An Online Retreat prepared by Women at the Well Ministry, St. Paul, Minnesota
Eleanor Lincoln, CSJ and Catherine Litecky, CSJ
Lake Maligne in Alberta, Canada
[photo by Eleanor Lincoln]
God blesses us with both beauty and bread: beauty to lift our souls and bread to feed our bodies. As you look at this photo, be grateful for God’s bounty as you pray:
“Lord, teach us to pray….” [Luke 11:1]
“When you pray say: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from evil.’” [Matthew 6:9-13]
Both Luke and Matthew give us “the Lord’s prayer” as the model for our prayer. Jesus reminds us to be trusting and persistent in prayer for God as a loving parent will hear us. The prayer Jesus taught his disciples can be our daily prayer said in our heart–as well as with a group gathered together.
Take some time to reflect on the prayer Jesus taught us.
Let each phrase speak to you of your own daily needs. What might God be asking of you today? What do you need from God today? What are your “debts” or sins for which you need forgiveness? Whom do you need to forgive? From what “evil” do you need to be protected today?
The Bible can be the source of much of our personal prayer, as well as the focus of our prayer with others. Reading passages from the Old and New Testaments is one of the best ways for enriching our prayer.
We can find many passages about prayer itself. For example, in his Letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul says this to his “partners… in grace”:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless on the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God”[Philippians 1: 9-11].
Some seekers after God have a practice of opening randomly to a passage of scripture and letting those words speak to them. You may find passages appropriate for a given day or time or circumstance in your life. If you participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy or other prayers of the church, you can find abundant scriptural sources for prayer.
One of the earliest ways in which Christians prayed was “Holy Reading” (in Latin, Lectio Divina). This is a prayerful reading of holy texts such as the Bible, the word of God. In the early years of Christianity when few people were able to read, passages from the Bible were read aloud to them for their meditation and contemplation.
Many people have showed renewed interest in Holy Reading in recent years. Sometimes they gather to read the passages aloud and then share their insights with one another. For others Holy Reading has become a very fruitful way of praying privately. Some use this form of prayer every day or every week.
St. John of the Cross, great saint of the late Middle Ages, describes Holy Reading this way:
SEEK in reading
and you will FIND in meditation.
KNOCK in prayer
and it will OPENED to you in contemplation.
If you are praying through Holy Reading for the first time, you may find it a different experience. But like all new things this way of praying gets easier with practice. Actually Holy Reading will help you structure your prayer. You can spend as much or as little time as you have available; you might be wise to limit yourself to five minutes for each stage until you grow comfortable praying this way.
Begin by choosing any passage you would like from either the Old or the New Testament.
Select one of the two passages provided at the end of this session of the Retreat (page 6). From the Old Testament comes a section from beautiful Psalm 139; you will find the other sections of this psalm equally inspiring. Or you may want to pray with Luke’s parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector.
BEGIN by quieting and relaxing your body. Sit straight with your feet comfortably on the floor. Breathe deeply; be aware of your breathing.
Now PRAY for enlightenment. You might want to use the prayer printed below until you feel comfortable with your own spontaneous prayer:
“Loving God, may your holy presence dwell deep within me. Help me to trust in you and be open to you. May your peace and love be within me as I hear your words.”
READING: Select your passage from scripture or from some other holy book. Read the passage slowly to yourself or listen to someone else reading it. Give the words your full attention. Hear God speaking to you directly. Stay with words that touch your heart.
MEDITATION: Look at or listen to the words again and reflect on the words or phrases which strike you particularly. What is God asking of you now at this very moment? What is God saying to you and what are you saying to God?
PRAYER: This time when you turn to the passage, try to let go of thinking and just be. Open your heart in quiet prayer. Be aware of being in God’ presence and of God’s presence in you.
CONTEMPLATION: The final step in Holy Reading is to be open to contemplating God. Stay in God’s presence as deeply and wordlessly as you can, resting quietly in this presence. Try to clear your mind of words, images, thoughts, worries–and let God act in you. If distractions come, choose one word or phrase from the passage and repeat it quietly until you rest in God’s presence.
CONCLUDE by THANKING GOD for whatever graces and insights have come to you. Be aware not only of yourself but of all those you love. Know that the love you may have experienced in Holy Reading can, and should, reach out beyond yourself as you become more aware of the presence of God’s love in and for the entire world. You may want to reflect further on this experience of Holy Reading by writing in a journal what you want to remember.
From Psalm 139: 13-17
Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you. When I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes have seen my actions; in your book they are all written; my days were limited before one of them existed. How weighty are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!
From Luke 18: 9-14
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
How helpful did you find Holy Reading as a way of praying? Some people enjoy doing Holy Reading with a small group of people. Perhaps your parish or congregation has such a group.
You might want to try again praying with scripture suggested in this session of the Retreat. Prayer needs practice to become a wonderful habit!