A Prayerful Journey of Spiritual Growth and Healing
It is of immense help to explore the profound contemplative tradition within our Catholic faith and to understand that horizons within which spiritual development occurs. Ultimately, however, the Holy Spirit is the master of prayer and wants to be your guide.
The following eight exercises are offered as a means to place yourself in the school of the Spirit. They target particularly those challenging areas that thwart the progress of people who pray. They are labeled steps precisely because they build on one another. You may find them most helpful if you take each step in order, although you certainly may use them in any order you feel drawn. For some of the steps you will need a pen, paper and bible, as indicated. If you feel you would be nourished by more time on some point or another of the prayer exercise I invite you to pause the recording and give yourself and the Spirit all the time you desire. It would be preferable to not finish the prayer guide, than to rush through it. Without any pause the prayer guides are a total of 25 minutes. The essential text of the prayer guides are reproduced below for your convenience.
Topic 19: Step Three: Being Called by Name
You will need paper and pen for this prayer exercise. You will also need to pause this prayer guide throughout in order to be able to complete what has been suggested.
Settle into a place of prayer, either alone or with a trusted companion. Take a moment to notice the characteristics of the space. Are you inside or outside? What are the sounds around you? Why did you choose this place? Are there candles or pictures that make it particularly meaningful? Or is it a bare place, like a desert, that in its simplicity receives you as you are?
Then scan your interior space. How are you feeling? What are your expectations? Do you have any anxiety about this time of prayer and interior liberation? Scan your body, from your feet to your head, and tell yourself to relax. Allow the silence to wash over you, wrapping itself around you with its comforting arms. Repeat quietly and reverently the phrase: Be still now. God is here.
Explore situations that you have lived through or are currently living in that have become like prisons for you. These situations could have been created by someone‘s attitudes toward you; a situation of injustice or abuse; events in your childhood; your own fears or shyness; a financial or physical tragedy; a betrayal, etc. What have been your imprisoning situations?
Taking each situation in turn, write about your prison and how it feels to be in it. What does it look like? Who else is there? How does it affect the rest of your life? Who else is affected? Is God with you in that prison at all or do you feel all alone?
Reflecting on these imprisoning situations, you may become aware of certain fundamental ―life lessons‖ – either true or false – that were impressed upon you. Write these down as well. For example, perhaps your ―prison experience‖ led you to conclude:
- It would be better if you had not been born
- If you don‘t conform you are bad
- You are worthless
- You should not grow up or be successful
- Intimacy is not safe
- Success guarantees acceptance
- You must not dream.
What life lessons have you learned from these situations?
What situations or behaviors in your present life are being affected by these injunctions?
Take a few moments to thank God for your life and the way God has been there, seeing you through each year, each event, each relationship.
Your heart calls out for healing. By exposing these prisons to the light; they no longer have the same power over you. Another way is possible to you now: to live from the deepest part of yourself, where you truly are God‘s dream. You are far more than the survival tactics, masks, and defenses that you have unconsciously developed to protect yourself. Until now, it may have been the only way you could survive. This isn‘t true anymore.
There are relationships or situations in your present life that have been influenced by these masks and defenses and tactics of survival.. With great gentleness, accept what you are feeling. The dissatisfaction…. the fear…. the sense of isolation…. the lack of authenticity, or the presence of guilt.
It is time to purify these survival mechanisms and to progressively free yourself from their control.
Very quietly begin to center yourself with your breathing. You may use a word to focus your attention: peace, let it be, or yes.
If you wish, picture yourself in the situation that is causing you the most distress. Jesus comes to stand by your side. He takes your hand or puts his arm around you. You are not alone anymore. Listen to these thoughts. Let them descend into your heart:
I have suffered enough by doing what others want in order to buy their love or acceptance. I have suffered enough for not being myself.
My love, my life, my dreams have been distorted and falsified.
Now I can begin again, from this point. I have brought everything to the light, put everything on the table. I can leave behind every idealized image of myself. I can live now from the depths of my being, because only in this way can I give and receive true love.
Turn toward Jesus and away from the persons or events that have caused you pain. Look into Jesus‘ face and see the compassion and strength in his eyes. Jesus has always known the goodness in your heart. In his eyes you were always worth loving, you were always beautiful – that fact has never changed. He has always believed in you.
The suffering in your life can yield great treasures. It is possible to find gifts in the ashes, treasures in the flames. But don‘t worry about that now. Jesus himself will show you where the gold lies. You only need to hold on to him, to lean in weakness on his power, to trust in poverty on his bountiful love. Lay your head down on his heart and rest as a little child sleeps in his parent‘s arms.
Let yourself slip deeper and deeper within yourself. Picture that place within yourself that is the place where God calls you by name. It may be a lush green field full of wild flowers, or a sanctuary that breathes divine presence.
In this place you can let go of all your masks and defenses. You are loved. Here where God pronounces your name, you can be truly happy. You no longer need to buy happiness and acceptance.
Here in this place, love expands more and more, taking over your thoughts and fears, replacing your attitudes and words and perceptions. Here you are peace. You are filled with light that comes from God who is Love and Goodness itself. It is certain and true: You are the outpouring of God‘s immensely tender love, which is always just beginning, always expanding and opening itself, always spreading light, always bestowing life.
Take a few moments to breath in this light. Breathe in light, and breathe out any darkness you may feel. Breathe in light, and breathe out attitudes that mar the perfection of that crystalline brightness. Breathe in light, permeating every cell of your body, and breathe out feelings that are obstacles to that light,.
Slip down farther, letting all fears and demands go. Unhook your attention from them, and let them go. In the deepest center of your being, where you are truly yourself, you are more than these expectations and manipulations. In this place where you are truly who you were created to be, you are already loved and you have always been loved.
The gracious waters of an eternal fountain spring up in your true ―I.‖ Here you are called by your real name. Allow yourself to feel the coolness of the waters of grace that flow in the hills and valleys of your inner landscape. Let the wind caress your face. Let the beautiful array of color nourish you. Feel the rain as it gently gives growth. Reach up and hug the warmth of the sun. Let the peace of this place penetrate you.
Absorbed in this peace, you may experience that you are not alone; instead, you are in relation to another who gives you to yourself. You may be able to say, ―You, Lord, give me to myself now. You guide me to find myself. I am utterly derived from you. I do not exist by myself, but only from you as a perpetual gift that you give to me moment by moment.‖
Do not force anything. At times you may feel absorbed in peace, at other times lost in shadows or resentment. Little by little you may feel the strength of a hand that guides you in this place. Come back to this place again and again.
This is an exercise of the heart, an opening of the sentiments and the thoughts to the gift of oneself. Eventually a sense of gratitude will emerge. When we feel gratitude with our whole heart, when we realize we are a gift, then we have truly entered into reality. The work of making peace with oneself is moving from illusion to this reality.
Remain a while in the joy of finally being able to be who you are. Soak in the possibilities of new beginnings and new directions.
When you are ready, gently return to the room in which you are praying. If you are sharing this exercise with a friend or guide, you may wish to share what happened between Jesus and yourself, any feelings or words or impressions that may have come to you.