Prayer Keeps Relationship with God Alive
By Sister Nancy Uhl, SNDdeN
This essay initially appeared in the inaugural issue of our magazine, 'Sowing Goodness.' The full issue is available here.
Joan Chittister, OSB, said in The Breath of the Soul, “Prayer is the breath of the soul, the life-energy of the spirit. It is the story of the interplay between God and me. It is the link between the inner and the outer life. It has its own rhythm. It is its reality. There is no formula for it beyond the need to nourish it with both words and silence.”
Prayer is essential to living religious life. When a woman makes vows to become a consecrated religious, it is prayer that will sustain her throughout this life. For the consecrated person, prayer is the way to return to the time she was first called. Prayer, in religious life, is the air that makes us breathe our call.
Prayer takes many forms for the religious Sister. Personal prayer can be participation in devotions, like saying the Rosary or meditation; a time to sit in the presence of God, or even a lively dialogue with God. Each woman finds a path to increase her relationship with God and that will be reflected in her personal prayer life.
My own prayer life has had many twists and turns. The way I prayed was appropriate for my needs at the time. When my husband died, his last words were, “Not now, God, I’ve been doing better.” He fought death with every fiber of his being for ten years. Even at the moment of his death, he told God what he thought. My husband felt God with him, even when he disagreed.
When I was little, I said the prayers the Sisters taught me. When we students gathered to pray the Rosary, my little voice merged with all of my classmates. In my late teens, I questioned my faith, and I did not feel the presence of God. When I married my husband, he had an abundance of faith that he shared with me. Slowly, my faith returned, but it wasn’t until he died that I felt the ever-presence of God. This is when my prayer turned to conversation. I needed to know that God would be with me while I continued to raise our daughter, alone. I needed to know that the feeling of emptiness might someday be filled. I began to explore payer. I learned to meditate. I have never felt more peaceful than I did when I began my meditation exercises.
When I entered the Novitiate, I discovered lots of prayer practices and I tried all of them. However, meditation and contemplation seemed to suit me. Then, I discovered Ignatian Spirituality. The Examen was new. This daily prayer whereby we express gratitude to God, reflect on our day and God’s presence in it, and ask for light in the future is what I was taught. As time went by, I re-phrased the Examen and made it my evening prayer. 1) For what was I grateful? 2) Where did I encounter God that day? 3) Where did I resist God that day? 4) What did I want for tomorrow. The hardest question to answer is always where I resisted God. Who wants to admit to that?
But there is one other way I love to pray. Ignatian Contemplation has you using your imagination to reflect on Scripture. This has become my morning prayer. I read that day’s Gospel passage and place myself squarely into the scene. I feel the heat or cold of the day. I smell the air around me. I notice the colors. I place myself with the other characters of the story. I, too, hear the words of Jesus. I sense the mood of the people around me. I let myself feel emotions as his words pass over me. Foremost, I am with Jesus! Maybe it’s just in my imagination, but I feel it.
The final way prayer has played a role in my life, especially in Religious life, is through communal prayer. When we gather, our collective prayer is raised. It can be at Mass with the wider community or the prayer time you spend with your lived community. Every evening, we gather in chapel, sing, recite Psalms, listen to Scripture, share our faith stories and raise prayer petitions. Not only does this nourish my own faith life, but it bolsters the entire community’s faith life.
St. Julie Billiart said we should always be turning toward God. “Look to God as the sunflower looks toward the sun for life.” This is why both you and I pray.
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