Worth Revisiting: Praying Kataphatic or Apophatic?

How do you pray? Do you find your prayer overflowing with images, thoughts and conversations or instead find yourself wrapped in silence surrounded by God’s awe inspiring presence? While at various times we may find ourselves practicing both of these, understanding the shape your prayer takes helps us to simply understand how we personally connect with God.

The first form of prayer, kataphatic, is my own prevailing mode of prayer. At times our prayer begins in seeking God, in a desire to feel the immanence and closeness of God when our mind seems busied with the affairs of this world. In these moments, as I reflect on the presence, ministry and Passion of Jesus, as Word revealed, I recognize that I am being beckoned closer. In an instant, behind closed eyes, I am enveloped by the sights, sounds and scripture intended to speak to my heart. Aware of my own transgressions and surrendering, I find myself humbled by the love and grace so undeservedly but gratuitously given. A beautiful intimate conversation ensues, an exchange of wills- that of mine for His and a resolve to change.

While other times our prayer can be an exercise of self emptying and centering (apophatic), as Christ in the desert, in a desire to rest solely in God’s presence. Using a simple centering prayer, perhaps one word only, we can become immediately aware that there is no need to seek God for he is already here beside, within, and all around. Here, in this moment, we feel that images are incomplete for the magnificence of God simply transcends everything that we have ever known! Not an end but a beginning, in our seeking to understand God further, we realize that whatever our perceptions of God are that the Divine Other is so much more! Here we find a quiet contemplative aspect of our prayer whereby we are drawn into indescribable amazement at the mystery of God. When words are few, “How great Thou art!” sums it up pretty well.

On a very personal note, growing up without an earthly father figure in my life, I have often visualized Jesus welcoming me as a child to come and just “be” near to him. Amidst fields of tall grass, on a warm summer day and a light stirring breeze there is peace and joy. More than anything I could have ever asked for, this relationship has taken away the painful loss that I believe otherwise would’ve felt incapacitating. As an adult, I still experience this joyful purely childlike prayer, most often in those moments when God understands that I am most in need of a Father. And yet I find that as I have grown older so too have my conversations with Christ. In the desire for greater understanding, and the fullness of the gift that God has given through Christ, our responsibilities as a disciple continue to grow.

In a beautiful affective way, our experience of God’s love from both modes of prayer can be felt so strongly, that it seemingly overflows out from our prayer to praise for God and others. For through our daily activities, we are continuously invited to recognize God’s creative handiwork in the world around us, and celebrate its discovery in those we encounter. It’s a visible joy that sparks others to notice and ask, “So, what made you so smiley today?” It’s a deep sense of compassion that calls us to extend that love and mercy to those most in need. Be careful though, you’ll find its authenticity contagious and truly the best witness of faith that you can ever hope to give!

 Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Worn and Weathered

Physically and mentally exhausted, and having just navigated through a harried drive home I slumped through the door. Admittedly this extroverted people loving person was not in the mood to be in community for the rest of the evening. Yet, since being a wife and a mother total isolation is never a true viable option, I needed a plan b. Unfortunately I had determined, this master plan would have to wait as dinner would not make itself.

As I worked, however, I began to reflect on the days prior and just how I had found myself in this unpleasant state. I had allowed project deadlines, emails and unexpected conversations to wear my customarily sweet disposition down its foundation. Truthfully, I was beginning to feel much like the weathered statue of Mary that sat in my backyard looked. Though clearly resembling the beautiful image of Mary, time and environment had chipped her exterior paint and weathered parts of her revealing a rough texture underneath. Well loved and remaining a figure of grace, humility and faithfulness she had endured many a New England winter. Accordingly, she needed a new coat of paint and a grotto again and I could not help but see that I too needed the same.

“For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock” Psalm 27:5

This is when I remembered my spiritual director’s advice.

It’s ok, in fact necessary, for each one of us to take time away to get away and be with God. Scripturally, time and time again we see Jesus seek this respite to pray, connect and renew with his Father. (Mark 1:35, Mark 14:39Luke 5:16 , Matthew 14:23 , Luke 6:12) And while I am certain he considered the apostles good friends, perhaps he also needed this time to discern how best to lead them given their unique personalities, gifts and limitations.  Whether it be a desert, mountain top, or seaside the demands of the world around us compel us to find this space in the midst of our daily life.

We, like Jesus, need this time to care for our soul so that we can begin to love others as God loves us.  While the conversation might entail a good deal of self righteous complaining, without a doubt I usually discover moments where I have missed the mark that day. Things said or thought out of frustration instead of prayerfully considering. Instances where I lacked compassion or allowed the circumstances to steal my joy and peace.

Yet, God does not seek us to remain in a state of desolation over these misgivings but in prayer is there to guide us to learn and discern. Here God speaks, a burning flame reminding us how very much we are loved and his promise to always be with us. Lovingly leading us from a darkened state of exhaustion and frustration, to an openness to assent to the life he has planned.

“Today Father I seek to rest in your embrace. I offer up all of my concerns, irritations, sorrows, hopes and fears. I know that you can handle all of these and oh so much more. A brokenness made beautiful and whole. You love me as I am, yet call me to an incredible life in You. Thank you Father, for this time to be recreated anew. Lead me now to serve you with a renewed purpose and a spirit of joy!”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Saying Yes When You Should Be Saying No?

Today, perhaps you find that you had  much rather be saying yes to the many things that come your way than even contemplating the word no. Maybe, you do so out of a well intended desire to please others, or the thrill  from successfully multitasking a multitude of tasks. And still, though your yes may result in a benefit for yourself, your family, friends, or community does not mean that it is still the answer that God may have intended for you to give.

This is not an easy message for us as Christians, who are trained to offer our time and talents to the service of those placed within our care. We take the scripture from Romans 12 urging us all to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and neglect to heed the verses to follow:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Discernment isn’t an add on when we find ourselves confused as to what path to take but it is essential in every choice we make. Even those opportunities which are in themselves good and promise to be fruitful. Take a moment to consider, if you will, whether you are inviting God into each of your decision making moments or just some of them. If not, why not?

Pride

Ah, yes..that clever and insidious sin of pride. It creeps into even the smallest of places leaving us thinking foolishly that we are the only the only ones that can complete a task or the best one to do so.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Thus, inevitably we must prayerfully discern why we feel that our yes is needed and be careful not to take on a project out of pride. But wait..you mean someone else might be called to take on a challenge, or be given gifts to fit the purpose?

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another..” Romans 12: 1-21

We are not being asked to do it all ourselves but in fact, are to call forth the gifts in our brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ. Those around us do not always see their own gifts and releasing our own prideful motivation allows God to move others into action. It also permits each one of us to glimpse God actively at work as the best human resource manager and project manager for this world in which we live in.

People Pleasing

So, maybe we do not feel we are the best qualified, are already over committed or not really inclined to take on a task but do so because we would like to say yes to the person who has asked. This is not a good motivation either yet admittedly is an easy trap for the kind hearted Christian. In parish ministry we often find the same people being called upon time and time again. They want to be helpful and usually are, but offer a yes when honestly it should be a no. Then later, burned out and tasked beyond reason they leave serving because there simply is no more to give. Recognizing your own need to renew and refill is a valid and essential reason to say no. While initially difficult to do, as well as an adjustment for the one asking it may be the right answer. In making space for quality  prayer time and detachment from the reaction or approval of others we can begin to see that  God’s approval is the only one that matters.

Reflect:

Is there a decision in my day today that I might not be needed to say yes to? Have I invited God into the task? Would others be better served by my no?  

Peace,Signature

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Motherhood: This Miracle of Love

“Before you were conceived, I wanted you. Before you were born, I loved you. Before you were an hour, I would die for you. This is the miracle of love.”
― Maureen Hawkins

When you truly think about it, motherhood never promises praise or perfection either in our children or in ourselves. So why do we answer this call, why do we choose this as a vocation in a world that encourages self-fulfillment over self-denial, and control over surrender? Though we may begin will idealistic stirrings, we soon realize that the sacred trust from God that we have been given, in each tiny creation, will both challenge and surprise us at every turn.

I remember so clearly the awe I had at watching each of my children discover and embrace the world around them. Eyes wide, and undaunted they crawled, walked and sprinted headfirst. All the while, I would busy myself trying to remove the obstacles or better still to caution them to be mindful themselves of what might lie ahead. In truth, here was this unbelievable glimpse of myself captured in a diminutive frame and operating under a completely different guidance system! And the more I sought control, the more I realized how little I actually had.

“The future is not in our hands. We have no power over it. We can act only today— for  yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is yet to come. We have only today. If we help our children to be what they should be today, they will have the necessary courage to face life with greater love.” St. Teresa of Calcutta

This is where God stepped in on my own journey both as a mother and a child of God. Suddenly, I realized both the infinite love my heavenly Father had and how he sought to guide me as well. Mistaken for self-sufficiency and decisiveness, the desire for control had me operating much like my bruised knee toddler when things went wrong. Likewise, what I longed for was the joy of knowing that when I ran, whose arms I was indeed running towards.

As a small child I remember my own detailed oriented mom, in frequent prayer. In small moments of silence, the front seat of our car would be suddenly transformed into a chapel, and her spirit restored.   “What are you doing Mom?” , I asked one day. In failing to answer me immediately, I became even more curious. “Wait.”, she said, holding up her hand. Opening her eyes and turning towards me she smiled, “Just needed to pause and talk to God a bit.” And in that instant whatever she had been worrying about was gone. She knew that her motherhood and sanity depended on these talks.

In my own vocation of motherhood, I too have taken to quiet, enduring interludes of prayer to ferry away concerns, and renew me in my day. What I can’t change or handle Christ can, and like the very best of friends is happy when I call on him. Rain or shine, I know that I am neither alone or without hope. Today,  I have let go of being the perfect mom and in exchange have invited perfection itself to work in the beautiful mess of life.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Where We Are Meant To Be

Lately, I have found myself marveling once again at the way God can lead us in our ordinary day if we are receptive and listening. Whether it be an unplanned event, conversation, or the bedside of a friend- unimaginable grace and surprises await when we simply say yes to God’s movement in our day. Sometimes even God will give our souls an extra nudge to encourage our lazy spiritual dispositions when it is particularly important. Perhaps most amazing is when your examen leads you to realize that, because you had in fact listened, you had been truly blessed.

Before I lay down to sleep one night last week, I heard so clearly in prayer how God had intended the following day to go. Admittedly, I had wanted to sleep in the next day but God was asking me to listen. So, having hurried to make it to Mass I slid in a pew near the back with communion pyx in hand. From that moment on, there was such peace, and intentionality found with everything that I was encounter that day. To no surprise, I ran into someone who I hadn’t seen in a year who had unexpectedly thought of me that morning and decided to go to Mass. Then was the hospital visit for a very dear priest friend of mine, who despite the circumstances remains a fountain of peace and inner joy. As we spoke and prayed the Our Father together I could not help but wonder who was receiving the greater blessing, him or I.

Throughout my day, that God had planned, there were many more sacred moments that had I been recalcitrant I indeed would have missed. Whatever you do, you cannot go wrong by turning over your day and giving God the lead. Below is a prayer that echoes this idea of receptivity and discernment and can be especially fruitful first thing in the morning.

Prayer for Choosing a State of Life

From all eternity, O Lord, you planned my very existence and my destiny. You wrapped me in your love in baptism and gave me the faith to lead me to an eternal life of happiness with you. You have showered me with your graces and you have been always ready with your mercy and forgiveness when I have fallen. Now I beg you for the light I so earnestly need that I may find the way of life in which lies the best fulfillment of your will. Whatever state this may be, give me the grace necessary to embrace it with love of your holy will, as devotedly as your Mother did your will. I offer myself to you now, trusting in your wisdom and love to direct me in working out my salvation and in helping others to know and come close to you, so that I may find my reward in union with you for ever and ever. Amen.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Peace,

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