Sunday, October 31, 2010

The real orchard

I am back from my annual week in the orchard at Guelph, the one that has both literal and figurative meaning for me. Literal, because yes there actually is an orchard. Figurative, because it has become for me an image of the relationship between creation and the Creator. In the Fall when I go there, the apples are being picked or have just been picked. The leaves have not yet fallen, but they will. Nature does not deny the season and the inevitability of change as we humans like to do. Squirrels, groundhogs and no doubt a thousand species of insects are reading the signs of the time. Geese are getting ready to go south, and the young ones are doing a lot of practice flying. The relationship between Creator and creation, Artist and art, God and the universe, is orderly and well designed, when you see it in this perspective. I just stand in the middle of it and drink it all in. The setting - at the Jesuit run Loyola Spirituality Centre - is so wonderful that God seems to be there a lot. It is easier to meet God there than in a whole lot of other places.

Actually, part of renewing and strengthening my relationship with God at this place is the awareness that inevitably arises, that this is about my openness and intentionality, not about God's sudden presence. This awareness is almost as important as anything else that happens on a retreat, because it provides the bridge back to the everyday world. A reminder to sustain the discipline of regular prayer, to 'practice the presence' of God in my own mind. God awaits. Patiently.

Every year, I anticipate the grace I am going to ask for on the retreat. You do that by reviewing the months since the last retreat. Turmoil? Conflict? Doubt? Laziness? In prayer, those things will arise quite readily.

Well this year, the grace I was going to ask for was that of gratitude. I wanted to make a retreat thanking God for all the wonderful gifts I have received. I do not pay enough attention to that. So the retreat did indeed start on that theme. But as often happens, it did not stay there. It evolved to a theme of re-grounding in a deeper awareness of discipleship - the call from Jesus to follow him - wherever that may lead to. That led to prayer for spiritual freedom - because you cannot follow Jesus with attachments that take you down a different road. And you cannot even wish for such freedom without deeply loving Jesus. Otherwise it is all a heady exercise, not going really anywhere. But, see? Even that renewed and deepened awareness is a gift. I know to say thanks for that.

And then I watch the activity in the orchard and I smile. I see the relationships with the Orchard Master. Signs of the times. God gives us lots of those. With the right eyes - the eyes of the heart - we see them. With the right motivation - gratitude and love - we open ourselves to the invitation to respond to them and let God in to lead us as we do so.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Praying with Scripture

We started our first Lectio Divina series in the parish recently. I am really excited about this, and I find myself moved by the experience. Have to remember that I have been doing this kind of prayer for nearly 20 years now, and so I reassure people at our sessions that it may not come easy. Be patient! The Lord will surely provide. What you really need to bring with you is the hunger for an encounter with God, and an openness to hear whatever God wishes to communicate to you.

This is where things get tricky. Because when we pray, we are used to saying prayers. In Lectio Divina, the main activity is listening.

Lectio Divina was started some 800 years ago, and there are a number of traditions within it. All have the same goal - to take you into an experience of the Scripture, where you can encounter God. Notably, where you can meet Jesus and actually dialogue with him. For this you need quiet and time. It is not just meditation about the passage. It is not Bible study. It is entering in.

There are four 'movements' in this kind of prayer: 1. Reading the passage, preferably out loud; 2, meditating on aspects of it (there are lots of written guides for this); 3, praying, as in asking God for the grace you wish to receive during this time; and 4, entering into stillness, to just be with Jesus, be with God.

I really like the way St. Ignatius Loyola approaches scripture through the use of imagining the scene. This is a great entry into the passage, and all you are interested in is looking around, seeing who is there,noticing the setting, and most especially, seeing Jesus. Listening to him. Maybe talking to the disciples or to Mary, or to a bystander.

Inevitably, when praying with the Gospels, I am a bystander, watching. Inevitably, I meet Jesus' gaze, and he calls me over. We talk, and it is beautiful. I know that he knows everything about me, but I am not scared by that. I can say what I feel, and he will respond, maybe with a reassurance, maybe with a challenge. But always, the experience lingers. A good idea is to write down the experience right away, so you can go back and see how it actually did move you.

I encourage everyone to learn about this prayer form. We do not get enough time at Mass to really have such an encounter with Jesus. And yet we know that Jesus is present not only in the Eucharist and in the assembly, but also in his word. How are we ever to meet him there? This is it. I promise you a powerful experience of prayer.

To learn more, just Google Lectio Divina. Lots of stuff on the Internet.