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Rev 3-20Well, it’s been a little while and you can blame half-term and a newly decorated and furnished ‘Office’ [once known as the spare room] for the hiatus.   We got so much done during the break but once you start in one room the knock-on effect can be slightly daunting; one room looking lovely can often mean that three others look like a herd of terrified wilderbeast have just trampled through at speed.

Holiday time when everyone is off can mean that my spiritual life takes a bit of a back seat.  It’s harder to find those windows of silence and the head-space when all around you is busy and requires your attention.   A lovely online friend contacted me about a book I’d mentioned on Instagram and during that conversation she wrote the line, “I have come to realise, though that, for me, all roads lead back to God. It’s like He won’t let me stray too far and pulls me back in if He feels I’ve wandered too far and for too long.”  I know she won’t mind me quoting this here.  We were sharing and discussing our journeys in faith and all the different twists and turns that happen along the way.  The things you try that don’t ‘fit’ or sit well, and the things you try that are clearly from God.  The quote above really made me think and is referring to the constant draw that God has on your soul or spirit no matter how busy you get or how hard you try to ignore it.  I’ve been aware of it so many times.  It’s like someone nudging you gently to get your attention but it’s persistent to the point where it just cannot be ignored; one way or another you have to address it. 

When I’ve stepped away from my faith for whatever reason there is eventually a sense of loss after a few weeks, a sense of something or someone missing.  An emptiness.  I think if you firmly decided to say, ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to God then He’d step back but as it says in Revelation 3:20,  Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.   Notice it says IF you hear my voice AND OPEN the door.  It doesn’t say, I’ll let myself in and make myself at home whether you like it or not, God waits to be invited but boy, can He knock loud at times lol.  There is also a sense of equality to the line, I will eat with you and you with me.  No one is serving, both are eating.  It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just reading that.

I really like the idea of God being just the other side of the door, like He’s standing guard just in case you need Him.  I find that really comforting.  He also doesn’t seem to care how many times we stray or doubt, He’s just glad when we choose to [re]turn to Him again.  Luke 15:3-7 tells us the parable of the lost sheep and the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Our God is the God of second chances, of fresh starts.  He never turns His back on us no matter how long we’ve been away or how many mistakes we’ve made.  Our lives are the eternal story of the Prodigal Son welcomed with open arms, again and again.  

Never be afraid to turn [back] to God.  He is there, waiting patiently and quietly, nudging you gently to let you know that He’s standing guard over your soul, covering your back and ready to hold you in his amazing embrace whenever you need Him.   I think that’s pretty cool personally. 

Hugs

Sharon xx

 


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It’s a Tuesday morning.  School run done and car parked, I hurry up the path to my house.  Key in the door whilst shoving with one foot only to be met by a happy Honey Basset blocking my way in.   Whilst fussing her I’m hit by the lovely smell of fabric softener; clothes drying in the house, too cold outside today for anything to dry on the line.  I walk to the radio left on in the kitchen for the aforementioned Basset, and hit the Off button.  Silence! 

Coat off.  Washing-up away.  Load of washing in and set to wash, all in the space of about five minutes.  I have to be careful not to get engrossed in domestics or, before I know it, they’ve become a procrastination, a means of prevarication, a distraction.  I’ve been doing domestics since 5.45am this morning so everything else can and should wait because I need to pray. 

Matches in hand I head for the lounge to light my prayer candle which sits in my plain but beautiful St Beuno’s candle holder on my altar; I only have to look at it to be instantly transported back to that beautiful place.  I grab this month’s Magnificat and begin.  I stand in front of my altar to pray Morning [Lauds] prayer.  Evening prayer [Vespers] can happen anywhere, in my bedroom, in the car outside school, wherever the opportunity presents itself.  I pray Compline [Night prayer] in bed usually, if I can stay awake.  I am lucky that I have the time to devote to this practice at the moment.  Not working might mean less money but it has the huge benefit of being able to spend more time with God.  After praying I make myself a latte and settle down with this year’s edition of Sacred Space to study today’s gospel.  It’s a time to reflect, to talk to God and just be.  Listening.  Waiting.  [eta Sacred Space for 2019 is out now ~ click the link in the side bar >>>]

Now, in an ideal world every day would be just like today.  However, some days life takes over and prayers are missed or don’t happen at all and that’s just the way it is.  But ideally I like to be able to spend time in prayer every, single day.  Even if it’s just once for a few moments. 

Pray, I hear you ask?  Why would you do that?  It’s not Sunday, you’re not at Mass so why?  And this is a really valid and sensible question and one I’ve asked myself a lot over the last few years.  Why do I feel the need to pray daily?  Have I always done so and does it do any good?

First I feel the need to explain that I am driven to pray every day, it’s a need, a desire, almost a necessity.  If I don’t do it I miss it, something just doesn’t feel right, I feel empty and a bit lost.  As I said before, prayer doesn’t or can’t happen every day, some days I’m just either too busy [not always procrastinating with domestics but running errands etc] or quite simply too lazy.  I don’t give myself a hard time if I don’t get round to it because that’s pretty pointless.  However, I have the intention to pray every day; morning, evening and night with Mass thrown in if I get there.  It’s an act of fidelity.  The definition of fidelity is:- ‘faithfulness to a person, cause or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.’  Prayer is me being faithful to God.  As I said somewhere else, it’s a bit like being married.  You are faithful to your husband or wife because you love them and you [want to] show that love through acts of fidelity which can be anything from a hug, a loving word, a gift, washing the dishes…anything done in love for another.  So, back to the question why do I pray?  Because I can’t not, it’s that simple.

Have I always done so?  No, absolutely not.  Certainly not in those early days but in the last few years it’s become a habit that I can’t break.  It ebbs and flows according to employment and commitments but it never completely stops.  It really is a way of life now and is vital to maintaining my faith and my relationship with God.  As my faith has grown and matured, so has my prayer life.

What isn’t always obvious to those ‘looking in’ is that this relationship is a two-way thing.  I am faithful to God and He is faithful to me.  “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28 NIV  I’m not sure what I feel about Christ serving me [that was actually a question in last Sunday’s gospel study] and I suspect that’s a post for another day, but in any event this is relationship of equals.  I can sense that all of the time.  I show up and God is always there, never late, never awol, constant and reliable.  He comforts, strengthens and guides me.

Does prayer do any good?  Hmm well that’s tricky and I can only answer for myself and from my own experience.  Firstly, it doesn’t do any harm that’s for sure and it can be very cathartic.  I try to keep a journal of personal intentions and people/situations that I pray for and I can honestly say that I often go back and find that 90% of them will have been answered.  I also find that during unstructured prayer or silent contemplation I often receive the answer to a problem or have a sense of peace about an important decision or difficult situation.  It’s nothing tangible but it’s undeniable and it’s happened too many times to be a fluke.

So, who can pray?  Well anyone obviously.  Those of faith or of no faith.  There are no qualifications required.  Anyone can talk to God, anywhere, at anytime about anything.  It really is that simple.  You don’t need all the structure and books that I use.  I use those things to keep me focussed and accountable but I also have unstructured times when it’s just me and God.  Prayer is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing.  It’s unique to each person to pray as they feel.  Sometimes, it’s just a word thrown heavenwards.  An arrow prayer launched towards God in a moment of desperation or difficulty.  It’s quite simply a conversation with God where you get to say what you want or just sit and listen with the ear of your heart.  

God bless. . .

Sharon xx

You might also like this previous post = “What is prayer?”

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As promised I thought I’d share something of my time at St Beuno’s, a Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales.  I went there at the end of June this year and, although it’s been on my Bucket List for a few years, I can’t actually remember what finally prompted me to book an individually guided [silent] retreat.  One minute I was just browsing their website and the next the retreat was booked and paid for and the train tickets purchased with only two weeks to wait!  I’m not usually known for that level of spontaneity, but sometimes the stars just align and you have to go with it.  As the previous posts explain I was in the middle of a bit of a crisis of denomination which I’d been unable to resolve on my own. I knew about St Beuno’s from a three part, BBC documentary I’d watched back in 2010, “The Big Silence”.  It was later released on DVD but I’ve checked and it seems to be ‘currently unavailable’ so I’m sorry, but I can’t link it for you.  I bought it a few years ago because I enjoyed the documentary so much, certainly worth buying if you ever see a copy.

I didn’t have a set agenda for the retreat other than to just go and be open to whatever came my way.  I was in such a mess spiritually that I just hoped for a bit of clarity and direction really.  I’ve also found, having been on a few retreats before, that if you go with a ‘shopping list’ of things you want to achieve they rarely happen.  We make plans and God laughs, as the saying goes.

I caught the midday train out of MK with a view to arriving in Rhyll just after 3pm.  I’d booked my taxi in advance and, like a star, he was there waiting for me at the station.  I finally walked through the huge front door of St B’s at 3.45pm.  Super friendly welcome and my room was just gorgeous, I’d splashed out on an ensuite room as I was only there for the weekend and it was so worth it; absolutely immaculate too.  I was up on the Priest’s Gallery and the view was outstanding.  I was left to unpack with the promise of coffee downstairs.  I found my itinerary on the desk in my room; I was all set.

There were a few of us there just for the weekend [other longer retreats were happening at the same time] and we were each allotted a Spiritual Guide.  Mine was Helen and she was so calm and wise.  God chose well!  I worried that entering into the Silence would be difficult and I knew I didn’t have long to adjust, but not at all, I literally ‘RAN’ into that silence and embraced it immediately.  Obviously much needed!  It’s made much easier by the gentle ethos of the place and the fact that everyone around you is also being silent.  I quickly settled into the daily rhythm.  The gardens and breath-taking scenery are also very conducive to contemplation and self-discovery.  It’s not boring, oppressive or stifling as some might think, more welcoming and comforting.  I had a sense of anticipation….because there in the silence….sooner or later….you find….God!

We met with our guides at least once everyday at a set time, I met with Helen twice on the last day.  You’re advised to enter into prayer three or more times a day.  There is Eucharist everyday in the main chapel and a smaller chapel for your use with various other rooms set aside for prayer or reflection.  The gardens are stunning and perfect for prayer and reflection.  Lots of beautiful walks due to the location.  A large library for your use.  A fully stocked art room is available for those who enjoy being creative as part of their expression of faith.  The food was yummy and plenty of it with drinks available all day.  I was blown away quite frankly and I’d return in a heartbeat, in fact I plan to do so as soon as I can.

Being a Jesuit Centre you are introduced to a lot of Ignatian spiritual exercises to help you pray, meditate, centre and focus.  I also used art, scripture and poetry to help me while I was there.  I’d never used images before and it was quite a revelation and very productive, I’d always actively shied away from using art but I’ve no idea why because it was amazing!  I’ve continued using religious pictures since I’ve been home with equal sucess.  I have an affinity with Ignatian spirituality and have become a bit of a closet Jesuit over the last few years.  It’s a charism that fits well into daily life and can be lived out very successfully in both a secular or monastic setting.  THIS book by Fr James Martin, SJ was what started my Jesuit journey, but there is a plethora of information and resources online should you be interested.  Fr Martin has also written many other amazing and eminently readable titles which I can’t recommend highly enough.  

So, the end of the retreat came all too soon and Helen and I felt a weekend just wasn’t long enough.  However, as I mentioned before, she promised to put me in touch with a Sister local to me, which you may have read about in the previous posts, and that meeting proved to be a complete blessing.  Usually when I leave a retreat I find it really difficult to readjust back in to regular life, particularly the noise lol.  However, this time I very much brought the peace and stillness with me and I avoided the usual post-retreat hangover as I pretty much floated my way through the next few weeks.  With Helen’s guidance, I had achieved so much in such a short time and was very much back ontrack spiritually speaking; things have gone from strength to strength since.  God’s hand was all over the preparations and the success of that weekend. The ressurection of this blog is also a testimony to that as I feel I actually have something I want to share and write about again.

If you ever get the chance to go on a retreat, be that religious or otherwise, then I’d strongly suggest you do it.  Some places offer Quiet Days which are equally valuable and don’t involve quite such a commitment of time or money.  Our lives are so busy and noisy that time alone in silence and stillness can be hugely beneficial to both your spirit and your mental health.

Every blessing. . . .

Sharon xx

[click on an individual photograph at the top of the post to see it enlarged]

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We left off yesterday with a new plan for my returning to Mass with a view to trying out a new [to me] local parish where I wouldn’t know anyone. I think I had forgotten, or possibly never appreciated, that my faith is between me and God.  I’m not answerable to the church or to a priest, just God. Once I took that onboard going to Mass seemed easy and finally felt right!

So that’s exactly what I did.  Just a couple of days after speaking with Sr M I plucked up all my courage and went to an early morning, weekday Mass.  It was perfect.  No more Mr Nagging Doubt, just me and God.  That was about six weeks ago and I’ve been going regularly ever since.  I’ve also managed a few Sundays when family commitments allow and I go to the weekday Mass as often as possible, which can be up to three times a week and I’ve not really looked back.

Back to the original question of why I go to Mass at all, especially as finding or ‘hearing’ God there is rare, the answer is multi-layered.  Superficially I go to Mass because the Catholic faith expects that of me and it’s kind of what I signed up for, but we already know that’s a flawed and potentially flaky reason at one level and there has to be more driving you than obligation.  There is also the joy of worshipping alongside like-minded folk.  Sharing your faith through group worship is lovely.  We, the people, ARE the church, without the faithful there can be no church.  The church is not just a building or a priest.  As the bible states in Romans 12:5 “We are one body in Christ”.  

I love the physical and spiritual beauty of the Catholic Mass, the rise and fall of the faithful, the bells and smells, the joyful message of the Psalms especially, and the comforting repetition as the liturgical year rolls round reliably and predictably.  I am a girl of routine so, for me anyway, this is all a plus.  Also, given the choice between a swanky new auditorium or an older atmospheric church with stained glass windows etc., I’m going to choose the latter every single time.  It just does it for me.

On a deeper level it’s probably unfair to say that I rarely, if ever, find God in the Mass.  It’s truer to say that I don’t ‘hear’ Him so clearly there, it’s busy with all that standing, sitting and kneeling lol.  However, I often get echoes of previous encounters through the Gospel or the Psalms.  I hear a familiar piece of scripture and I’m instantly transported back to a time when God placed that scripture on my heart during a time of struggle or in response to prayer.  For example, I cannot hear the start of Psalm 138 [Hebr. Ps 139] “O Lord, you search me and you know me, you know my resting and my rising,” without breaking into a smile, because that was the Psalm I studied at St Beuno’s [more of that next time as promised] and that message comes back to me afresh each time.  The Homily [Sermon] occasionally gives up gems that feel like they’re meant just for me.  Not so much during weekday Mass as the whole service is shorter and devoid of music or hymns, but Sundays are longer and more time made available for the Priest to share his thoughts on the scripture of the day or a relevant issue.  You can be in Mass and just feel wrapped in a warm presence of love and comfort…surely that must come from God?

Going to Mass is also an act of fidelity, an act of faith.  It’s part of your relationship with a God you love and who loves you, a bit like a marriage.  I never show up and find that God is late or AWOL, He is always there waiting for me.  It’s a two-way thing.  I think people sometimes assume that we do all the work and get nothing back, nothing in return but I have never found it to be that way.  The more time I spend with God the more He does in me and through me.  We’ve come a really long way, God and I.  He has transformed me into someone I actually quite like. 

Sunday Mass is officially the start of the week for catholics, a place to renew and refuel for the week ahead and hopefully you take God with you when you leave.  Faith is not just for one hour on a Sunday morning, it’s really the other six days and twenty-three hours that are the most important otherwise what’s the point?

Finally there is receiving the Eucharist.  The thing that gave me the most angst and heartache in the beginning and for so many years.  Well, what can I say.  It’s a simple process with the most complex meaning.  It comes from The Last Supper and we get to share that meal with Christ every time we go to Mass.  It calms, renews and sustains me.  It’s probably the thing I missed the most in other denominations.  It’s the thing that draws me back because I can’t find that anywhere else.  It’s the culmination of Mass, we show up and so does Christ.  Perfect!

To wrap this up if you’re looking for a place to worship and you’ve no idea where to start then start with prayer and an open heart.  Think about practicalities too, can you get there easily, do the worship times suit your availability?  Don’t set yourself up to fail by choosing a church that you have to drive forty miles to or take three buses ‘cos chances are you’ll always find a reason not to go.  If you’re surrounded by a young family then look for somewhere that caters and welcomes little ones.  Is there a crèche facility and a sunday school?  Is there a ‘Messy Church’ being run near you?  If you go a couple of times and think it’s not a good fit then try somewhere else.  However, remember above everything else, it’s just between you and God and He loves you!  He isn’t really at church at all, He’s there in your heart, always!

 

Sharon xx

 

 

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As the Church of England announces a £27 million growth programme to promote new Christian communities across the UK I am left wondering whether that is really going to help increase numbers long-term.  Is a lack of churches really the reason why people no longer go to church?  It seems unlikely as there are more churches than I can count, all within a stone’s throw or short drive even from where I live.  Not enough churches of the kind that people want to attend might be more like it.  Certainly there is a huge growth in membership and attendance at the more evangelical charismatic churches.  Here in MK it’s one of the few church types that continues to grow in huge numbers.  Professional looking band at the front playing contemporary worship music and songs with smoke and strobes pulsing in time.  Concert style dimmed lighting in the auditorium [yes, I did say auditorium].  Great visual graphics and words on screens to avoid the need for books or sheets.  It’s actually totally fab as atmospheres go.  It really is like going to a pop concert.  I can see why it attracts a younger audience and that’s definitely one area we should be focussing on because that’s where the future of Christianity lies.

I personally struggle to find or ‘hear’ God in that setting.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a rousing hymn and a good jig around praising the Lord, but due to the vast numbers I also feel very lonely and insignificant.  It’s quite impersonal and difficult to feel part of things although there are ‘Welcome Teams’ and areas set aside purely for newbies to grab a coffee from the ‘in house’ coffee shop, and have a chat with existing members.  There are smaller Cell Groups that meet weekly to make things more intimate and personal and courses and workshops offered for those new to the church and/or new to the faith.  But despite all of that, there’s still something missing for me.

I’ve always ‘done’ faith on my own.  I was taken to Sunday School as a small child, left, then picked up later.  I was attending the Anglican church on my own as a teenager.  It’s no surprise therefore that my call to religious life at eighteen received a big fat ‘no’ from me due to my revelation being dismissed out of hand by my parents.  As a result I’ve done most things on my own so my lack of ability to be sociable is probably why I find the Happy Clappy [no disrespect meant] charism so lonely and difficult to fit into; it’s way out of my comfort zone.  It clearly suits the spiritual needs of many people though, especially in our multi-cultural city.

I need to be still and silent to ‘hear’ God.  I ‘hear’ Him loudest in places like Turvey Abbey, St Beuno’s, up a mountain in The Lakes.  Not in a church, in fact if I’m being honest rarely in a church.  My retreat to St Beuno’s [a Jesuit community in North Wales] in June of this year was singularly responsible for reviving my lacklustre faith which took a horrendous nosedive after the terrible events of last year; losing my mother to Lymphoma in July’17 and coming close to death myself due to complications after my hysterectomy in October’17.  I had a real crisis of denomination and I really needed that weekend of complete silence to listen, pray and discern what God had to say and where He wanted me to be.  It was an amazing and very emotional weekend!! 

Interestingly, even in the very beginning I didn’t find God in a church.  I found him in the bible stories I read as a child and many years later He found me in my LOUNGE!  He held out His hand and invited me to follow Him.  No pressure from Him and no answer from me either, at least not straight away.  However, a Call that profound is hard to ignore.  A privilege afforded to few but still no church you notice.

I worry that Ethan’s generation will never be still or silent for long enough to ‘hear’ such a call.  It will have to be heard over a cacophony of electronics and devices and will have to compete with and be more desirable than eight hours on the Play Station!!  There is something amazing about hearing God speak straight into your heart, I’m sad to think that he may never experience that.  Hence my concern that all this funding is brilliant but will it actually make any difference?  Church is central and important in uniting the faithful but there has to be more to it than that, it has to be desirable and inviting, more interesting than the instant hit of social media.  If people don’t have either the time or the desire to read that flyer or leaflet or spend ten minutes over a cuppa with their Christian neighbour who is full of enthusiasm about the new church in the town, then no amount of new Christian communities are going to have the hoped for impact.  Their curiosity needs to be piqued, they have to want it more than what they have already.  That’s going to be tough, really tough.  The priests and clergy will also have a large part to play and I pray that they’ll be warm, welcoming and Christ-like.  There’s nothing like a ‘hell and damnation’ speech and a large dose of dogma to put a soul off instantly and forever.  I also worry that people no longer want or need a faith, that they don’t realise how important their spirit is, that it too needs to be fed and nourished.  I’m praying that God has a plan and that He will use this new initiative in ways that I can’t fathom. 

So, where do you ‘hear’ God the loudest?  Do you listen for Him in those quiet moments?  Do you spend time in silence just waiting to see what comes back? Maybe you ‘hear’ Him in church.  We’re great at looking after our health, our families and our homes but what about your spiritual life?  You don’t have to be Christian or of any faith to get something valuable from being in silence for ten minutes or so a day.  No devices or demands, just ‘being’….quietly and comfortably, maybe with a cuppa or a flickering candle or maybe both.  Rest in that presence.  Surround yourself in the silence and renew your soul.  Try it, it’s truly amazing what you ‘hear’. 

Every Blessing

 

Sharon xx

ETA ~ Silence – Ignatian Spirituality

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cloisters 5Awwww it’s the most beautiful day here in sunny Milton Keynes, UK.  The kind of lovely day that I’d like to wrap up in pretty paper and send to you all so you can share it.

I make no apology for banging on about prayer in my last two posts, it’s something I feel I need to, ‘get down on paper’ if you follow me.  Sometimes you just need to write things down to make them stick. 

I went to the taster session on Tuesday evening, as a forerunner to our, ‘Week of Guided Prayer’ which starts in June.  It was all I knew it would be and much more.  I signed up then and there and paid the small donation.  I came all home full of anticipation for what I’m thinking will be a wonderful week.  It’s certainly a fabulous opportunity, a bit like being on an individually guided retreat but at home.  Perfect!

I found myself craving that silent, peaceful place that a retreat provides.  It isn’t necessarily a ‘real’ place, more a state of mind really.  A silence that comes from within so that, even in a busy street, you can be silent and still on the inside.  Since giving up work in December I’ve created a lot more silence in my daily life.  I’d always been a Radio 2 kind of girl, a constant murmur of background chatter and music; but of late even that has been turned off. 

I watched, ‘The Big Silence’ [further reading] yesterday to remind myself what it’s all about and how difficult it can be for some people to just settle into the silence.  That was me a few years ago, struggling to be at peace without a TV or radio to fill in the blanks, now I crave that silent time because I know that God is there in the silence. 

We’re using a book called, ‘Patterns of Prayer’ by Eugene McCaffrey, OCD at the Carmelite contemplative prayer group that’s just started in my parish.  It’s the most wonderful little book, the kind of book that makes you want to read each page over and over to soak in all that it has to say.  It speaks to me on so many levels.  Anyway, I wanted to share a small part of it with you as it’s relevant to this post and Eugene puts it so much better than I can:~

Silence

Silence is an essential condition for listening.  Prayer is born in silence, a still receptive silence that enables one to hear the deep vibrations of the spirit.  Silence is our way of helping God so that he can help us.  We try to be still, conscious of our own poverty and of our own need to hear and to receive.  Silence is much more than an absence of words or noise, much more even than just being quiet.  Rather, it is a response to our whole being reaching out to grasp the word of life.  It is an alert and attentive receptiveness to “hear the word of God and obey it” [Luke 11:28].  Like the boy Samuel, we cry out with our whole heart, “Speak, for your servant is listening” [1Samuel 3:10]. pp28-29

Earlier in the book it says that it takes two to pray [p26] and I think we often forget that.  We are not alone in that moment, God is with us, always.  But we need to listen and in order to hear Him we need to be silent.  As Fr Christopher Jamison says in, ‘The Big Silence’, “Silence is the gateway to the soul, and the soul is the gateway to God”.

Peace and blessings

Sharon xx

 

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rezar-pray-spanish-english

Lent this year was a time of huge change and transition for me.  A time of spiritual growth.  I was so lucky not to be working because this gave me the time and space to indulge in Lent completely.  Sadly, I had a flu type bug over the actual Easter weekend so missed all those beautiful services but you know what,  Lent was such a blessing that nothing could put a dampener on the joy it brought me.

So, coming out of Easter-tide [although, we’re still officially in the season of Easter until Pentecost which falls on Sunday 15th May this year] I’ve been left with my mind heavily focused on prayer.  God seems to be leading me down a prayerful path by opening many doors to prayer filled opportunities.  A Carmelite prayer group has just started at my local church, we’re meeting once a month to spend time in contemplative prayer.  This is challenging but beautiful. 

I’ve also been lucky enough to secure myself a place on a, ‘Week of Guided Prayer’ which is being organised and offered by our local church partnership.  This is such a fantastic opportunity and I feel so blessed.  I get to meet with a Prayer Guide for around half an hour each day for a week, there are no words to express how much I’m looking forward to this.

I’ve just acquired myself a copy of, Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2016 which was suggested to me by the lovely Sister who is the Pastoral Administrator of our parish at the moment.  It’s a book I’ve considered for the last few years but have always used the online version found HERE.   When she suggested it I kind of wasn’t surprised.  God has a way of bringing these things to our attention if we’re refusing to see the obvious.  It’s just the most perfect devotional prayer book for me, very thought provoking and relevant.

With all this focus on prayer I’ve been thinking about exactly what prayer is and what form/s it can take.  It’s a question I’ve been asked a couple of times recently.  I’ve discovered this is a huge subject because prayer can be so many things, it has so many facets.  It’s also unique to each person because we are all so different with myriad needs.  I can’t speak for others so I’ll just describe my own experiences of prayer. 

Whether it be the comforting recital of the Our Father during Mass or a handful of Hail Marys during the week, structured prayers have an important part to play.  They bring me a feeling of peace and familiarity [often taking me back to my childhood] and, no matter how many times I say them, they bring something different each time.  They are a safety net when all else fails and I have no words of my own.  Also praying scripture, particularly the Psalms, can be a wonderful expression of prayer and devotion.  There’s a Psalm for every mood and every situation.

Private intentions and petitions are another important facet.  Praying for the needs of others and ourselves.  I’ve begun to keep a book of people and causes to pray for because otherwise I’m worried I’ll forget.  The list is long….and forever growing. 

There are those arrow prayers that I fire heavenwards throughout the day.  Maybe just, ‘Jesus, help me’ or ‘Bless this person, Lord’.  These are small, but mighty.  Acknowledgements that Jesus is always close, always on hand to guide and encourage.  We just have to reach out to Him.

In our monthly contemplative group, prayer is silence….it’s listening…..it’s being at one with God.  Listening is a very important part of prayer and something that people often forget.  They can be so busy with a ‘shopping list’ of people and personal needs [which are important] that they forget to just listen. . . . to just ‘be still and know that I am God’. [Psalm 46:10]  Remember, prayer is a two-way street, God also has things He would like to say to us, to ask of us.  ‘Listen with the ear of you heart.’ Rule of Benedict, Prologue.

I also do a lot of Ignatian Contemplation where you place yourself within a scene or event in the bible, usually from the Gospels, and imagine what you can hear, see, smell, taste and feel…you put yourself in that place, lose yourself in the story.  Imagine that you’re there with Jesus in the boat as he calms the waters….  It’s a truly amazing way to pray and it has revealed some amazing insights to me, and God has spoken right into my heart during some of these exercises.  As an alternative to this I sometimes just imagine that Jesus is sat opposite me at the table in my kitchen and we have a conversation.  This is a very simple act but totally mind blowing at times. We’ve had some great chats, Jesus and I. 

Back in August 2009 I wrote the words below ~ I found them today and they are still relevant: ~ 

Prayer is unique to each individual

It’s that hurried word on waking or a constant all-day dialogue.

It’s half an hour of liturgical trawling through the Breviary.

It’s that conversation with the ‘no one’ beside you at the table or in the car ~ it’s our faith that makes that ‘no one’ a someone!

It’s just a thought ‘thrown’ God’s way.

It’s a heartfelt plea on the back of despair or a word of joyful thanks at a beautiful moment.

Prayer does not have to be words, it can just be silence.  It’s a two-way street and that silence can be filled with listening.

Most of all prayer, in whatever form, is an act of fidelity to God.

On the face of it, not much has changed since I wrote this, but yet everything has changed because I have changed.  There are a lot of echoes of what I still do today but it all feels very different.  A lot more authentic somehow.  I particularly like the reference to prayer being an act of fidelity to God.  Our way of demonstrating our faithfulness to God. 

In an ideal world my whole life would be my prayer, to be ‘always in His holy presence’ and keep ‘a loving gaze on God’. [Patterns of Prayer, McCaffrey OCD p19]  It is something to aspire to.  

Sharon xx

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bible_light

I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned that I’m a closet Joyce Meyer fan.  I ‘found’ her during the early years of my faith walk, the ‘non-denominational’ years if you like.  I have to confess that I’m not all that keen on the heavy approach of a lot of the American evangelical preachers but Joyce is something apart. She is a woman who exudes enthusiasm for Christ and shares a simple but loving message. 

Anyway, I’m digressing here, so the point of this post is that each year Joyce issues her ‘3030 Challenge’.  This is where she invites people to read the bible for thirty minutes each day for thirty days.  Easy huh?  You’d think so but if you’re anything like me you’re great at starting, but not so great at seeing things through to the end.  You can sign up to receive various resources and have access to teaching videos.  The best of all is that it’s completely FREE.   Here is a LINK to the 3030 Challenge page and ANOTHER to Joyce’s website.  If you look in the top right corner of her homepage you can opt for the English [as opposed to American] version of the site which does make a difference. 

I just thought I’d share this, it really helped me last year when I was struggling to find time to read my bible or pray at all.  My work life had totally taken over.  This simple little challenge really made a difference and proved to me that you don’t actually need hours and hours, you just need a few minutes and the desire to spend time with God, the rest will just happen. 

Sharon xx

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Hebrews 11 1

Hebrews 11:1

The children in my class were having a lesson yesterday [last day of term] on the meaning of Easter.  What [who?] we remember and celebrate on which days, and why?  One of them asked how we knew it was true?  [Good question!] The class teacher explained it was all down to faith.  Faith and love are the basis of everything within Christianity and most other religions too if I think about it.  The above piece of scripture immediately came to mind, the perfect response to such a question.  The bible holds the answers to most questions if you approach it with prayer and an open heart. 

The photo’ above illustrates how I experience my faith.  The trees are there in the distance, just out of reach.  On some days you can see them clearly, they’ll be bathed in sunlight and comfortingly evident, strong and stable. On other days they will be shrouded in mist and difficult to make out, with no clear definition and slightly surreal and dreamlike.  Faith, for me is just like this ~ on a good day it’s clear, tangible and strong, and I’m confident of my journey and direction.  On a misty day it’s difficult to be sure, I feel uncertain and weak in my resolve and the path ahead is unclear. 

As we approach Palm Sunday I wonder if Jesus was having a ‘clear’ day or a ‘misty’ day as he returned to Jerusalem?  How was his resolve [faith] in this, his last earthly week?  He could be forgiven for feeling uncertain and fearful.  I am grateful for his example and I strive to hold fast to my resolve on those difficult days.  So, faith is indeed being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see . . .even on a misty day.

Peace and blessings

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My bible and prayer book in my room at my last retreat…..

Just a quick few lines to let you know that I’ve already started the Ignatian Retreat I mentioned in my last post.  I couldn’t wait until I finished work this Friday.  I was looking through the retreat links for Week 1 and couldn’t help myself :D. 

So this week is about looking back over our lives in a ‘photo album of my life’ kind of way, using mental images.  Rather like doing the daily Examen but of my whole life rather than just at the end of each day.

It’s quite a tricky exercise to do as I have some parts of my life that I’d rather forget or at least not look too closely at, but that’s the same for most people I’d imagine.  Parts you’re proud of, parts you’re not so proud of, happy memories and desperately sad memories.  I’m assuming it’s all part of the process.  We’re also supposed to note if God felt close during any of these moments or whether He appeared to be totally absent.  It may be that, with the benefit of hindsight, we realise that God was in a given moment, but at the time we felt very alone.

There are various prayers and readings to accompany this exercise and we’re encouraged to journal as we go, which I have been doing [I love a written journal 🙂 ].

I’ll keep you all posted. . .

Here’s a rather pertinent Psalm to keep you going…

Psalm 139(138) Domine, probasti

1 O Lord, you search me and you know me,
2 you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
3 You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.

4 Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
5 Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
6 Too wonderful for me this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.

7 O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
8 If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
10 even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast.

11 If I say: “Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,”
12 even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day.

13 For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul
15 my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

17 To me, how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
18 If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

19 O God, that you would slay the wicked!
Men of blood, keep far away from me!
20 With deceit they rebel against you
and set your designs at naught.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you,
abhor those who rise against you?
22 I hate them with a perfect hate
and they are foes to me.

23 O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
24 See that I follow not the wrong path
and lead me in the path of life eternal.

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