Prioritizing Prayer, Again and Again and, Then, Again

I think we can all relate to Jurel’s post on needing to prioritize our prayer.

My most recent excuse has been that I want to first clear my decks of distractions, so I can pray without concern for all the tasks of my day. Even knowing that prayer and time with God will make the burden of all those tasks lighter as I share them with Him, this excuse can wheedle it’s way into my consciousness.

So, I pray for Jurel and for all of us as we place God at the center of our lives and our beings….and then, when life slips in and bumps us off our center, as it will do, I pray we recognize our shortcoming and reapply ourselves to God knowing He has already forgiven us and is right there waiting for us to turn again to Him.

JURELL SISON

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This blog is the first of eight reflections being written for the Ignatian Prayer Adventure hosted by ignatianspirituality.com. Keep reading 🙂

To be quite honest, making time for prayer and meditation has always been one of my biggest struggles. For me it’s like exercising—I love the idea but it seems there is a force that keeps me glued to my couch or at my computer. It’s as if someone drugged me with fear, or even worse—the curse of being “too busy.” Yet every time I find a way out of this “curse” and into a gym, I discover more energy, more life, and more peace.

It might be embarrassing to admit this, but throughout this week of contemplation, I’ve discovered that I’m not where I want to be. There is a serious aching in my heart to know and encounter God, yet I continually find myself stuck. I’m so caught…

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No matter where I am, He is with me

Merton’s meditation for this first Tuesday in Lent discusses books and how we can be blessed by others’ words and experiences…or not.

It struck home for me. I am just finishing my first mystery novel, since reading Fr. James Martin’s, Jesuit Guide last year. I wrote about the effect the Jesuit Guide had on me and on my walk a while back. I described there how it prompted me to begin this blog.

Martin’s writing (since the Jesuit Guide, I’ve read just about everything he’s written) falls into Merton’s category of writing by “good men.” He says these type of writers “hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them.”

Brother Lawrence’s writing and Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Merton’s own writing and so many of you who share your stories and insights in our virtual world all fall into this category, this place where I ‘find myself’ by reading them.

Merton describes two other categories of writing: “Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us,” he says. Amen to that.

On the other end of the spectrum he cautions that “Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfill.”

The particular mystery novel I’m currently reading falls into the latter category. Still, the quality of desolation associated with the story — the despair of the characters, their fear at having long-held secrets exposed, the unlikeable nature of even the central character, and, therefore, of the writer, who speaks through her — all provide their own negative lessons. It does nothing to uplift one’s spirit. On the contrary, it makes vivid why we weep for so much of our world — for the anger and fear and violence and deceit and impotence felt by so many, who feed and encourage the evil-doers among us.

I guess I don’t feel a need to eschew all mystery novels forevermore. The attitude and spirit we bring to our reading, I think, has as much to do with their effect on us as any of the meta-messages of the writer.

The take-away for me, especially during Lent, is to remember to include Our Father in all my activities — even when I’m reading otherwise vacuous fiction — to ask for His blessing and His grace and His Light — His presence with me — in even my most mundane activities.

Five Steps for Walking in the Way

As I was reflecting on the fourteenth and last meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, I was wondering what would come next in this journey of ‘walking with my brother.’

So many are already writing so many good blogs on faith and on finding and following God’s way for us. I stopped to question what contribution I was making, whether to continue, what direction to take now that my meditation series is finished (for now anyway).

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Chris Lowney’s excellent and insightful book, Why Pope Francis Leads The Way He Does. In it he discusses good leadership qualities and relates them to Pope Francis’ Jesuit training in Ignatian spirituality.

Mr. Lowney describes a student from the Jesuit Schools of Italy and Albania where the Pope was speaking in June 2013. The young student asked the Pope to say a few words to help him in his spiritual growth. In the student’s words,

I am Francesco Bassani, of the Istituto Leone XIII. I am a boy who, Papa, as I wrote in my letter to you, seeks to believe. I am searching… searching, yes, to be faithful. However I have difficulties. Sometimes doubts come to me. And I believe that this is absolutely normal for my age…I wanted to ask you for a few words to help me in my growth and to support all the other young people like me.

Pope Francis responsed:

Walking is an art; if we are always in a hurry we tire and cannot reach our destination, the destination of our journey. Yet if we stop and do not move, we also fail to reach our destination. Walking is precisely the art of looking to the horizon, thinking about where I want to go, and also coping with the weariness that comes from walking. Moreover, the way is often hard-going, it is not easy. “I want to stay faithful to this journey, but it is not easy; listen: there is darkness, there are days of darkness, days of failure, and some days of falling… someone falls, falls”. Yet always keep this in your thoughts: do not be afraid of failure, do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking it is not falling that matters, but not “staying fallen”. Get up quickly, immediately, and continue to go on. And this is beautiful: it is working every day, it is walking humanly. But also: it is terrible to walk alone, terrible and tedious. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us: this helps us, it helps us to arrive precisely at the destination where we must arrive. I don’t know if I have answered your question. Have you understood? You won’t be afraid of the journey?

Well, I ‘walk VERY humanly’ indeed.

This response from Il Papa seemed to be a message aimed directly at my wavering heart.

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…do not be afraid of failure, do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking it is not falling that matters, but not “staying fallen.” Get up quickly, immediately, and continue to go on.
Pope Francis June 2013

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It inspired the following five steps for ‘walking in the way.

Walking in the Way

  1. When we’re walking – remember that God is walking there beside us. Talk to Him. Enjoy His presence. Get to know Him along the Way. Thank Him for letting you feel His presence there with you.
  2. When we tire – rest, remember our purpose, recalibrate our destination, refuel our body, reflect on God’s goodness.
  3. When we’re refreshed, get up and move on along the way.
  4. ‘If we fall, get up,’ as Pope Francis says, ‘the failure is not in falling, the failure is in “staying fallen.”’
  5. Walk with others, with friends, those who can keep you from straying too far from the path, who can dust you off when you’ve fallen, those for whom you can return these favors.

Thank You, Father.