As I sit here, the beating of my heart,
the ebb and flow of my breathing, the movements of my mind
are all signs of God's ongoing creation of me.
I pause for a moment, and become aware
of this presence of God within me.
Daily Prayer - 2014-12-19
As I sit here, the beating of my heart,
Lord, I let go of the worries, resentments and fears
That I can sometimes hold on to so tightly.
Let me open my hands and my heart to receive freely
All the gifts that I need at this time.
We all need to take time out from our daily chores.
We know that our bodies need a rest.
When we come into your presence, Lord,
our hearts and minds are refreshed, our spirits lifted.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years." The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur." Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."
Some thoughts on today's scripture
- The situation of Zechariah and Elizabeth as old and childless is presented in an historical context. There is an annunciation to Zechariah in the Temple of a child who will be called John. We are told about his manner of life and of his mission to prepare people for the Lord. John is to be a voice, but Zechariah because of his lack of faith was struck dumb. In due course his wife Elizabeth conceived. She spent months in retreat and thanked God for taking away her disgrace in being childless.
- Zechariah and Elizabeth are an old couple, as were Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18), when they were promised a child. Am I comfortable with a God of surprises? Each of us is a promised child of God with a mission to prepare the way. Do I fear this or, do I trust God to show me the way? Lord, help me appreciate that I am a promised child, a child of promise, so that I may carry out what you desire of me.
Jesus often asked questions of those who came to him.
Let me sense him close to me now,
Listening to my prayer and asking
‘How can I help you?’
‘What can I give you?’
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
If you appreciated the daily prayer or have any suggestions or insights we will be glad to hear from you.
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If someone asked you to give them another word for 'God', you could use the word 'Presence', for that is what God is. When Moses asked Yahweh his name, Yahweh replied, 'I am who am' and this means 'I am present'. God is really saying, 'I shall be there for you.' God is intimately present to everything, and especially to us. Jesus's name is Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us'. Matthew's Gospel ends with the marvellous statement: Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.
(from Finding God in All Things by Brian Grogan SJ)
Sit in your chair, upright but comfortable, with your back supported. Let your body relax (without slouching), with your feet on the floor in front of you and your hands at rest on your thighs or joined in your lap.
Close your eyes, or fix them on some point in front of you. Now let your whole attention focus on what you can feel in your body. You may start at your feet and work upwards, letting your attention dwell, perhaps only for a few seconds, on whatever part of the body you can feel, shifting attention from one part of the body to the other, although the longer you can hold attention on one part, the better. Your attention is on what you are feeling, not on thoughts about feeling. If you are uncomfortable, or itch or want to move position, just acknowledge the discomfort, assure yourself that it is all right and, without moving, continue to focus attention on what you can feel in the body.
The mind rarely leaves us long in peace to do this, but begins to demand attention with comment and questions: This is a waste of valuable time. What has this to do with prayer? Is this some kind of Hindu thing? What is the point of it? Deal with the questions and comment as you dealt with the itch; acknowledge them, then return to feeling the body.
You can, if you like, move into more explicit prayer by repeating to yourself St Paul's phrase, In him I live, and move, and have my being.
(adapted from God of Surprises by Gerry W Hughes SJ)
This exercise involves concentrating all your attention on the physical feelings of breathing in and breathing out, without deliberately changing the rhythm of your breathing.
Focus attention on feeling the cold air entering your nostrils and the warm air when you exhale. At first you may become self conscious about your breathing and find it becomes irregular, but this does not, as a rule, continue. If it were to do so, and you find yourself becoming breathless, then this exercise is not for you at present.
Most people find that on doing this exercise the pattern of their breathing changes, the breath becoming deeper and slower, and they begin to feel drowsy. In itself, it is a very good relaxation exercise, but if you care to use it for more explicit prayer, then let the inbreathing express all that you long for in life, however impossible it may seem in practice, and let the out-breath express your surrender of everything to God, all of your life with its worries, sins, guilt and regrets.
It is important to do this without self-judgement, whether of approval or disapproval. Keep your attention fixed on your desire to hand over all these worries about self, and do not clutch at them as if they were a treasured possession.
(adapted from God of Surprises by Gerry W Hughes SJ)
Sit in your chair, upright but comfortable, with your back supported.
Now just notice the sounds that you can hear, sounds far away. Just hear them, don't even try to name them.....
Notice fainter sounds, then sounds which are nearer. Just listen, become aware of them.....
And the sound of your own heartbeat, faint, but your own rhythm of life....
And the sound of silence in your place of prayer, the silence within yourself....
Listen like this for a few minutes.
(adapted from Praying in Lent by Donal Neary SJ)
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
- Written by Gerard Manley Hopkins
This prayer helps us to put ourselves at God's disposal. Saint Ignatius describes this 'Preparatory prayer' as asking for 'the grace that all my intentions, actions and operations may be directed purely to the praise and service of the Divine Majesty.' (The Spiritual Exercises, no. 46) You might try these words:
Lord, I so wish to prepare well for this time.
I so want to make all of me ready and attentive and available to you.
Please help me to clarify and purify my intentions.
I have so many contradictory desires.
I get preoccupied with things that don't really matter or last.
I know that if I give you my heart,
whatever I do will follow my new heart.
In all that I am today, all that I try to do,
all my encounters, reflections - even the frustrations and failings
and especially in this time of prayer,
in all of this may I place my life in your hands.
Lord, I am yours. Make of me what you will. Amen.
What is a Review of Consciousness?
If it is true that God is at work in every detail of our lives, how do we begin to recognise his action and our reaction?
At the end of the day, especially before going to sleep, the mind, without any conscious effort on our part, tends to play back some of the events of the day so vividly that if the day has been particularly eventful we can find it difficult to get to sleep. We may find ourselves re-enacting a quarrel, thinking of the clever and cutting things we might have said if we had been more quick-witted, and so on.
The Review of Consciousness is based on this natural tendency of the mind. It can help us to be more aware of God's presence and action in our daily lives, and to be more sensitive to where we are cooperating with God's grace and where we are refusing it.
Let your mind drift over the last 24 hours, refraining from any self-judgement, whether of approval or disapproval, attending to and relishing only those moments of the day for which you are grateful. Even the most harrowing day includes some good moments, if only we take the trouble to look - it might be the sight of a raindrop falling, or the fact that I can see at all. When people attempt this exercise, they are usually surprised at the number and variety of good moments in the day which otherwise would have been quickly forgotten - obscured, perhaps, by any painful experience in the day. Having remembered the events for which you are grateful, thank and praise God for them.
After thanksgiving, the next step is to recall your inner moods and feelings, noting, if you can, what led to them, but again refraining from any self-judgement. Be with Christ as you look at these moods and beg him to show you the attitudes which underlie them. The important thing is not to analyse our experience, but to contemplate it in Christ's presence and let him show us where we have let him be in us and where we have refused to let him be. Thank him for the times we have 'let his glory through' and ask forgiveness for the times we have refused him entry. He never refuses forgiveness. He knows our weakness far better than we do. All we have to do is show it to him and he can transform our weakness into strength. We can conclude with a short prayer, that also looks forward to the day to come, and asks for God's help.
Lord, you know me better than I know myself. Your Spirit pervades every moment of my life. Thank you for the grace and love you shower on me. Thank you for your constant, gentle invitation to let you into my life. Forgive me for the times I have refused that invitation, and closed myself off from you. Help me in the day to come, to recognise your presence in my life, to open myself to you, to let you work in me, to your greater glory. Amen.
Read over the passage, slowly, several times and see if any word or phrase stands out for you, and stay with that phrase for as long as you like before turning your attention to any other.
The process is a bit like sucking a boiled sweet (for US readers, hard candy). Do not try to analyse the phrase, just as you would not normally break up a boiled sweet and subject it to chemical analysis before tasting it.
Often a phrase will catch the attention of our subconscious mind's needs long before our conscious mind is aware of the reason for the attraction. That is why it is good to remain with the phrase for as long as possible without trying to analyse it.
I may find all sorts of distractions running through my mind, but some thoughts, far from being distractions, can become the substance of my prayer. It is as though the phrase of Scripture is a searchlight which plays upon my stream of consciousness, thoughts, memories, reflections, daydreams, hopes, ambitions, fears, and I pray out of the mixture of God's word and my inner thoughts and feelings.
The opening verse of the Bible, Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep and God's spirit hovered over the water, is describing a present state of affairs, not a past event, and when I pray from the Scriptures I am letting the spirit of God hover over the chaos and darkness of my being.
When I allow the word of God to hover over my preoccupations, then anything can happen, for he is the God of surprises. It is important that I do not hide my inner chaos from the word of God or from myself. We are often so trained that we think it wrong to allow any negative feelings entry into our prayer, especially negative feelings about God. We have to learn to grow out of this training, expressing our feelings and thoughts freely before God and trusting that he is big enough to take our tantrums. There is no point in pretending before God, who knows us better than we know ourselves.
There is no thought, feeling or desire within you which cannot become the substance of your prayer in the light of God's word, when you know that God loves the chaos that is you and that his Spirit working in you can do infinitely more than you can think or imagine.
Trying to pray like this, it may well happen that the mind begins to fill with questions and apparent distractions. How do I know that I am not deceiving myself? How do I know these words are true, that God really does communicate himself through them? Do I really have faith in God? These are valid questions, but for now let them wait. When a child is frightened in the night, mother goes and lifts the child and says, 'It's all right,' and the child gradually quietens. But if she has a prodigy on her hands who replies, 'But mother, what epistemological and metaphysical assumptions are you making in that statement and what empirical evidence can you adduce in support of your contention?' then mother really has a problem in her arms. In prayer we are like that impossible child if we refuse to listen to God until he has measured up to whatever criteria we may care to lay down. We communicate with him first with our hearts. The heart is not mindless: it has reasons, deeper than we can see at first with our conscious minds.
Having left the questions aside for now, what do I do with all the other distractions which flood my mind? I may begin to wonder if I left the gas on, or remember an Email I forgot to send. If it is urgent, like the gas, the safest thing is to go and check. With matters that can wait, perhaps jot them down for later. Anything else which comes to mind, far from being a distraction, can become the substance of my prayer.
Imagine you see Jesus sitting close to you. In doing this you are putting your imagination at the service of your faith. Jesus isn't here in the way you are imagining him, but he certainly is here, and your imagination helps to make you aware of this. Now, speak to Jesus .... if no one is around, speak out in a soft voice .... Listen to what Jesus says to you in reply, or what you imagine him to say .... That is the difference between thinking and praying. When we think, we generally talk to ourselves. When we pray, we talk to God.
Anthony de Mello SJ, Sadhana pages 78-79
Saint Ignatius calls this conversation a 'colloquy', and says:
A colloquy is made, properly speaking, in the way one friend speaks to another, or a servant to one in authority - now begging a favour, now accusing oneself of some misdeed, now telling one's concerns and asking counsel about them. .... In the colloquies we ought to converse and beg according to the subject matter; that is, in accordance with whether I find myself tempted or consoled, desire to possess one virtue or another, or to dispose myself in one way or another, or to experience sorrow or joy over the matter I am contemplating. And finally I ought to ask for what I more earnestly desire in regard to some particular matters.
The Spiritual Exercises nos 54, 199