A reflection included on pages 69-70 in Seeking the One Whom We Love: How RSCJs Pray
by Kathleen McGrath, RSCJ
Before I entered religious life, I negotiated contracts for thirteen years. Terms were agreed upon ahead of time, numbers added up. In my late twenties, when I began to take my relationship with God more seriously, I approached God in the same way. I asked God to lay out the terms of what God wanted me to do, and if agreeable I would consent and follow. God’s response in prayer was more like, “trust in me and trust me with all of the details and all will be well.” My response was, “I would have to spend more time with you then and get to know you more if I am going to do THAT!”
Thus began real prayer. It was more of “wasting time with God,” as they say. My formal prayer time, then, is more about showing up for the time I set aside for this relationship. Sometimes nothing happens (so I have often thought anyway) and sometimes there has just been an outpouring of palpable love and grace. The details of how I will spend time in prayer, I largely leave up to God these days.
Having said that, I must add that there have been many, many opportunities over the years to learn different ways of praying that I have found helpful. Early on, I realized that the way I learned to pray as a child needed to be expanded. Years before entering religious life, I learned many different ways of praying, mainly in lay formation programs. Centering prayer* was the first daily prayer to which I committed myself as an adult. It had an emptying quality to it that felt like preparing earth for seed. This practice has waxed and waned in my life over the years, and recently I have returned to it with more seriousness. It has also begun, in a new way, to converge with the everyday. The muscle, strengthened over the years by the continual letting go and returning to the One I long for, has begun to activate in the midst of ordinary daily distractions. Centering will quite literally be the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and that which gets me through difficulties in my day.
I light a candle under some fragrant oil before my formal prayer time in the morning as a way of beginning intentionally. An icon of Christ Pantocrator is central in my prayer space. After centering, I often allow some quieting music to help me settle. I like to pray near a window – gazing at the sunrise or flowers. I might spend time just listening or watching birds or the wind rustling leaves, or just feeling God’s presence.
The readings of the day are always part of my prayer. These have been an anchor every morning for some decades. At times, I am called deeper into one of the passages – perhaps spending many months with it, allowing it to seep down deep. This is not as often as it once was. Other times, it is reading the mystics in this way – mulling over their words and allowing them to unfold over months. I always have Sophie’s letters somewhere in my prayer space, and it seems as if at just the right time something she wrote to one of her sisters will be the words I need. Often it is listening to Rezandovoy on my iPod that opens up the words of Scripture for the day in a tender, gentle way.
Once in a while, capturing something that happens in prayer in a journal is an important part of my prayer. This is especially true if I am discerning something. Later I can look back to see the whole of what God has been doing over a period of time.
The most important part of prayer these days is simply to allow God to lead. Often God leads me into just a very quiet place without much in the way of words.
Extinguishing the candle marks the end of my formal prayer time in the morning. The day, of course, has its own contemplative moments. There are those times when I really see goodness in others – unveiled in a way – when I am overwhelmed by beauty and opened up to an aspect of God, inaccessible to me, through another’s prayer. Or, it may simply be God’s invitation that comes in life circumstances to be more patient, surrendered and kind.
These experiences may be captured by the examen at the end of the day. Again, a favorite spot to pray this prayer is near the window, underneath the night sky. The expanse I contemplate there gently draws me into a simple, spontaneous look at the day from God’s perspective. It’s never how I would have told the story of the day myself. What comes is other than that. Often, what happened in my morning prayer returns – solidifying somehow the grace received. Then a particular person, situation, joy or sorrow, comes into view very clearly. Gratitude pervades. The day has, indeed, been very full of all that has been given, completely undeserved.