Prepare for the Prayer
I take a while to prepare myself
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
Have I been in good form lately? I try and recall a recent experience of feeling good.
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
I slowly read the scripture passage that follows, as if it were a coded message for me to decipher in order to find a treasure.
a) 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.
b) 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.’
c) I slowly read 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.
d) 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
...while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
The Prodigal and His Brother
(Luke 15:1-2, 11-13; 17-32, NRSV)
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’
Involve your Imagination
Allow Jesus to embrace you.
Try and enter into the scene, ask yourself: has over-familiarity with this parable dulled your seeing and hearing? Can you ask for the grace to be disturbed by its radical message?
See the crowd gathered around Jesus: tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and Scribes. Take your place among them. Where in the crowd do you instinctively insert yourself?
Jesus paints in words a masterpiece of what God is like. Each brushstroke depicts the lengths to which his Father will go to reveal his love.
Can you see pain etched on the father’s face, and his heartbreak at the loss of his sons? Both tug at the heart of their father. I observe his qualities of patience, compassion, tenderness, and a love without conditions. He is extravagant in forgiving.
I watch as the father runs out to embrace his youngest son. Can you relate to this wayward son? In what ways are you like him? Ponder the One who responds so graciously to me despite my ingratitude.
Your eyes search out the older son. How do you think he feels about the welcome given to the ‘black sheep’ of the family?
Watch the father leave the feast and go out to his eldest boy. Hear the son’s despising comment: “This son of yours!” Hear the father’s loving response: “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours.” Then his plea for compassion: “We had to celebrate. This brother of yours was lost and is found!”
Allow your reactions to surface. Allow Jesus to embrace you. Allow his compassion to melt the frozen, despising, harsh, judging places within you.
Take the time to remember someone who showed you great love, forgiveness and acceptance.
Now, try and think about your own life
Take a moment to reflect on the mothers and fathers, who night after night scan the horizon, waiting, watching, and searching in the hope of finding their ‘lost’ son/daughter.
Can you recall a time when you “came to yourself”. Has there ever been an occasion when you experienced a homecoming after a sense of exile and alienation?
Take the time to remember someone who showed you great love, forgiveness and acceptance. How were you welcomed, forgiven, restored and honoured?
Are you confident of God’s lavish love? Or like the elder son, are you suspicious of it? Do you feel that you have to earn love? What is your relationship with God like?
Our world is littered with fractured relationships; how could you be a healing and reconciling presence?
Review the Prayer
What touched my heart? What attracted me? What did I find difficult?
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, I ask that I may fall into the embrace of your compassionate love.
May I be an ambassador of forgiving love to those whom I daily encounter?
I hold before you in prayer the homeless, abandoned, lost, neglected and wayward people of our world.’
I slowly say the Lord’s Prayer.