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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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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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Mary

Mary

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, the moment when the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her that she will conceive and bear a son who she will call Jesus.  The gospel [for this year A in the liturgical calendar] is to be found HERE.    This is always a good time to remember and become [re]inspired by Mary’s deep and unshakeable faith.  It is not a blind faith as she has questions for Gabriel, but on hearing what God has in store for her, she exhibits acceptance and trust.  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 NIV

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Chased by John…

John 15:7

John 15:7

Today has been one of those weird days when the same piece of scripture repeatedly reveals itself to you through various different sources.  Yesterday [Sunday] I read John 15 as a follow-up to a Joyce Meyer programme I watched a few days ago.  This morning I was driving to work listening to a bible study programme on my CD player in my car and suddenly part of John 15 was being cited and discussed.  My ears pricked up as, after yesterday, obviously I recognised it straight away.  During my lunch-break I always come home, and usually read my devotional book and yep, you’ve guessed it, today it was taken from and based on John 15:5.  I love it when this happens.  It’s like God is shouting and waving at you from a distance to try and get your attention! Quite obviously there is something in John 15 that I need to focus on.  I have been praying a lot lately so possibly there are some answers therein that I missed on my read through yesterdayI shall look again and get back to you.

I have been reading a lovely blog today, Tregear Vean written by Jean Rolt.  I won’t reveal too much of what is in there, I’ll let you read that for yourselves, but suffice to say it has thrown me back to when Jim [my step-father] was so ill.  We are coming up to the fifth anniversary of his death by the way ~ FIVE years, oh my word, where did they go?  I still miss him so very much, and just occasionally I’m instantly reduced to tears by an unexpected memory or song or the sound of a Mancunian accent.  I have realised how valuable it is to be able to go back to that time on here and re-read those posts.  Read the comments of support and love.  It is slightly maudlin but very theraputic on those tricky days.  I’m so glad I kept that record, it has become a priceless memory.

One of the things that I can see clearly in my writing during those very dark days is the presence of God and the depth of my faith at that time.  It is tangible.  At the time I don’t remember noticing anything that different, but looking back His light is shining through my words, lifting me, carrying me.  As the Footprints poem says, “When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”  Well, our dear Lord must have had backache because he carried me for months.   There are days when I wish Jimmy was still here.  I long to feel his prickly beard on my face, feel those strong arms around me once again and smell his lovely aftershave.  God continues to be my safety net on these days, He continues to carry me and it is His arms that hug me and lift me up.  The amazing thing is that He will always be there, always. . .

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adventWith the season of Advent fast approaching I thought I’d share some resources that I’ve found on my cyber travels.  As I’m quite Ignatian focussed at the moment here is a link to some lovely online Ignatian resources that might help you on your way through the exciting season ahead…

Advent Resources ~ Ignatian Spirituality . Com

Not everyone has the time or money to spend searching for, ordering and taking delivery of an Advent devotional so sometimes the internet CAN [despite what I often think 😉 ] be a place to find God, rather than a constant distraction keeping us [me?] from Him.

Also, a fellow blogger over on ‘The Vicar’s Wife’ has produced a great post highlighting some other fabulous free resources; ‘Advent Approaches: A Couple of Reading Resources’.  I can vouch for both of these as I’ve already downloaded them and had a read.  Ethan and I have put the ‘Children’s Bible Reading Plan’ to good use this evening.  It’s actually great for all year round, not just Advent.  Pertinently, the 12 month, single use plan starts with the Nativity story in Luke’s Gospel, so very appropriate if you want to start this with your little ones now.

And finally, I’ve also found THIS for all you Kindle users for 77p.  Great for all, Catholic or not, and cheaper than the printed version ‘Living Faith’ booklets you find at the back of church after Mass, as they’re usually £2 or so. 

I hope you find something that suits your needs among this selection.  Don’t forget that Wordlive and Pray-as-you-go will probably also offer Advent based prayer and scripture for the forthcoming season too.

Wishing you all a blessed Advent. 

Thank you to The Vicar’s Wife for letting me link to her blog.

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Psalm 62:5

Psalm 62:5

Psalm 62 [61 Grail]

NIV translation

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
    Would all of you throw me down—
    this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
    from my lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
    but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God[c];
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
    the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
    together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
    or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
    do not set your heart on them.

11 One thing God has spoken,
    two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
    according to what they have done.

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