Small Beginnings: One Practice I Used to Encourage More Focused Prayer

It began with a jar.

An extra jar leftover from the holiday season, currently out of use, and just sitting around my kitchen. ‘Why do I always buy too much instead of just enough?’ I’d wondered. It was a dollar; I’m not going to the trouble of queueing in a line to return it for a dollar.

So it’s been sitting in my kitchen, for no other reason than it seemed a good place to keep breakables.

I’m in a mood to create more order and find spaces for things. It’s been several months since we moved into our new place, and we’ve ‘settled’ as much as one can, but, I still don’t have my old nook for prayer. I’m giving serious consideration to having a dedicated prayer space now.

A Place For Prayer

In a symbolic gesture of beating my sword into a plow, I convert my writing desk into an altar by pushing it against one wall of my office, draping a never-used-before white tablecloth over it, and adding a candle, a few spiritual books I’ve been meaning to begin reading, and a Rosary. It’s still quite empty, but it’s a start. It briefly crosses my mind — ‘What will I use if I begin writing again?’ and I dismiss the thought. When the time comes for that (if the time comes at all), God will show me how to move forward.

That’s been my rule of thumb a lot lately — blind faith. I don’t particularly like it, it’s too contrary to my ‘everything planned out in advance, all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed’ personality. Leaving room open in my heart to be led by God means that there’s room for error, and I hate being wrong. Which makes today particularly difficult, as I’m going to be participating in the sacrament of reconcilation. What’s that if not admitting to a whole list of wrongs…?

I need to pray more. Consistent prayer is an area that I struggle with, and this is what my confessor latches onto in the sacrament of reconciliation, offering me some advice of how to better incorporate prayer into my daily life.

One of the stories that particularly struck me was that of a woman (unidentified of course) who used to bring a jar to work and began placing prayers in the jar. Eventually, her coworkers began asking her to pray, and the jar’s contents grew. That little jar was the small beginnings of a witness of faith and prayer in that environment. How could I begin such a practice to help foster more prayer in my life?

Scraps of Faith

Back from mass and reconcilation, fumbling around through bits and bobs, I found it, that leftover jar, and suddenly, I knew exactly what God had in mind that winter day when I bought one jar too many. I place the jar on my altar, lid off, and begin taking scraps of recycled paper (otherwise to be thrown out) and cut them to a uniform length, the width of a number 2 pencil, and the length of a crayon. Small, slender strips, but long enough for a line, a thought of handwriting.

The pile and a pen join the jar as companions, ready to be of use when the occasion calls. As a prayer intention strikes me, I grab a slip of paper, jot down the date and the intention, and into the jar it goes. Every day, during my intercessory prayer, I will dump out the jar’s contents and at random, select the prayers (one at a time) and begin pouring out my heart to God, believing that He is a hearer of prayers.

Prayers, Like Petals

At first, these scraps of paper stood like soldiers, straight and tall, all in a clustered group, and the jar looked quite empty. As the effects of gravity and time have taken their course, now these slips begin to curve as they fall through the neck of the jar and float atop the others, forming a circular pattern.

It occurs to me that each prayer is like the petal of a chrysanthemum bloom, and indeed, even as my little prayers are piling up in that little jar, they curl upwards, rotating in a circular form, like the foundation of a petal base. While pondering this little metaphor, I attempt to remember any verses about prayers being a perfume. The closest thing I can come up with is:

“Let my prayers be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering.” (Ps. 141:2, NAB)

I love this sort of imagery, of comparing prayer to flowers, or incense. The flowers analogy specifically (I think) probably is developed from my reading of St. Faustina’s biography, who spoke of weaving a spiritual bouquet of flowers for Our Lady out of her prayers, faithfully spoken. St. Faustina used a few different metaphors — violets, roses, and lilies, all sweet-smelling fragrances. If the analogy holds, what beautiful imagery, to think of our prayers rising up to heaven like flowers.

My little jar now seems to have a reinvigorated purpose, on its surface, just scraps of recycled paper and pen etchings, and, on a spiritual note, the beginnings of incense rising to God. This inspires me to return often to my little homemade altar, and when absent from home, to the altar that is my heart, where Christ dwells, and to offer Him prayers there in my heart of hearts; a “sweet-smelling fragrance” c.f. 2 Corinthians 2:15 by my life, in imitation of Christ, who was foremost a sacrifice to the Lord, c.f. Ephesians 5:2. May we always seek to pursue Him more nearly.

Can you use a prayer jar of your own? If you use another method, how do you integrate prayer into your daily life?. Have a blessed day, and remember to keep reaching higher to lay hold of all that God has called you to.

My Rule of Life

Tranquility in the midst of rolling pastures and fences to keep in one’s livestock. It’s a lovely picture of serenity, balance and order and just the sort of thing that is a good representation of what I’d like my life to imitate. Oh sure, underneath it all there’s still dirt, manure, and bug city, but there’s also the rain, the blooms, the green and yellow fields, and a vast expanse of sky from here to the horizon.

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In an earlier post, I introduced the idea of crafting a ‘rule of life’ to establish order and implementing a new schedule to reflect my one priority: God.

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Bearing that in mind, everything then is open to being changed, or to use a metaphor for writing — no word escapes the editor’s red pen; all is subject to revision. These decisions are not merely to ‘mix things up’ (i.e. change for the sake of change) but to cultivate order, discipline, structure, balance, and intentional living. Time for prayer, time for worship, time for work, time for family, time for recreation, etc.

As indicated in my post’s title, I anticipate that this rule of basis will be reviewed and changed on an annual basis, perhaps more frequently as I get my feet wet. Some details will remain intentionally vague as this is the Internet and anyone may be reading who may be “like a prowling lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

My purpose in sharing how I approached my own Rule of Life is that you will find some inspiration in attempting one yourselves too. I love the rocks in a jar analogy, so I’ll reference those as we go along so you can see how everything adds up.

So, here we go!

Begin with the Biggest Rocks First

Using a digital calendar for this setup (because I love repeat events and color-coordinating things), I began with the things that were already established practices, such as:

  • Work and/or School Schedules
  • Blocking off time for transit to and from work
  • Mass times
  • Meal times

Of course, you can also use a paper calendar and modify these suggestions too.

My next step was to consider how many hours of sleep I really need per night — not how many I can get away with, or how many I’d like on those lazy, sleep-in days, but, how many do I really need to function well. Everyone varies differently, but for me, the magic number is 7.

So, the next thing I blocked in was, you guessed it, rest. The way my digital calendar is set up, this is actually logged in as two separate, repeating events — because mine is weird about events that overlap days. So, there’s the morning sleep as one event, and the night before sleep as a separate event. It’s slightly clumsy, but it works for me.

These two steps out of the way, if you’re fully employed, you’ll probably find that several huge chunks of your time is suddenly full and there seems to be very little left in the way of breathable room. That’s okay. I’ve found that establishing these fences in advance gives your ‘horses’ room to run, but only ‘this far and no further’.  Now, the question became — what are the non-negotiable (for me) habits that I want to have time for, and how much time do I want to allocate to them?

For me, the big one was that I didn’t have a set time of day or night in which to spend with God. I’d like to begin to do evening or morning prayers. I’d like there to be a time with that wherein I can read my Bible or a devotional, learn about the life of a saint, pray, meditate, or worship. A daily appointment with God. And because I’d cleared off everything on my schedule (the media, the hobbies, etc.), I now could really analyze my time and find where the best place, for me, would be to attempt adding in this discipline.

Maybe you’re an evening person and that’s when you’re most alert. Nights then are your best time, your peak performance time with God. I’m more of a morning person, and my mornings are pretty busy (sound familiar?) so I decided that a sacrifice I was willing to make was cutting my evening hours short so I could (gulp!) wake up before 6am. Into the schedule it goes!

For review:

  • All Existing Commitments
  • Time for Prayer/Bible Reading/Worship
  • Bed times

Next, Add in The Pebbles

Adding in that one hour chunk of time (my daily appointment with God), and the rest of the morning begins filling out. When to allow for time for personal grooming, when you’re likely to have a few minutes to read the paper or check your emails. Not content to just analyze my mornings, I then took a real close look at how I spend that precious time between work and bed, time that I really didn’t want to look at because it’s ‘unwinding time’, a general turn-of-phrase for time to unplug from the world by plugging my brain into whatever screen of choice I’m in the mood for…and the time sink begins.

There had to be a way to redeem that time. There is. A desire was growing in me to be productive and not idle — not productivity for its own sake, but to work with my hands and produce something physical, tangible, from my efforts. I’ve now scheduled in a few hours per week just to do any arts and crafts (hobbies, non-technology-based) that I feel led to do. My own profession relies so heavily on technology that there’s little opportunity to experience, like St. Joseph, the finished product of something made by one’s own labors.

Having time to strengthen my relationships is also important to me. I’ve added in a buffer of time every day to spend with my spouse, even if we’re just reading quietly together, as we often do, and additional time here and there to call my family, or to get together with loved ones or friends.These also get blocked off in my schedule. And I recognize that everyone’s schedules are different, so I may have to make occasional adjustments to my schedule to be available for others (and this is right and good) but at least having one to start with is, I find, immensely helpful.

For review:

  • Personal Grooming
  • Time for Relationships
  • Hobbies

Finally, Add in Sand and Water

The last steps in the ‘rocks in a jar’ analogy involve adding in sand, to fill up the crevises, or water, just to show the little things that can, by themselves, consume all of our time if we allow them to, but in moderation, complete the whole by filling in those tiny gaps leftover after everything else (what’s most important in your life) has been scheduled in already.

For you, this could be any number of minor things depending on your life situation, but probably, they are all things that have to be done, but are often time-flexible. Some examples from my life would include: household chores, errands, appointments, web browsing, Netflix, etc. Maybe you enjoy working out, baking, and reading fashion magazines. Everybody’s different.

By the end of this exercise, your regular work days (or school, if you’re a student), should be mostly full. Don’t be afraid of a little white space too — these are your margins for the unplanned and unexpected. You will probably notice too that suddenly, your “off” days suddenly are looking pretty wide open. Mine certainly were. Don’t worry…I’m going to ask you to look at those as well!

For review:

  • Chores
  • Errands
  • Appointments
  • Leisure Time
  • Blogging

Sabbath Rest = Quality of Life Days

One area that I have felt convicted about us is the Lord’s commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

I understand that for many professions, it is impossible to take Sunday off. Maybe you’re a physician, or in law enforcement or some other emergency personnel. Perhaps you work in some other field, like running a gas station, and your employer needs to be open 7 days a week, holidays included. If either of these applies to you, your Sabbath day may not be a Saturday or Sunday, it might be that Tuesday off, or that Thursday. It’s that one day of the week that you have rest from your labors, whatever day that is. Keep that day holy.

For me, this is Sunday, but for a number of years now, I’ve worked overtime (for wants, not needs) and this has come about only by the sacrifice of my family of our time, our rest, and of breaking the Lord’s commandment about the Sabbath. In light of this, I am taking steps to complete my existing obligations, but not commit to any dates in the future, save for when required by work obligation.

What do I plan to do with that extra time? Rest in God. This is where you look at quality of life decisions. What sort of life do I want to cultivate? What are my values? For me, as hinted above, it’s time for relationships, time to cultivate my passions, etc. Additionally, I’d like to find ways to spend time outdoors, or doing cultural activities. How, you might wonder, is this resting in God? I think it’s all in the attitude in which we approach it.

  • I can spend time with family and friends and share God’s love with them, encouraging them in their own lives. The disciples often spent time with fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and studying God’s Word together.
  • I can commit a portion of my time to volunteering to do works of mercy. Perhaps I will give a few hours of my time to the local food pantry, or visiting prisoners, or comforting the sick, etc. Practicing the corporal or spiritual works of mercy is a wonderful way to spend part of your day off.
  • The Bible tells us that the earth reflects the glory of God. I can spend time in nature, appreciating God through His creation. If you have children, perhaps this would be a great opportunity to give them instruction on what we can learn from animals and nature itself — how do they give evidence of a divine Creator? What can they teach us to help us grow in our spiritual lives?
  • Spending time doing cultural activities is one of my values. I believe God gives everyone a gift to use to do His will and to glorify Him. Just as I can appreciate and give thanks to God for the beauty of nature, so too can I admire great works of art, or pieces of music, and consider how their beauty glorifies the Lord that inspired them.

These are just a handful of examples of ways to look at incorporating qualify of life time into your resting periods, and how you can claim these activities for Christ, always in a spirit of supplication, of being open to God’s direction and obedient to His will. You never can tell when an opportunity might arise to talk to a stranger, to help your neighbor, or to strengthen the spirit of a friend.

When we are willing to be led by God, and God grants us the grace of courage to act, I believe that we are participating in bringing His kingdom on earth. I hope that this post has given you some ideas of how to transform your time, for the sake of Christ, and may your hearts always remain open to God. Have a blessed day and remember, keep reaching higher to take hold of all that God has called you to.

How To Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

 

Today, April 8th, is Divine Mercy Sunday, and in honor of the Feast of Divine Mercy, I am sharing with you instructions on how to pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy. This chaplet can be done with a standard-sized Rosary, and my instructions requires a basic understanding of what the traditional prayers of the Rosary are, and what beads are where. Please see my post on How to Pray the Rosary, if you need a refresher.

Continue reading “How To Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy”

How To Pray the Rosary

The Rosary needs no introdution. Even amongst non-believers, a Rosary is one of the most iconic symbols of the Catholic faith around the globe. A standard-sized Rosary contains five decades of 10 beads each, intersperced with five larger or unique beads, for each of the mysteries that are being meditated upon.

Highlights From “What I, a Non-Catholic, Discovered While Praying the Rosary”*:

When you pray the Rosary, you are connecting with Christ. You are using a visual aid (the Rosary) to inspire reflection on the life and nature of Christ.

On Mondays and Saturdays, Catholics reflect on the life of Mary, and the events leading up to Christ’s birth and His early childhood (the Joyful Mysteries).

On Thursdays, they remember some of Christ’s miracles and His early ministry, leading up to the Last Supper, (the Luminous Mysteries).

On Tuesdays and Fridays, it’s a reflection on the events of Good Friday, beginning with the Garden when Jesus is betrayed, leading up to His crucifixion (the Sorrowful Mysteries).

And finally, on Wednesdays and Sundays, it’s a celebration of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the events of the early Church, and a life of obedience to God, rewarded at the end of Mary’s life (the Glorious Mysteries).

You can also find one-decade rosaries available, called chaplets, like a miniature Rosary for your pocket. These have ten beads, plus the mystery, and when you finish praying all of the prayers through the beat set once, you can go back and do the other decades’ worth of prayers.

Obtaining your first (blessed) rosary usually isn’t difficult. Many Catholic churches will have a free area where donations are placed as a form of outreach — prayer cards, pamphlets, and yes, even rosaries. If you find yourself without the benefit of a Rosary on you, and you’d like to try anyway, ask yourself — “Have I got 10 fingers?” If you do, you can pray the Rosary.

Holding the Rosary in your hands, you’ll begin praying starting at the ‘tail’ — the end with the Crucifix and the four beads.

Step 1: Make the Sign of the Cross, by touching your hand to your head, then your heart, then your left shoulder, and finally your right shoulder. As you do this, say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.”

Step 2: Say the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Step 3: Say the “Our Father”:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us, and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen

Step 4: For each of the three beads on the tail end, say a “Hail Mary”:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen

Step 5: Finish the tail off with a “Glory Be”:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

You’ve now come to the first large bead on the main circle of the Rosary. There are five similar beads in all, each representating a different mystery.

Step 6: For each mystery, you will say an “Our Father”, followed by 10 “Hail Marys” and the “Glory Be”.

Step 7: Pray the “Fatima Prayer”:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.”

Each prayer will guide you further along the circumference of the Rosary’s circle. During your prayers, be sure to reflect upon the mystery you are ruminating over. Repeat Steps #6 and #7 for all five decades, or, if you’re ambitious, try the full 20 decades all at once. When you’re finished with the final decade, you should return to your starting point.

There are a few final prayers to finish the Rosary.

Step 8: Pray the “Salve Regina” prayer:

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus; O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Step 9: Pray the “Let Us Pray” prayer:

O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries in the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise: through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Step 10: Pray the “Memorae” prayer:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence; I fly to you, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Step 11: Conclude with the “Sign of the Cross”. (See Step #1 for a refresher if needed.)

*This has been slightly edited from the original.

Reimagining the Ignatian Examen by Mark E. Thibodeaux

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The Specs:
Title: Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day
Author: Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ
Published: 2014 by Loyola Press
Length: 123 pages
Amazon Categories: Meditations
Source: Overdrive (free); Kindle price: $8.79


 Every time I talk about Mark Thibodeaux’s book, I always get the title wrong but when I explain, I think you’ll understand why. While it’s true that the author reimagines the original examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola in a fresh way, after immersing in this book and its devotional exercises for prayer and meditation, I think you will find that it reignites your faith and prayer life. So, I wish on some level that the title was Reigniting the Ignatian Examen, because I think that the contents of this simple prayer has the potential to stir those coals in our hearts and reawaken the embers of our prayer lives. It certainly is rekindling mine.

The book isn’t terribly long for the price and that may be my biggest negative critique. I like a chunky book when I’m paying more than $2.99 for an ebook. But where Thibodeaux could have tripled the length of the book and bogged it down in unnecessarily long treatises on prayer and meditation, or on the background of St. Ignatius and the original examen, he chose to take a different approach.

The first few chapters talk about how he approaches the examen and on creating your own opening and closing ritual. The remainder of the book is thirty-four days of meditations/prayer with different subjects, building upon what you’ve previously gone over. Ideally, one for every day of the month, and a few extras in case one or two just didn’t click for you.

There is also an appendix where Thibodeaux talks about some of the terms he uses (like praydreaming and prayimagining), which helped me immensely as I began my own journey through the examen. For the sake of full disclosure, I am still working my way through the book and God willing, will continue to be doing the meditations for some time to come. Since the majority of the book is just the individual guided prayers/reflections, you’re better off reading them at the pace prescribed, rather than treating the book as something to be rushed through and checked off a list.

The author recommends beginning once a day and advancing to twice a day (at lunch, and at dinner) and when you reflect upon your day, you can reflect upon how your morning went, and how you expect the afternoon to go, and then at the evening examen, review how it actually went, and how you expect tomorrow morning to go. This idea of a daily review, or even a twice-daily review, can really be an excellent way of keeping God at the center of our focus.

The examen will prompt questions such as…

Are we really living each moment to please God? Where are we acting in the faith, hope and charity that all Christians should be? In what areas are we floundering? What can we learn about our mistakes and resolve to do differently the next time? What do we think that God is trying to tell us about this area in our lives (or the areas we are guided to by the reflections)?

If this sounds like something that you’d be interested in exploring, please check out Mark E. Thibodeaux’s book, and leave a comment below and let me know what you think.