Session 1: Prepare for the Prayer
I take a while to prepare myself; I try to become quiet and to enter into awareness of God’s constant loving regard for me, wherever I may be.
As I take my place in ‘God’s waiting room’, I pay attention to what it is that I desire from the retreat. I talk to God about this desire. I ponder the theme of this retreat, and I ask for the grace to grow in appreciation of the depth of God’s love for me. I ask to be attentive to God’s dreams and plans for me. Can I recognise that these are more important than my own?
Jesus says to me: ‘As the Father has loved me so I have loved you. Abide in my love.’ (Jn 15:9). I might want to respond as Peter does: ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’ (Jn 21:17).
A Focusing Exercise
I focus on my body by becoming aware of my limbs, my senses and my inner processes. I notice how I am feeling- am I energised or tired? I become aware of my breathing -is it fast or slow? I listen to my heartbeat sending forth life. I invite my body to rest. I ask that all my being may bless God’s holy name (Ps 103:1).
I turn now to notice how I am in my spirit, my inner self. Have I been in good form lately? I try and recall a recent experience of feeling good. I notice if there is anything that has been worrying me. Are there any burdens I am carrying right now? I set them aside for now as I allow my spirit to come to restful waters.
Next I turn to my mind and to what is occupying it at the moment. Consciously I open the doors of my mind to this time of prayer.
Finally I become aware of my soul: I pause to recognise my unique sense of God. What is the special name I have for God? What is the special name God has for me? I ask that the ears of my soul be particularly attentive to the voice of God today.
Begin the Prayer
Imagine Jesus looking at you. How does he look? Is he bored, angry, loving or something else? A French mystic used the wonderful phrase: ‘You gazed on me – and you smiled!’ to sum up her life’s relationship with God. Allow God to smile at you. Can you allow yourself to smile back? Perhaps much of my prayer time is to be spent here, but that will be fine! To accept the divine invitation to move forward into the unknown, you need to be aware of God’s infinite and unconditional love for you.
Can I ask now for what I need? Perhaps I ask Jesus in the words of an old prayer, ‘to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.’
I slowly read (hear) the scripture passage that follows, as if it were a coded message for me to decipher in order to find a treasure. I engage with the story as if I were hearing it for the first time. During the rest of the day I may find myself coming back to particular phrases in the passage which are rich and meaningful for me.
I try to imagine the scene, and as the scene unfolds, I enter into it as a child would, rather than remain an outsider. Prayer is not a spectator event! I ask the characters to help me to get caught up in the Mystery.
Read the Scripture
Jesus the True Vine
(John 15:9-17, NRSV)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Involve your Imagination
Take your place at the table, and see Jesus and the twelve apostles gathered together for a final meal. You are sitting beside John, who is close to Jesus. He is called the beloved disciple, and you are beloved too.
Listen to Jesus’ words spoken personally to you. They are purposeful, rich with intimacy and depth-filled love. Jesus asks you to make your home in him... what does this mean? How do you respond?
Jesus speaks of a love that is not content to remain aloof, unknown or inactive, at a distance or without a response. He is speaking personally, to you! You are invited to abide in him and from this abiding place, to live and move and be. Can you accept this invitation?
What do you notice about Jesus? Can you sense his longing, his vulnerability and his urgency? He desires that you live in intimacy with him, always. He is aware that his earthly life is drawing to a close. What else do you notice?
The parable of the vine is pregnant with endless life. Hear Jesus say, ‘I am the true vine.’ Ask John to exchange places, so you can sit close to Jesus for a while. Rest your head close to his heart. What do you feel?
Ask Jesus to help you during these days of retreat to make the link between loving and laying down one’s life. He speaks of a love that is permanent: ‘As the father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love.’
Now, try and think about your own life
What stirs in you as you hear these words of invitation? Can you sense how the invitation places you in a privileged position, or do you feel disconnected?
Can you dare to believe he is speaking personally to you? You aren’t just you any more, Jesus is living in you. Can you entrust yourself to his love, a love that will bring joy to your life?
Hear Jesus speak these words of self-sacrifice –‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ He will lay down his life for you. What is it like to hear such words?
What do these words awaken in you? Joy, surprise, amazement, humility, unworthiness, fear? How might your daily living reflect a life of self-sacrifice?
I am a friend of God. I am chosen and sent to live a life of fruitful, loving service. What prevents you from accepting others as Jesus accepts you?
Review the Prayer
It is easier, as St Ignatius suggests, to see things more clearly in retrospect than when they are going on. You might want to make a few notes, as you might do after a dream: it could help to keep track of what otherwise is quickly forgotten.
So after each prayer session you can ask yourself, ‘What went on for me?’
What did I experience during the prayer time?
Did I converse with Jesus, or was I lost in heady thoughts and not engaging with him?
What helped me to stay focused on the Lord?
What touched my heart? What attracted me? What did I find difficult?
What phrase might I take away with me to ponder, like a mantra? And if there hasn’t been one this time, perhaps hold on to the retreat theme: ‘He showed the depth of his love’
Will this scene affect the way I live my life?
Is God asking something of me?
End the Prayer
Try and talk to Jesus.
‘Jesus, how can I love anyone as you love me? Remind me that the Spirit of love is given to me, as it was to you, and with it I can love truly.
May I rest in the prayer of simple presence, abiding with you. May I savour the depth of intimate love behind each spoken word.
Thank you for the depth of your undying love. May my faith in this love deepen through these days of retreat.’
I slowly say the Lord’s Prayer.