Week of Guided Prayer: surreal? No, so real!

POST BY JHellings

Week of guided prayer group, Urmston  Credit: Simon Bishop
Week of guided prayer group, Urmston Credit: Simon Bishop

Fr David, our parish priest accosted us when we were leaving mass saying “I need your help”! He asked my wife, Deirdre, and I to be part of a group of twelve attending the Ignatian Week of Guided Prayer because he felt it would be beneficial to us. We said “yes” immediately, not knowing what the week would truly involve apart from the introductory Sunday session for one hour and giving one hour each day to the retreat, half an hour of prayer and half an hour with a prayer guide.

Regarding my own journey of faith, I’ve known for a while, maybe six years, that God is asking me to do something or experience something new, to adopt a new path. My religious studies always lacked something. I ended up reading the words but not “feeling” scripture.

At the first opening session guided by Fr Simon and Karen from the Jesuit Retreat Centre, St Beuno’s, we were asked what we expected to get out of the retreat. I wanted to find my path. We were taught to relax and focus our thoughts on what we were wanting in the retreat, and to ask God what God wanted in the retreat. This was true relaxation and calmness. “Who needs therapy?” I thought! Karen read from Isaiah 55. The Isaiah reading! What can I say? I heard, “come here, all you who are thirsty, come to the water” and “incline your ear and come to me, listen, that your soul may live” and then the final blow “so the word that goes forth out of my mouth … shall accomplish my will.” I reflected.

In my first session with Fr. Simon, I talked and Simon listened. He suggested that I reflect on where I thought God had been in my life and to pray the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, using my imagination, in the Jesuit contemplative way. Relaxing at Costa with a comforting coffee, I noted the high and low points of my life, where I felt God had been and where he was missing. I reflected.

Now, the Emmaus passage: I’m praying the Ignatian way… you know, the disciples are hot and thirsty and at a low point, trying to understand what has happened to their dream, their belief. All these images and thoughts are flooding my mind. I’m thinking … I’m good at this Ignatian thing and then WOW!… What the … I’m not actively doing anything anymore … “it’s” just coming to me … I can feel things… make connections … Jesus is walking with them and they don’t know it! ... just like my low points. I realise God doesn’t give up on them or on me but recounts the scriptures in such a way as to get them, me, on the right path. He will make it happen “so the word that goes forth out of my mouth … shall accomplish my will.” It’s so calming and yes, surreal, no, so real! I’m finished and praying, “please God don’t let me lose this! This grace you’ve given me … I’ve received.” Now I know I can pray the Bible as prayer, meeting God, being led by Him, receiving from Him, as He wants me to. I reflected and how!

Now I’m frightened that when I read the Bible again it’ll be like the old times. Have faith! But still the doubts….young seedling and all that. Hang on! I don’t want to lose this gift. God can’t want me to lose this gift. So don’t panic. Now I really know God is with me, has always been and now I know and I know I know! I’ve got to talk with Simon ... got to talk with Deirdre.

Simon suggests praying with the scripture passage of Jesus, after the resurrection, coming back to see Peter and the others by the sea of Galilee, when Peter jumps into the water and runs to Jesus. I read it. I pray with it. I see. I hear. I receive. I reflect and how!

It’s still there. God’s still there!