Something about Listening

The following excerpt is from a reflection written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer OCD

When we “listen deeply” to, say, natural sounds, the thing we are actually hearing can, of course, vary.  It may be the sound of wind at the window, or of geese honking as they fly by overhead, or of a distant train, or of waves washing against the shore, or of rain pounding the roof, or the murmur of water running over stone along a creek bed.

These are each particularly haunting natural sounds.  Or at least I find them so.  And when I listen to them, I hear, yes, the sound itself.  But I hear, “deeply,” something else, something hidden yet present within the sound.  You might say the sounds have acquired a kind of sacramental quality to them.  They help make present the sacred.

It is an interesting topic.  Here is a link to the original post: Listening Deeply

Fr. Sauer is the Provincial Delegate to the Discalced Carmelite Seculars of the Province of St Therese (aka the Oklahoma Province)

a journey into prayer – part 4

Secular Discalced Carmelites have a required discipline of setting aside at least 30 minutes each day for Mental Prayer.  And this is a unique type of prayer involving the use of the mind.  Yet the mind is not focused on being discursive or meditative – at least those aspects are not necessary  – because the focus is on presence; on being present to God in an attitude of loving quiet solitude.  By its very definition, it is a simple form of prayer; however it is not easy to do and requires two things in abundance – patience and perseverance…that is what makes it a discipline.  These 30 minutes set aside for Mental Prayer are separate and apart from other types of prayer – such as the Liturgy of the Hours, adoration, personal devotions such as the Rosary and the like.  (As you continue to read the rest of this post, I hope to put a bit more context around Mental Prayer for better understanding.)

Also, as our calling is under the protection and patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the character and practice of our prayer life is patterned after the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She who by example, teaches us to ponder all things in the heart – which is naturally contemplative in character. But what does this mean; to pattern our prayer life after that of the Virgin Mary?

In the gospels Mary doesn’t say much, and in the few instances in which we encounter her, she isn’t endowed with answers constructed like doctoral thesis or anything in the manner of a long winded or complex treatise on faith. Instead her position is one of witness to a profound faith.  Her rare dialogue is that of asking simple, direct and pertinent questions, or making equally simple, direct and pertinent statements. Her open and humble – direct and uncomplicated example teaches how one can, and should interact with Jesus; the son of God; second person of the most Holy Trinity – or so it seems to me.

Other structures for our life of prayer come from the writings and teachings of both St Teresa of Jesus and St John of the Cross. It is our way – our calling –  to seek friendship and union with God; and it is a way particularly suited to those called to live this life. Formation received for this calling expresses itself in a daily routine of making space and time for interior and exterior silence – which requires effort, fidelity and perseverance – for we give ourselves over to a meditative and contemplative life within the context to our primary responsibilities.

That this life of prayer requires effort is to say, it requires making a choice from day to day.  Our choice is to say YES, so as to remain oriented towards God.  We make a choice to turn away from exterior noise, distraction and whatever makes up our everyday routine; or whatever develops in our lives that is not routine.  And so we turn away from that which is our secular and active life, for 30 minutes of Mental prayer.  In saying Yes we turn towards the Divine – to God – and we seek solitude by entering into our room of prayer so as to be alone with Him.  Once there we again choose to turn our minds and hearts away from any interior noise of personal concerns, hardships and numerous distractions that interrupt our efforts to be lovingly present and attentive to God – who is already waiting for us to be with Him.

Fidelity to this way of living orients the heart, the mind, the whole self towards a loving encounter with God.  There are many levels and layers that go beyond the boundary of the natural; making us appreciative of mystery; especially to the awareness that God does speak to us.  He does so in and through the holy scriptures; through people in our lives; in situations we find ourselves; in the stirrings of our hearts encouraging us to fulfill our duties; and to so many other ways in which we grow in a loving knowledge of Him.

All this may sound complex, even undoable and at times it is quite difficult to just sit still.  But just as each geographic region has its own compliment of seasons, so too does each soul; for every soul is unique and unrepeatable.  And every soul that has begun to pray, goes through many different stages of prayer.  More than anything, what is most needed is determination to persevere; something  Pope Francis spoke about just recently during his Wednesday general audience.

Ah yes!  Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross were declared doctors of the church because they not only lived heroic lives of prayer but were granted singular graces to adequately describe these mysteries associated with prayer and they did it with authenticity, clarity and delicacy so as to teach a world of Christians how to follow this path…take this journey…

…in ending this series I wish to point out, that prayer truly is a journey – one that should take us into a loving encounter with God.  Its end and goal being full communion with the God we know, who loves us.

20140806_105531
taken by Elizabeth in Wroclaw, POLAND

a journey into prayer – part 3

Like most human beings, while exploring “that which was for me,” I managed to over-complicate the matter and was about to encounter a necessary aspect of growth.  The harmonious prayer rhythm and prayer routine I was accustomed to, once so sweet and delectable, became burdensome and almost sour.  Of course what I needed to learn had been spoken of at length, in the writings of St Teresa of Jesus [Avila]; The Life; the Way of Perfection; The Interior Castle.  And so the “dreaded” dryness  I had read about settled upon me during the second year of my preparation for the Definitive Promise.

Dryness: the word signified an uncomfortable change – one in complete contrast to being sopping wet with prayer.  I felt disoriented, like a person lost at sea in a boat without wind in its sails.  But for once in my life, reason kept me faithful to the practice of daily prayer.  In retrospect, this was a confusing period and it’s from the perspective of distance by several years that things look clear.  A significant part of the dryness manifested itself as tremendous distractions before, during and after prayer.  Distractions are a topic I want to explore separately in a future writing session.  But at the time, nothing seemed to fit or satisfy…

Then one day, out of the blue something emerged – or maybe a better word is blossomed – within me as I prayed this Psalm:

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
on my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
for you have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast. (Psalm 63:2-9)

It was the realization that I had been walking on top; maybe even skating on top of this beautiful Psalm.  Suddenly I found myself part of the Psalm, almost as if my own heart – my true self – authored the words.

This commitment and obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours was changing – not drastically, but gently – and with it came refreshment and new life.  Psalm 63 gave expression in words, to the yearning of my soul.  It reminded me, or maybe I should say it re-focused for me, who I sought.  It was the start of me learning to do more than read with understanding.  It was a beginning for me to be more attentive to God’s word…it was strange, it was nice, it was difficult and would take me out of my comfort zone.  Now, with the comfort of distance and a tiny bit of experience and wisdom it is not presumptive to declare that God gives what is needed at the time it is needed.

20160507_191912

Observation: experienced individuals who garden, whether it is indoor or outdoor gardening, know the value of allowing certain plants to dry out between watering.  Some plants will actually die if not allowed to dry completely between watering and so too – in my way of looking at this process – our soul.  Why should this be?  Both St Teresa and St Therese in their teachings on prayer and the state of the soul, come from observations of the natural world.  So borrowing from their attentiveness to nature, I present this observation for reflection:  of likening our soul to a plant, in the knowledgeable and caring hands of the ultimate gardener.

to be continued….

 

a journey into prayer – part 2

Certain life changes – especially when leaving one employer for another – can have profound effects on self-realization and self-knowledge.  It was during one of these involuntary changes that I had the opportunity to delve deeply into my faith.  Being able to watch EWTN everyday filled in many gaps of my poor sacramental formation and helped me to become a daily Mass attendee.  As I began to understand my baptismal responsibility better and learn more about the saints, it became evident that saints weren’t born holy; yet by entering into relationship with God they became holy.  What became clear was, a relationship with God and the path to holiness was hinged on a life of prayer.  It was a simple – and at the time maybe simplistic – way for me to explain this burgeoning need within myself.  Somehow, my natural inclination was almost an insatiable appetite for prayer that lay dormant all my life; and was rumbling to life like a volcano.

SAM_0220

Oh the twists and turns of one seeking to fulfill a life’s calling.  Between Mother Angelica and Fr. Benedict Groeschel – both of blessed memory – how well they pointed me to all the needed resources.  Books, homilies, “family chats” on their TV shows and yet what I needed most was just to “do it” and stop futzing about.  So I did, I read books that unpacked what prayer should be, I said the rosary daily, I went to holy hours to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and yet intuitively I knew I wasn’t entering into the fullness of “doing it.”

In time I made my way to the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order knowing without a doubt, that was where I belonged.  It was like being 4 years old again and beginning school – it was awkward, unfamiliar, imprecise, challenging to my solitary and introverted nature.  It was downright uncomfortable.  But I was in it for the long haul “warts and all” – and let me tell you, there are lots of warts! Month after month, year after year, putting one foot in front of the other; learning about prayer and community and why both are tied together.

Regardless of discomfort, prayer remained singularly important; and the balancing act started to make sense as I settled into familiar routine and rhythm.  Consolations were poured out on me during private and community prayer; I was learning to love the Psalms – but didn’t understand why.  And then one day the expected and unwanted took place; dryness.

to be continued…

 

Jacob’s Well

For Context: See the gospel of John 4:4–26

Jacob’s well.  Place of toil.
I come alone, always alone.  No,
escape or retreat, under a sizzling sun.
Glares from whom neither share nor care.
Day in, day out hoping for peace.
Craving – No – thirsting unction –
Dusty dry dirt, blistering heat –  no relief.

“Oh, No, please No.  Don’t speak!
Saucy tart lip and cold bitter heart
that’s what he’ll reap.
Don’t speak to me!
Creeps in the heat…”

This pointless exchange! Why persist? 
Too weary to parry, my hands so limp.
Nothing will change – not me –
Sweaty, hot, miserable.
Flat and heavy footed…O God

Why, this voice compelling?
Can I trust, him?  Another liar?
– a glimpse –  face tired, radiant.
O soft floating trills a lyre on evenings breeze
O What?  is he saying?
How?  does he know?
Those eyes –  do not mock or scorn.

Every word a salve,
balm spread over cuts and bruises of heart.
An anointing of fragrant aloes!  O breath of God –
Save me, let me drink from you
fount of Grace…life giving Spring!

a journey into prayer – part 1

Psalm 63:2
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.

560025_685447691469127_1394689621_n
Dominican church of the Most Holy Trinity; Krakow, Poland (by permission of Globetroter Krakow)

 

 

These sixteen words begin in earnest our praying of the Psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours for Morning Prayer on Sunday of Week 1 and on our most Solemn Feast days.  These sixteen words for me define that inexplicable, mysterious pull deep within my heart as it gathers up and in faith, hopes to enter into relationship.

For me learning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours began in stops and starts many years ago; and finally with serious intention in the year 2004.  At that time my interest in the Teresian Carmel was already simmering on the back burner but without knowledge of its presence in my region.

A chance phrase uttered by Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR on EWTN, made me realize that dwelling in my soul was a capacity and a need to pray that remained latent most, if not all my life.  In a state of excitement – at finding and naming my charism – I started to develop a prayer life with the use of books and attending adoration holy hours.  Yet as I tested the water, this intimidating work of the church – the Liturgy of the Hours – summoned me.  So I began with a hand-me-down book (from my husband) simply titled Morning and Evening Prayer.  That’s all it was, very simply the four weeks of Lauds and Vespers in a simple easy to follow format.  Eventually, I moved on to “The Smaller Christian Prayer” book and started to follow the seasons of the church more closely.  Then during the holy year of the Eucharist 2004-2005 which ushered Pope John 2 out and Benedict XVI in – I began to regularly pray the office of Vespers in community at my parish.  Yes, this was a good beginning, but it was only a beginning.

To be continued…