Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PRAYING OUR EXPERIENCES


In a recent post, I wrote of Brother Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC, and his amazingly insightful book Everything Is Grace: The Life and Way of Thérèse of Lisieux

A couple of days later, a very kind correspondent scanned and sent me a pdf of Schmidt's other book (I hope he'll forgive me, see below), really a 40-page essay, called Praying Our Experiences.

This one, I'm happy to say, is a hit, too:

Many of us sense that honest reflection on the ordinary experiences of our life has a prayer value. As we look over the times which have been occasions of spiritual growth for us, we realize that some of these times, perhaps even the majority, occurred when we took stock of ourselves and got in touch with the significance of an event in our life. It might have been the brief experience of a phone call from a friend at a time of grief, or the lengthy experience of years of discouragement and frustration.
At the time, we may not have thought we were praying, but in retrospect we sense that all the elements of prayer were present: we felt the sinfulness of being ego-centered; we felt the graciousness of God's work in us; we felt, simply, the closeness of the Lord and the call to a deeper authenticity in our life. In this essay I wish to explore the implications of sincere reflection;on our experience as a way of prayer, and I am calling this kind of reflection "praying our experiences"...

By praying our experiences, then, I mean more than daydreaming, more than reminiscing, more than planning, more than pouting over the past. I mean getting in touch with who I am as the person who has had an experience and offering that "who" to God through reflection on that experience. I do not, however, wish to exclude daydreaming, reminiscing, planning,or pouting as experiences which themselves could be made the content of a prayer offering, nor do I mean that we pray only our good or joyful experiences. What I am advocating is that we pray all our experiences.

Praying our experiences is, I believe, a way of prayer which is valid and traditional. It is only one of many ways, and for some a preliminary way in the journey of prayerfulness, but it constantly recurs because it is so fundamental a way of praying. Although it could degenerate into self-centeredness (and fear of this might be the reason it is not often suggested or tried as a way of prayer), this form of prayer can lead, ultimately, to a depth of self-knowledge which purges self-centeredness.

Finally, I believe that praying one's experiences is exceedingly common among people who, ironically, not understanding it to be prayer, condemn themselves for not praying...

We pray our experiences when we use the content of our lived existence as the content of our prayer. Our memories and desires evoke the concrete happenings of our past as well as our plans and hopes for the future. These feelings and memories are the very focus of our prayer when we pray our experiences.

All of us have probably prayed this way, although we called it by another name. We called it "just thinking" when, on a sickbed, we spent restless and empty days pondering. We called it "questioning" when, after an experience of failure and despair, we passed sleepless nights asking "why?" We called it "resting" when we did nothing of consequence as we vacationed after a particularly stressful period. Yet, in retrospect, this thinking, questioning, and getting ourselves together has been as helpful to our faith life as hours of formal prayer. We had indeed been praying our experiences, unfolding our memories and feelings in the presence of the Lord to see what our day-to-day living might be telling us and to what it might be calling us.

We may have been invited to such prayer, for example, by the chance word of a friend. We may have been taken aback by that word because it aroused in us feelings and memories out of proportion to its importance. We wonder at the power that the offhand remark had over us, and we are drawn not just to react to the intention or literal meaning of the speaker, but to enter into the significance of the sentiments and memories awakened in us.

A remark by an acquaintance may illumine part of ourselves which we had not seen so clearly before. Consider the following illustration. We are planning to make a retreat at a certain spiritual center which has been the site of so many graces before. We tell an acquaintance about our plans, and he or she comments offhandedly, "Oh, you want to be consoled by your friends again." The remark has power. We try to ignore it, but it does not go away. We reflect on this experience and recognize our need for the attention of others. The consolation and affection lavished by friends are more important to us than the quiet and solitude of the retreat setting. We may also sense a desire to be thought pious. Our wish to be closer to God is there, too, of course, but reflecting more on our deep response to the chance remark reveals with great clarity the ambiguity of our intention. We begin to unfold the implications of all this: what it says about our weaknesses and our strengths; what it says about past retreats; what it says about our relationships with those we call friends at the spiritual center; and what it says about our response to God's call. Thus, the remarks of others--whether complimentary, sarcastic, or merely offhanded--can be invitations to pray our experiences"...


I don't know about you but--need I say more?

Simply discovering this remarkable man and his work would have been gift enough. For years he was at the International Renewal Center near Santa Fe, and is now living and teaching in teaching in Naorobi. But Saturday night I discovered, almost by accident that he's temporarily back in the States and giving a retreat from July 16th through the 23rd on St.Thérèse, and prayer, in Albuquerque, New Mexico!

NEEDLES, CALIFORNIA
This retreat will provide an introduction to the life and spiritual teaching of “the greatest saint of modern times,” as Pius X has called Thérèse. It will focus on Thérèse’s great challenge to a world filled with conflict to live the Gospel mandate of healing and creativity, compassion and inner freedom, according to the brochure.

Just when I've been taking a deeper look at my own prayer life and "people-pleasing." Just as my own book on St. Thérèse is about to be published. Just when, as usual, I am struggling with self-centeredness, wanting to be thought pious, being way too triggered by the remarks of others, the knowledge of my very frustrating weaknesses and brokenness, ET CETERA.

CANOSSIAN SPIRITUALITY CENTER
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
The retreat is being given at the Canossian Spirituality Center, and though ordinarily I would balk at forking over 435 bucks the very next morning a very nice manuscript evaluation job came in. So I am going, darn it! My birthday is the 19th and I am going to give myself this present.

Plus I can report my findings back to you all!

PLUS it turns out I am going to get to stay for at least the week afterward, and possibly the week before, and possibly I will try to finagle an even longer stay in my beloved Taos--in which case I will drive, as I have many times, through the East Mojave, and Needles, and Flagstaff....

FR. LARRY BRITO
AT THE "CALVARIO" NEAR THE TAOS, NEW MEXICO, MORADA
HOLY WEEK 2010
The point being--God is good.

And now I gotta scram and work on a series of twelve Holy Day essays for Magnificat. First up: Epiphany...

12 comments:

  1. I miss Albuquerque. I used to go to San Ignacio Catholic Church. If it's as good as it was for me back in 1985-86, I recommend a visit.

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  2. I read Praying Our Experiences, perhaps when it was first published, and it profoundly affected me and my spiritual life. I'm happy for you that you have discovered it. Now I will read Grace is Everything!

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  3. Heather, so glad that the book spoke to you! And I am even happier that you will be attending that retreat. I hope it brings you a gift of tranquility of the soul and peacefulness of the mind. :)

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  4. Emina! Meet the fab correspondent who turned me on to Praying Our Experiences, folks! Thank you so much--my summer plans have taken a real turn, and I can't wait to meet the good Br. Joseph Schmidt and steep in St. Therese for a whole week in Albuquerque...

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  5. Blessed be the Lord for this gift! May it be a time of renewal and healing for you. :)

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  6. Excellent news, Heather. I'm so happy for you!

    Interesting coinkadink: I see Fr. Michael Crosby is leading the two retreats following Fr. Schmidt's. It was Fr. Michael's brother, Fr. Dan Crosby, who was with me when I bought Everything is Grace.

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  7. Twilight Zone!...that IS a coincadink...I am suddenly so stoked to be going to New Mexico, which as we know, lives and breathes Catholicism...

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  8. Having just finished the year long Jesuit "at home" retreat, one of the most powerful parts of it was praying about my life experiences. Also, it's encouraged me to do a brief night reflection, asking myself where and how God was present to me during the day, and to give thanks for that. And the less enjoyable part of seeing where I had put up obstacles to other people and to Him, and to ask for forgiveness. I'm glad there is a new translation of Therese's story now; I've always felt badly that it seemed so sentimental that I couldn't quite relate. Hope to get your book when it comes out, too!

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  9. I'm hungry to read the book you recommend on St. Therese. Got bogged down in a Fatima book, discouraged by the strict picture depicted. "What would Heather King read?" seems a good question for me given how much I appreciate your blog.

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  10. Heather I am so happy for you! There is no doubt in my mind that The Little Flower invited you to this retreat as if she had left a bouquet of white roses on your doorstep. You deserve this bit of surprise summertime bliss. Enjoy! And Happy Birthday!

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  11. Yeah! Thanks, people--I was not expecting this trip or turn of events at all, but now I'm making plans and am stoked. I'm forever mystified by the way we are led, ever so slowly, toward what we need next...

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  12. "What Would Heather King Read?" might be the best question I've seen that I should ask myself on a regular basis. I copied some of the first paragraph of this post and sent it to a friend (my old Homicide Partner) who just lost his father, and who is a very good man, who tends to be "religious, but not spiritual."

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