I have many ways to begin prayer, with numerous different motivations. Lately, God has been providing a certain motivation without my consciously asking for it. Ultimately, it’s almost always about finding peace.
Before I get to that, let me share some of the ways I like to pray.
There are times when I wish to intercede for others and offer prayer requests for people in need who have asked for my prayers. I generally add the names of family and close friends during those moments. As I quietly speak each name, I picture that name or their face and mention a specific request for them.
There are times – most notably as I’m getting dressed each morning – when I think of special people who have passed from this life and now, I’m certain, reside in heaven. They might be canonized saints (St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Paul II) or they might be family or friends (such as Janet, a friend of my youth, and my cousin Gary). I ask all of them to pray for me and those among my family and friends who most need prayers.
There are those times I spend in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. God Himself leads my heart in those moments as I read various Psalms and other preselected Scripture passages that guide my thoughts into certain directions.
There are prayerful times inspired by music, nature, the laughter of my grandchildren, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, honest conversation with a close friend, a revelation gleaned from Bible study with other men, immense gratitude …
If it sounds like I pray all day, well, yeah, I kind of do. On my good days, at least.
My favorite times of prayer lately, though, have been surprisingly the easiest and not surprisingly most rewarding. What does catch me off guard is that so often in the past, I haven’t been able to experience such moments of communication with God.
I haven’t always had the blessing of feeling God’s presence and the peace that flows from that presence.
In recent weeks, all I need do is ask and I find myself surrounded by Him. Usually, I just want to be with Him in whatever way He will allow — and often I tell Him I don’t have much time to give. I might be seated at my desk at work or driving to the store. I might feel lonely and need reassurance that I’m not fighting on my own. I might feel assaulted by the noise and distractions and activities of the world, and ache for peace.
All of these are part of the prayer aspect of my vocation as a Secular Carmelite. I have been in aspirancy with that Third Order for about a year and now have been accepted into formation – a five-year process leading up to making promises of chastity and obedience, and of the beatitudes.
Prayer is an essential aspect in the life of a Carmelite. That particularly includes mental and contemplative prayer. For years, I have tried engaging in moments of mental prayer in which I wanted nothing more than to feel God’s presence. Perhaps you understand and share that desire. If so, you may have lived with the frustration I often felt.
Lately, something different is happening.
Actually, two things are different. For one, when I take some quiet time in prayer, I ask for God to accept me into his presence. I ask for him to allow me in, to take me by the hand and lead me to a place where I can sit with him – sometimes, I’m bold enough to ask for a seat on his lap, with his arms wrapped gently around me. But I don’t ask him to make sure I can feel his presence. Instead, I trust that if I can’t see his face or hear his voice or feel him physically with me, even then I trust that I am with him and that he is with me. My prayer has become a time of trust, and there is incredible peace available when that exists.
Secondly, an odd thing often happens when I engage in such mental prayer: Many times, I see in my mind that I am in a specific physical place. I have come to call it my “peaceful place.”
It is a specific spot, though a place I never have visited physically. Rather, something led me there, guided me there – someone guided me there. It was like an unseen force. All I did was sit on the couch in my bedroom one evening and, having just finished Evening Prayer, rested quietly with my eyes closed. I tried to clear my mind of everything save for repeating that frequent request for God to accept me into his presence. Again, I felt this great confidence that I would be accepted. Such trust feels incredibly good.
Before I knew it, I found I was walking through a wooded area. It actually felt a little like the woods at a park I frequented when I was a kid growing up in St. Charles, Mo.
I’m never sure how I got there, but as I ask to be accepted into his presence and trust that I will be, I suddenly find myself walking a path through those woods. I’m not walking long before I find the end of the trail, which opens into a small clearing in the midst of all the trees. The grass is ankle-high and a rich green. There are scattered wildflowers of all colors, with the bright sunshine showing them to be yellow and orange, red and purple and all sorts of other shades.
A creek meanders through the clearing, not a particularly wide creek but one with slowly moving water that makes a gentle sound as it flows over the stones in its bed. Next to the creek is a rounded, waist-high boulder (although sometimes in place of the boulder is a large felled tree).
I notice a man leaning against the boulder. I walk over toward him and immediately recognize him to be Jesus! (Interesting side note observation: Sometimes, he’s wearing a white robe, as he often has been shown in paintings, but sometimes he’s wearing faded blue jeans, a colored t-shirt and sneakers!)
I move beside him, lean against the boulder and just hang out with him for several minutes. No words are spoken. None are needed, it seems. I only had requested his presence, after all. I trusted, and he delivered.
There is no greater peace than to hang out with Jesus.