In the school of prayer with Ignatius of Loyola


Signs used in the 2018 Good Friday service in Rotterdam  (Photo: Irene Bom)

 
I recently wrote this little song inspired by a good day in Zacchaeus’ life, as recounted in Luke 19:1-10:

You see me in all my shame and glory
I hear you speak my name
What joy! my Lord and Saviour
to meet you face to face
I am changed from the inside out
by your gift of grace.

The Examen

One spiritual practice that helps us reframe our experience – both the shame and the glory – is called the Examen, a contemplative prayer developed by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits.

The basic format

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.

(Source: www.ignatianspirituality.com)
Visit the website for a more detailed outline.

Consolations and desolations

Here are some practical guidelines, taken from Gary Neal Hansen’s chapter on Ignatius in his book, Kneeling with giants: Learning to pray with History’s Best Teachers.

“In … the examen, we focus on the task of discernment by examining what Ignatius calls the ‘motions of the soul’ – the inner nudges that draw us toward God or away from God. He calls these tuggings ‘consolations’ and ‘desolations’, things that give a sense of the gracious presence of God or the seeming absence of grace, the absence of God.

The process is quite simple: we give thanks to God and quiet our hearts to reflect on the past day or week. In God’s presence, we bring to mind both the consolations and the desolations, in prayerful silence or writing them in a journal. We ponder their significance. We close with a prayer thanking God for being present in our experiences, offering ourselves to God anew. … the examen can be done individually or as a gentle, conversational way to pray with a friend or in a group. It can be especially helpful for married couples who want to pray together … It is also a delightful way to deepen prayer with children.” (p. 104)

 
More practical guidelines, this time from Chris Heuertz’ book, The Sacred Enneagram:

“The heart of the examen uses memory to explore the day searching for a ‘consolation’ – a moment, memory, or experience in which we felt God moving toward us or in us. Our consolation can be something as mundane as our first cup of hot coffee in the morning, something as sweet as an interaction with a child we love, or something as profound as a personal eruption of grace (such as receiving forgiveness from a friend, noticing growth in our faith journey, or realizing in a deep way that we are loved). Whatever the consolation is, once it is discerned we allow ourselves to be held by it, listening to what God may be trying to say to us through it. This step of the prayer also invites us to find the courage to search for a ‘desolation’ – a moment, attitude, or experience in our day in which we found ourselves moving away from God’s love and presence. Perhaps it’s those voices in our head – shame, guilt, doubt, regret, disappointment, or fear – that we mistake for the voice of Love. The person who hurt us isn’t the desolation, but rather the resentment we might feel toward that person; the family member who constantly annoys us isn’t the desolation, but rather our impatience with them; the painful memory we’ve tried so hard to forget isn’t the desolation, but rather our inability to receive healing for it. Whatever the desolation is, we acknowledge it as an invitation to grace so as not to be overcome or overwhelmed by it.” (p. 230)

 


Tip

Go to the Index for more posts in this series, as well as other series.

In the school of prayer with Brother Lawrence


Roof garden in inner city Rotterdam  (Photo: Irene Bom)

 

While reflecting on the theme of work, I was reminded of Brother Lawrence – a role model for us (as for previous generations) of what it means to “make your life a prayer” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, The Passion Translation).

Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite monk working in a monastery kitchen in Paris in the seventeenth century. He wrote no book but his papers, together with accounts of conversations with him, were collected after his death and published. The English translation was given the title, The Practice of the Presence of God.

Here are two excerpts:

“The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were on my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”
       from the Fourth Conversation

“But when we are faithful to keep ourselves in his holy presence, and set him always before us, this not only hinders our offending him, and doing anything that may displease him, at least willfully, but it also begets in us a holy freedom, and if I may so speak, a familiarity with God, wherewith we ask, and that successfully, the graces we stand in need of. In time, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God is rendered as it were natural to us. Give him thanks, if you please, with me, for his great goodness towards me, which I can never sufficiently admire, for the many favours he has done to so miserable a sinner as I am. May all things praise him. Amen.”
       from the First Letter


Two simple prayers

Drawing inspiration from Brother Lawrence, Ann Lewin writes:

Brother Lawrence believed that it was important to relate all his life to God, work and prayer alike. …

We have to establish the habit of remembering that there is a connection between God and ourselves wherever we are …
now is the time we meet with God.

Two simple prayers are enough to carry around with us: ‘Thank God’, and ‘Lord have mercy’. These are the responses we can make to all the circumstances of our lives, for God is concerned with the painful experiences and the hard questions just as much as with the joys and delights.

from Seasons of Grace by Ann Lewin, p. 28-29


Digging deeper

The Practice of the Presence of God  (Audio version | PDF)
by Brother Lawrence

The devotional life of Brother Lawrence
article by Robert M. Johnston

Four Lessons about Faith & Work from Brother Lawrence
article by Dr. Andrew Spencer

A ministry of dirty dishes
article by Perry Engle


Benediction

(inspired by Exodus 3)

Go out into the world to join God
      in the work of love, of peace, of justice.
Take in the breath of life.
Take off your shoes.
Know that you are ever in the presence
of the Holy and Living God.
Go in peace. Amen.

— written by Joanna Harader, and posted on her Spacious Faith blog.


Other blog posts in the “In the school of prayer” series:

In the school of prayer with Angela Ashwin
In the school of prayer with Anselm
In the school of prayer with Ann Lewin
In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew
In the school of prayer with the Celtic Saints

In the school of prayer with the Celtic Saints

 
To all saints, i.e. anyone who is within the Body of Christ …

For many decades now, Celtic Spirituality has been a hot topic, latterly also in my life.

How grateful I am that I was brought into contact with this ancient but holistic faith tradition through ministries like the Iona Community, the Northumbria Community and Abbey of the Arts. The themes and prayers of the ancients and those who seek to follow in their footsteps continue to inform my spirituality and my ministry.

 


Celtic Christianity: a brief introduction

from 2000 Years of Prayer compiled by Michael Counsell, p. 71

“For many centuries the Celtic race occupied and ruled most of Western Europe. Their religion seems to have included a recognition of sacredness in many places, in the events of nature and of daily life, and this continued when they converted to Christianity. Many of their prayers and songs have been passed on by word of mouth and only written down in the [19th] century. Anglo-Saxon invaders drove them into the Celtic fringe of Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but heroic Celtic missionaries spread the Christian faith, among them St David in Wales, St Patrick in Ireland, St Ninian among the Picts and St Columba from Ireland to the Scots in Scotland, whence it was taken into northern England. The monasteries became great centres of learning, and distinctive artistic styles emerged in carved crosses and illuminated manuscripts. The practical nature of Celtic Christianity led to Pelagius, a British or Irish Celt of the fourth or fifth century (whose Gaelic name was probably Morgan), being branded a heretic by St Augustine. Yet Celtic Christianity has enjoyed a revival in the twentieth century.”

Key features

A blog post on third-space.org.uk features this helpful list:

1.  Monasticism / Living in community
2.  Sacramental principle
3.  Creation affirming
4.  Contemplation and mission
5.  Understanding of time
6.  Hospitality
7.  Spiritual warfare
8.  Trinitarian belief
9.  Love of learning
 
Check out the blog post to explore these characteristics in more detail.

Spiritual warfare: also see the post on encircling prayer.
Trinitarian belief: also see 3 Prayers to the Sacred Trinity.

Let us pray

In closing, here are 3 Celtic or Celtic-inspired prayers with references to our theme of the month, “Light”:

Canticle

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

from Northumbria Community Morning Prayer

God of the saints, hear us

That we may remember always those who have gone before us,
God of the saints, hear us.
That we may be inspired by the noble works of old,
God of the saints, hear us.
That we may seek to follow the example of the saints,
God of the saints, hear us.
That the church may stand for truth and justice,
God of the saints, hear us.
That we may be unafraid to proclaim the gospel,
God of the saints, hear us.
That we may lead others to worship you,
God of the saints, hear us.
That we may bring your light to dark places,
God of the saints, hear us.

from The Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer by David Adam, p. 134

A blessing

The Father of many resting places grant you rest;
The Christ who stilled the storm grant you calm;
The Spirit who fills all things grant you peace.
God’s light be your light,
God’s love be your love,
God’s way be your way.
And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest upon you and remain with you always.
Amen.

from The Open Gate: Celtic Prayers for Growing Spiritually
by David Adam, p.112
 

In the school of prayer with Angela Ashwin

Books by Angela Ashwin
3 books by Angela Ashwin from my library

 

Angela Ashwin teaches us how to write beautiful, evocative prayers that connect with our everyday experience. But she is also an advocate for using “borrowed words” to enrich our (prayer) lives.

Companion

I first came across Angela Ashwin through her book, A little Book of Healing Prayer: my companion during the 5 days I spent at my mother’s deathbed. How comforting to have Angela Ashwin and others lend me their words while in the “valley of the shadow of death”.

One of the prayers seemed particularly apt – my mother was ever the seemstress – and I included it on the funeral service sheet:

O living God,
draw all the fragments of my life
into the bright mosaic of your love;
weave all the tangled threads of my desires
into the tapestry you are spreading,
like a rainbow,
on the loom of the world;
and help me celebrate
the many facets
and the dazzling colours
of your peace.

written by Julie M. Hulme
from A little Book of Healing Prayer by Angela Ashwin, #64

Ministry of “borrowed words”

A few years later, while on a trip to Edinburgh, I came across The Book of a Thousand Prayers, compiled by Angela Ashwin. I immediately bought two copies, one for myself and one for a friend. Prayers from this volume regularly make it onto the blog. (Maybe you’ve noticed and been inspired to buy a copy of your own.)

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to The Book of a Thousand Prayers (p.11) that explains the value and ministry of “borrowed words”:

We do not always need another person’s words when we pray. But there can be times when a prayer by someone else expresses our concerns and desires better than we could do ourselves and becomes a source of inspiration and strength. Or we may ‘grow into’ a prayer which has tremendously high ideals, such as the one by John Wesley: ‘Lord God, I am no longer my own but yours.’ Even though we have not ourselves arrived at such dizzy heights of self-giving, the very act of using a prayer like this helps us to come closer to its aspirations.

There can also be a sense of freedom in using a set prayer, because the words are given, and we simply let go into their flow and meaning. This is especially helpful in times of stress or doubt. The familiar words of a well-known prayer, or the challenges of a modern one, bring us back to our roots in God and remind us that we belong to the great body of Christ’s people. A written prayer links us not only with its author but also with all the other peoeple who have used it, so that, in a sense, we are never alone when we pray.

We usually think of prayer as an offering we make to God – and so it is. But it is much more. Prayer is God’s gift to us, a banquet of good things to feed our inner life as we respond to the invitation to his feast of peace, forgiveness, challenge and love.


 
To close, a prayer by Angela Ashwin that works as a mini-retreat:

God of delight, Source of all joy,
thank you for making me part of the web of life,
depending on the rhythms and fruits of the earth for my existence.
Help me to be wholly present to you,
now, in this place,
where my feet are on the ground,
and where I am surrounded by creation’s gifts,
from concrete to clouds,
if I have the wit to notice them!

from The Book of a Thousand Prayers by Angela Ashwin, #210


From the blog
In the school of prayer with Anselm
In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew
In the school of prayer with Ann Lewin
 

In the school of prayer with Anselm

Anselm of Canterbury, also called Anselm of Aosta after his birthplace and Anselm of Bec after his monastery, was a Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher and theologian of the Catholic Church, who held the office of archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 till his death in 1109. (Wikipedia)

In 2015 the current Archbishop of Canterbury, set up the Community of St Anthem, to bring together Christians aged 20 to 35 from many countries and cultures, and many church denominations and traditions for 10 months under a shared Rule of Life focused on prayer, study and service to the most vulnerable in society.

Most of us are not in the right age bracket or circumstances to join the Community of St Anselm ourselves. There’s nothing stopping us from joining them in spirit, though. Here’s some material to get you started.

Theology as prayer

About Anselm’s development as a writer on spiritual matters, Eugene Peterson writes:

“[Anselm] had written his Monologian, setting forth the proofs of God’s existence with great brilliance and power. It is one of the stellar theological achievements in the West. Then he realized that however many right things he had said about God, he had said them in the wrong language. He rewrote it all in a Proslogian (ed. Latin for Discourse), converting [talking about God] into [talking with God]: first-person address, an answer to God, a personal conversation with the personal God. The Proslogian is theology as prayer.” (from The Gift: Reflections on Christian Ministry, p. 93)

Call to prayer

The Proslogian begins with this call to prayer:

Come now … leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares, and set aside your wearisome tasks. Make time for God, and rest a while in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind; shut out everything except God and what is of aid to you in seeking Him; after closing the chamber door, seek Him out.

Together, one-on-one with God.

You can find the full text of the Proslogian here.

A prayer

based on Anselm’s writings

Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us;
in your love and tenderness remake us.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

from A Service for Mothering Sunday from the Church of England website.

Digging deeper

Article: “St. Anselm of Canterbury: Scholarship Rooted in Prayer” by John P. Bequette

Article: “Faith Seeking Understanding” featuring Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on St. Anselm from September 2009 (900th anniversary of Anselm’s death).


See also “In the school of prayer with Ann Lewin” and “In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew

In the school of prayer with Ann Lewin

For this post I’ve selected an excerpt from Seasons of Grace by Ann Lewin that explores the similarities between prayer and bird watching. It’s taken from a chapter entitled, “Material for use in a Quiet Garden” and includes one of her poems, “Disclosure”.

May her words inspire us to contemplation and get us in the mood for prayer and a little bird watching of our own.

EXCERPT

Bird watching has taught me that all is gift. I may go out hoping to see a particular bird – but it may not be in evidence. I can’t control the movement of the birds. And if I am too intent on seeing one particular bird, I may miss a lot of other things that are around. Prayer is like that:

Disclosure
Prayer is like watching for the
Kingfisher. All you can do is
Be where he is likely to appear, and
Wait.
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
Expectancy.
No visible sign, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there,
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But sometimes, when you’ve almost
Stopped expecting it,
A flash of brightness
Gives encouragement.

So it’s all gift. The work we have to do is be prepared, in the right habitat, with the right disposition. And then we have to respond, with thanksgiving for God’s amazing love which cares even for the sparrows, endangered species that they are.

 
from Seasons of Grace by Ann Lewin, pp. 208-9
poem from Watching for the Kingfishers, p. 23

On kingfishers

I recently saw kingfisher nests in the Biesbosch on an outing with my Iona regional group, but no sightings of kingfishers, unfortunately.

The Dutch call these birds “ijsvogels” (ice birds). In France they are named after St. Martin of Tours: Martin Pêcheur (St. Martin’s fisher). I think I like the name “kingfisher” best.


Video of kingfishers building their nests

Digging deeper

– An in-depth discussion of the poem, “Disclosure”
Liturgy featuring some of Ann Lewin’s writing

See also In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew.

In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew

I came across this prayer in my copy of 2000 Years of Prayer (compiled by Michael Counsell). I was particularly taken with the down-to-earth, practical spirituality that ministers to you as you engage with the prayer.

See links below for more about Eddie Askew and his work with the Leprosy Mission and links to further examples of his work.
 

Lord, teach me to pray.
It sounds exciting, put like that.
It sounds real. An exploration.
A chance to do more than catalogue
and list the things I want,
to an eternal Father Christmas.

The chance of meeting you,
of drawing closer to the love that made me,
and keeps me, and knows me.
And, Lord, it’s only just begun.
There is so much more of you,
of love, the limitless expanse of knowing you.
I could be frightened, Lord, in this wide country.
It could be lonely, but you are here, with me.

The chance of learning about myself,
of facing up to what I am.
Admitting my resentments,
bringing my anger to you, my disappointments, my frustration.
And finding that when l do,
when I stop struggling and shouting
and let go
you are still there.
Still loving.

Sometimes, Lord, often –
I don’t know what to say to you.
But I still come, in quiet
for the comfort of two friends
sitting in silence.
And it’s then, Lord, that I learn most from you.
When my mind slows down,
and my heart stops racing.
When I let go and wait in the quiet,
realizing that all the things I was going to ask for
you know already.
Then, Lord, without words,
in the stillness
you are there . . .
And l love you.
Lord, teach me to pray.

by Eddie Askew (1927-2007)
from A Silence and a Shouting: a collection of meditations and prayers
 

MORE

From his obituary in The Guardian (2007)
“Eddie Askew, the former general director of the Leprosy Mission (TLM) … devoted half a century to the disease and its consequences. …
Inspired by his travels and his Christian faith, Eddie found an outlet for his creativity in painting and poetry. A Silence and a Shouting, his first book of meditations and artwork, was published in 1982. It was followed, over the years, by 16 others, and the sale of his books and paintings raised around £2.5m for TLM.” (The Guardian) whole article

A visual meditation based on an excerpt from A Silence and a Shouting
Travelling home

JR Woodward’s blog featuring excerpts from Eddie Askew’s books
http://jrwoodward.net/?s=Eddie+Askew (search criteria: Eddie Askew)