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