidance as you review your day in a prayerful manner. Ask God to show you what is most significant for your journey? Don’t try to force anything or try to remember every detail, simply notice what catches your attention. Let what is important in your day “choose you”.
- Notice moments of energy, of light, of all that has been life-giving or the opposite of these. How did you respond? How would you now choose to respond to God as you notice these moments, feelings, desires and events of your day?
- Speak to God in love and trust, as you would to a friend, about all that you have noticed in your prayer.
- End your prayer trusting in your loving God, look ahead and ask God for the gifts and graces you need for the time immediately ahead.
This approach to prayer is especially helpful for discernment and more than that for becoming a person who lives life to the full in a spirit of continuing discernment in your relationship with God, yourself, others and God’s good creation.
Praying in Nature
God has gifted us with a beautiful world but in our busy lives today we sometimes fail to notice it. One of the best ways to enter into prayerful quietness in God is to take a walk in nature. Even if we live in a busy city it is usually possible to find a park or a small green space where we can become quiet. Look around you at the magnificence of a tree, the beauty of a flower or grasses, listen to the sounds of water, or the wind, the song of birds, smell the fresh air or the scent of a flower. Give thanks. Importantly, we can find revelations of God in nature. How does nature speak to us of God? What can we learn from nature? In the Old Testament, in the Book of Job we read that we can learn much from nature: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you … In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” (Job 12: 7-10)
We are in the loving hand of God every moment. What can God’s wide creation teach us about our life? Look, listen, learn. In our discerning, nature can call us to the fullness of our being in God.
Praying before the Blessed Sacrament
For many, kneeling or sitting in silence in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament can remind us of God’s loving presence in each movement of our Spirit and in every moment of life. Without words we can be present to the Real Presence of our God reminding us of the incarnation of Jesus, His presence in our world. How in the silence of God’s presence am I being called to serve God in the world?
Praying through Art and Music
The gift of an Icon, (common in the Eastern Church), is that it is not so much a representation of the real but rather an invitation to enter into the image itself and to allow it to “speak” the words we need to hear. For some, praying with a piece of art can invite us to listen to God; for the divine call to us in this moment, for the future, for love and for service. Participating in the creative process can also be a prayerful help to discernment for some; perhaps it is through painting, collage, pottery, poetry or some other art form. Allow the process to become a prayer. Don’t pre-plan what it is you want to “produce”, rather listen to your heart, listen to the Spirit, pray and let it unfold, leading you, guiding you, “speaking to you”. What word of God do you hear? Similarly, reflective or meaningful music has the capacity to move us to the very depths of our being. Let it speak to your heart the melody of God calling you to harmony with God’s will for you.