Welcome to Integritas

An Introducion to Methods of Prayer

Introduction

During the Wednesday evenings of Christian meditation and contemplative prayer which have been held here since 2001, a series of exercises have been used so as to introduce different methods of prayer in the Christian tradition. These exercises are comprised in this booklet and number ten in total. They develop basic skills in prayer and are preparatory to the use of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola during these Wednesday evenings of prayer. These exercises have been prepared through the guidance of Peter Hannan SJ and further explanation of them can be found in his book‘Only if you wrestle’ (The Columba Press, 2002). The different methods of prayer are explored in these exercises in the following manner :-

Exercise One...

This first exercise introduces the way of praying commonly known as centering prayer. This method of prayer quietens the body through focusing on the breath and then on any areas of discomfort. Once the body is relaxed while being alert, a prayer word or mantra is then introduced so as to quieten the mind and to allow one’s being to become centred upon God. The practice of Christian meditation led by John Main has made this way of prayer very popular and suggests the sacred word of ‘Maranatha’ for centering prayer.

Exercise Two...

The second exercise sets out a way of praying with each of the persons of the Trinity. By reflecting upon images which we have of each of the persons of the Trinity, it allows one to develop a personal sense of how one uniquely relates to each of these persons. The practice of this exercise also ensures that one’s prayer life is rooted in a Christian context and in the mystery of God as revealed through Christian faith.

Exercise Three to Six...

The third, fourth, fifth and sixth exercises focus upon ways of praying with the sensate, emotional, intuitive and convictional dimensions of our being respectively. All of these dimensions of our person need to be honoured and employed if we are to become fully involved in prayer. Each of these exercises in prayer focuses separately on these dimensions of the human person so that one’s entire being gradually becomes involved and integrated in one’s prayer life.

Exercise Seven

The seventh exercise focuses upon the role of the imagination in prayer. This exercise introduces the use of fantasy in prayer which is an essential element of what is termed the Ignatian method of prayer, arising from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius encouraged the use of the imagination as a way of entering more deeply into the mystery of God’s presence in our lives and in all things. This exercise gives an introduction as to how fantasy can help us to experience the reality of the relationship with God in our lives.

Exercise Eight

This exercise introduces the basic practice of listening and responding in prayer. St. Augustine described this way of praying as conversation with God. This practice then became central to the way of prayer commonly known as the Benedictine method of prayer and developed through the practice of lectio divina or ‘sacred reading’. This exercise concentrates upon the essential skill of prayer as conversation which is to listen to what is being said to you from the piece of scripture and then to honestly respond to this revelation.

Exercise Nine and Ten

These exercises concentrate on reflecting upon one’s experience of prayer so that one fully appropriates what is being revealed. Exercise nine introduces the practice ofreflection upon the experience which one has in prayer. Exercise ten develops the importance of repetition of what has been revealed so that one gains a deeper sense of the glimpse of the love of God that may arise from a period of prayer.

Exercise One – Centering Prayer

1. Sit in a chair or use a prayer stool for this period of prayer. If you are using a chair, place a cushion under your feet, if necessary, so as to ensure that both of your feet are placed firmly. Allow your lower back to be curved inwards, if possible, so that your back is as upright as it can be comfortably be.

2. Become aware of your breath. Notice how your breath is but do not try to change it. Simply become increasingly aware of your breath, while fully accepting it as it is. See if you can develop a sense that you are not so much breathing as being breathed.

3. Become aware of any part of your body in which there is tension or strain. Adjust your position or the area where there is tension so as to make this part of your body more comfortable. If the pain remains, become aware of the tense area with each inhalation. With each exhalation, allow the breath to ease the tension in this area.

4. Choose or create a word or phrase that is sacred for you and repeat it so as to focus the attention of your mind and heart. Allow the word or phrase to be in the rhythm of your breath, so that part of it is said with the inhalation and the remaining part with the exhalation

Exercise One – Centering Prayer (continued)

This practice disposes you to listen and assume the basic stance of the Christian when entering prayer with the Father, with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit. (Ex 33:11, Lk 9:35, Lk 10:39, Jn 16:13)

Exercise Two – Prayer to the Trinity

Our desire to pray is a manifestation of the hunger we are for the love of God. It is a hunger which the three persons of the Trinity wish to satisfy by making themselves known to each one of us. The fundamental purpose of prayer is to build up and to maintain the relationship which the persons of the Trinity initiate by revealing themselves to us. We enter this relationship when we listen and respond in prayer to the Father’s self-revelation as love, to how Jesus expresses this in human terms and to the intimate knowledge the Spirit gives us of it.

Exercise Two – Prayer to the Trinity (continued)

Listening and responding to their love in prayer has a profound effect on all our relationships for it initiates a new way of seeing ourselves, others and the whole of creation. What we need to make space for in our lives is to foster the relationships which form the basis of our inner world. The most important of these relationships is that which is initiated by the persons of the Trinity when they reveal themselves to us. The aim of the following exercise is to become more familiar with each of the persons of the Trinity. The following exercise is a way of praying to … {the Father/Jesus/the Spirit} … the … {first/second/third person} … of the Trinity.

Exercise Two – Prayer to the Trinity (continued)

1. Choose an image or a name that you warm to for … {the Father/Jesus/the Holy Spirit} … the … {first/second/third person} … of the Trinity. This image could come from scripture such as … {insert a line or story from scripture} … or be a name, like … {insert suggested names}.

Exercise Two – Prayer to the Trinity (continued)

2. Spend time with … {the Father/Jesus/the Spirit} … and with the image or name which you have found for this person. What does it call up for you from your own experience? Does it call up a relationship with someone that you have?

3. Notice and express any feelings that this experience awakens. Do you feel joyful or consoled with the image or name that you have chosen? Do you notice any resistance to this image or name? Say any feelings of resistance that you may have.

4. What has been revealed to you by this image or name? Is it more real for you now?

Exercise Three – Praying with the senses

We tend to keep our personal experience and our experience of the Bible in two separate compartments. When the two are not integrated, they both suffer. Our experience of the Bible tends to become unreal, irrelevant and somewhat abnormal when it is not related to our personal experience. Similarly, when our personal experience is not referring to our experience of scripture, it loses its true significance. Over the coming months we will be seeking to marry these two kinds of experience in the exercises during the evenings of meditation and prayer.

Our personal experience operates at four levels, being sensate, emotional, intuitive and convictional. In the present exercise we will begin at the sensate level. This is the level of recalling the sensate details of an incident in our story. The exercise begins by recalling what we saw and what we heard. It attempts to taste the atmosphere this leads to and even enter into the story by touching or being touched by the main person in it. We may not be able to get beyond what we see and what we hear at first but with time, we may be able to savour or taste the atmosphere and allow ourselves to touch or be touched by the people involved in the story. In the final step of the exercise, we will look at a gospel story and experience it at this sensate level. We are not looking for the meaning or the message of the gospel story but rather to experience it at this level.

Exercise Three – Praying with the senses (continued)

1. Begin by recalling an incident when someone acted in a really loving way towards you by being … {insert the loving characteristic which is exemplified by Jesus in the Gospel passage which has been read}.

2. Go through what you experienced in this incident. Become aware of the place where this happened. Remember who was there, what was said and what was done.

3. Now allow yourself to become involved with the main person in the story by touching or being touched by him or her. This may simply be a gesture or something more, through which something important was communicated.

4. Now recall again the story from the Gospel passage which has been read. Notice the place where the story is set, who is there and especially the presence of Jesus in the story. Listen to what is said and watch what happens. Enter the scene by exchanging some gesture involving touch. Allow yourself time to savour the atmosphere all this creates.

Exercise Four – Becoming emotionally literate

What is negative in our experience has a tendency to colour the way we see and feel about ourselves. If positive feelings are to flourish, we need to work with the negative ones. Otherwise, they tend to dominate our experience and colour the way we see ourselves. It is even more important to cultivate positive feelings.

Feelings are central to how we receive and return the love of God. They are at the heart of the love which the Spirit gives us as a gift. By noticing, naming and sharing our feelings, we deepen and extend the range of our positive ones and free ourselves from those which are negative. If we cultivate our positive feelings in this way, they will be intensified by being expressed and the range of feeling that we are sensitive to will be extended. We will experience a similar beneficial effect if instead of trying to bury our negative feelings we also notice, name and share them. We will be freed from the way they tend to dominate and deaden our relationships.

Exercise Four – Becoming emotionally literate (continued)

1. Bring before your mind the story from the Gospel passage which has been read. Notice the place where the story is set, who is there and especially the presence of Jesus in the story. Listen to what is said and watch what happens.

2. Notice how you feel as you recall this story and see Jesus relating with … {insert the person in the story}. You will notice two kinds of feelings, positive feelings and ones of resistance ... (insert examples of these feelings which may arise from the gospel passage which has been read}.

3. Take a positive feeling that you have. After dwelling with it, put words on it and then share it with Jesus.

4. Now take a feeling of resistance that you have had. It may arise from the story in the Gospel or from doing this exercise. Put words on it also and share it with Jesus.

Exercise Four – Becoming emotionally literate (continued)

5. Spend some time noticing how you feel as a result of sharing your feelings with Jesus. Does this sharing cause you to feel closer to Him? Talk to Jesus about this.

Exercise Five – Catching glimpses of the love of Jesus

Intuitive glimpses of being loved and loving are central to the story of how the Spirit leads us ‘into all truth’. (Jn. 16 : 13) We can find these glimpses in our interactions with others. We are also called to see these glimpses of the love of God in the gospel stories of Jesus. If we are to be nourished by these fleeting glimpses of the love of God which the Spirit leads us into, we must notice and articulate them in a creative, personal and factual way. By doing so, they are converted into convictions.

Exercise Five – Catching glimpses of the love of Jesus

One way of capturing these glimpses of God’s love is to cultivate the art of expressing them in a brief mantra-like statement. For this statement to be really effective, it needs to have these three characteristics. The words used need to be challenging in that they arecreative or imaginative. They need to be addressed to us personally using our name and they also need to be factual or statements of fact rather than just an idea we think about. If we repeat this statement, as we would a mantra, it challenges us to change the way we see ourselves and enables us to move closer to believing in the truth which it expresses.

1. Bring before your mind the story from the Gospel passage which has been read. Notice the place where the story is set, listen to what is said and watch how Jesus is being loving to … {insert the name/description of the person to whom Jesus is being loving in this story}.

2. Ask yourself what is this story saying about the way He loves, treats or relates with …{the name/description of the person} …? What in effect is Jesus saying to … {the name/description of the person} … in this story?

Exercise Five – Catching glimpses of the love of Jesus (Continued)

3. Try to let the words of your answer be as creative as possible. The words you have chosen may be obvious or banal. Change them if necessary so that they engage your imagination and your feelings when Jesus says them.

4. Now try to let the words you select be personal to you. It is important to hear these words of Jesus face to face, so that He is saying them directly to you. One way of doing this is by adding your own name when Jesus speaks to you.

5. Now finally, change the words, if necessary, so that they are factual. The words are not meant to convey an idea but rather let Jesus say to you plainly and factually this way that He loves you.

Exercise Six – Developing the conviction of being loved

The most effective way to reach the conviction that we are loved is by listening and responding to the evidence of it which we receive from the other levels of our experience, being the sensate, feeling and intuitive levels of experience. To be convinced that we are loved, however, is so much more that just to sense, feel or glimpse it. The climax of these other three levels at which we experience love is the conviction that we are loved.

In this exercise we focus on this fourth and deepest level at which we experience love, the level at which we learn to believe that we are loved. Learning to believe this involves developing a way of converting the glimpses of love we are given into convictions. This is what Jesus invites us to do when He calls us to ‘repent and believe the good news’ that we are loved and cared for by God. Developing this conviction, which faith is, involves letting go of all the illusions about ourselves that make it difficult or impossible for Jesus to convince us that we are loved.

Exercise Six – Developing the conviction of being loved (continued)

1. Bring before your mind the story from the Gospel passage which has been read. Notice the place where the story is set, listen to what is said and watch how Jesus is being loving to … {insert the name/description of the person(s) to whom Jesus is being loving in this story}.

2. Ask yourself what is the central message that Jesus conveys in the way He treats…{the name/description of the person(s)} …? What is the essential truth that Jesus reveals to … {the name/description of the person(s)} … in this story?

3. As you dwell with the truth that Jesus stands for in this story, notice how you feel about Him. Does He provoke positive feelings in you or does He evoke feelings of resistance? Try to place a word or words on the feelings which you have about Him.

Exercise Six – Developing the conviction of being loved (continued)

4. Let Jesus speak to you about the truth that He is standing for in this story. Listen to what He thinks and how He feels about this truth.

5. Now, finally, say to Jesus what is your reaction to what He says about this truth. Tell Him what you think or feel about what He has said to you.

Exercise Seven – The role of our imagination in prayer

Our involvement in the Word of God benefits greatly from the experience our imagination gives us access to. The use of fantasy opens up areas of experience which scripture can then speak to in an engaging way. While our memory can open us to a personal experience of being loved, our imagination enables us to enter a more universal experience of how the love of God is revealed to us.

Exercise Seven – The role of our imagination in prayer (continued)

In this exercise, we use our imagination to focus on our relationship with God the Father. We begin to examine this relationship by discerning with the help of our imagination how we relate with the Father. We seek to discern whether the way we see and feel about God is healthy or unhealthy. Is God masculine and feminine for me? Is God at least as good as the best person I know?

We will judge this on the basis of the images and feelings that surface when we tell the story of this relationship and when we enter into a fantasy in which the Father is involved. We inherit a lot of ideas, images and feelings about God which we change, consolidate or add to as we go through life. Some of these ideas and images are true and are accompanied by positive feelings, while others are false and are accompanied by negative feelings. If we imagine God as demanding, critical or judgmental, these images will cause anxiety, fear or guilt. Jesus urges us to ‘repent’ or change the distorted way we see and feel about God and to cultivate belief in healthy images of God and the consoling feelings these give rise to.

Exercise Seven – The role of our imagination in prayer (continued)

1. Bring before your mind the reading from … {insert the source of the reading} …which has been read. Recall how God is portrayed in this reading. What image of God is given in this reading?

2. As you dwell with how God is portrayed in this reading, notice how you feel about this. Does this portrayal of God provoke positive feelings in you or does it evoke feelings of resistance? Try to place a word or words on the feelings which you have.

3. Ask yourself, what aspect of God’s love do I get a glimpse of from this reading? Try to put words on what God is revealing of Himself or Herself in this reading.

4. Now, finally, in fantasy, let God say these words to you a number of times. After you have listened to these words repeatedly, take time to say how you feel about the experience of this prayer.

Exercise Eight – The practice of listening and responding

The divorce of the Word of God from our personal experience and from universal experience means that the Word has become unreal and irrelevant. Our personal experience and the universal experience of our culture have also lost their meaning as a consequence of this. To unite the Word and our personal and universal experience again, we need to initiate a dialogue or a conversational form of prayer in which we listen rather than think, hear ‘good news’ rather than ‘good advice’ and respond honestly to what we have listened to. In this exercise we will look at how the three persons of the Trinity want to reveal themselves to us in the Word of God. They want to address their Word to our personal and universal experience to make sure that what they say to us is real and that it involves not just our mind but our whole person.

1. Bring before your mind the passage from scripture which has just been read. What aspect of God’s love does this passage highlight for you?

2. Express in your own words what … {The Father/Jesus/The Spirit} …is saying to…{insert the name(s) of the relevant person(s) …} in this passage. The more personal, creative, concrete and challenging these words are the better.

3. Let … {The Father/Jesus/The Spirit} … say these words to you using your own name.

4. Say how you feel about … {The Father/Jesus/The Spirit}… saying this to you. You may need to say your feelings of resistance as well as your positive feelings.

5. Speak to the Father, to Jesus and to the Spirit in turn about what you realised or how you have felt during this prayer.

Exercise Eight – The practice of listening and responding (Continued)

3. Let … {The Father/Jesus/The Spirit} … say these words to you using your own name.

4. Say how you feel about … {The Father/Jesus/The Spirit}… saying this to you. You may need to say your feelings of resistance as well as your positive feelings.

5. Speak to the Father, to Jesus and to the Spirit in turn about what you realised or how you have felt during this prayer.

Exercise Nine – Cultivating the ability to reflect on one’s prayer

The aim of reflection is to become more sensitive and responsive to the enlightenment and attraction of the Spirit. In reflection, we notice the ways we are enlightened and attracted in prayer, articulate this to clarify and understand it and then take responsibility for assimilating it by responding and making our own of this love.

Reflection therefore entails noticing, naming and responding to the signs of the Spirit “leading us into all the truth” into the love of the Father that Jesus puts in human terms. Reflection means becoming sensitive and responsive to the way God’s self-disclosure takes place especially when we pray. This self-disclosure takes the form o an enlightenment we are invited to become sensitive to and an attraction we are drawn to respond to.

1. Do a period of prayer from one of the earlier exercises from three to eight inclusive. Try to remember that your focus in prayer and in this reflection is the way that God or Jesus loves or looks at you lovingly, rather than the meaning or implications of the piece of scripture you have chosen to pray with.

Exercise Nine – Cultivating the ability to reflect on one’s prayer (Continued)

2. To become aware of the way the Spirit enlightens your mind and attracts your heart, notice a word or phrase that struck you as you prayed, a glimpse of the way God, Jesus or someone significant in your life looks at you. Notice what you make space for or give your attention to as you pray, what attracts you or what you resist (e.g. the way you see Jesus looking at you may seem unreal or be too good to be true).

3. Name, articulate or put words on what you have noticed. This will involve writing down a word or phrase either immediately after the prayer or during it. If you prefer to do this during the prayer, it will not distract you, as it will help you clarify what the Spirit is bringing to your attention and make you more focused in prayer. This brief record of where you are being led by the Spirit in prayer is important as it gives you a sense of where you are being led. (Jn 16:13-15)

4. The third stage of reflection is a response you feel drawn to make to the attractiveness of the love which the Spirit has led you to see. The effect of this attraction is that you want to savour and assimilate this love by dwelling with what the Spirit has opened up for you and this is addressed in the next exercise.

Exercise Ten – Savouring and assimilating ongoing revelation

The Spirit will only be able to teach us if we remain long enough with what we are being invited to assimilate. The bit of revelation that the Spirit finds us ready to listen to and make our own of will be indicated to us by the areas of enlightenment and attraction that emerge when we reflect on our prayer.

Repetition is a key way of assimilating the light we receive but it takes time and effort to do this. The change of mind and heart that God’s revelation calls for is not achieved by a single exposure to the truth but by repeatedly coming back to the area of enlightenment that the Spirit has opened for us.

1. This exercise is best done over a number of days during which you use the same subject matter for your prayer. As you do this exercise repeatedly, you will find that you need less material and that your approach to it becomes more contemplative and affective.

Exercise Ten – Savouring and assimilating ongoing revelation (continued)

2. Having undergone the process of reflection outlined in exercise nine, return to the insight or theme that is emerging for you in prayer. What you need to repeat will be determined by what has emerged as being important for you when you reflect on your prayer. You are also called to repeat material that you know is important for you even though you may resist returning to it. You may also find it worthwhile returning to some important point that resisted your efforts to grasp it

3. If you wish to savour and assimilate what attracts you in prayer, you need to develop your capacity to remain focused upon it. To help your concentration, keep in touch with the scene in the gospel where you got the enlightenment and with any personal experience that makes what you have seen real for you. Keep to hand as well any image you associate with what you are focusing on and express any feeling aroused by all of this.

Exercise Ten – Savouring and assimilating ongoing revelation (continued)

4. When you still your mind in an effort to focus on a small part of your experience, you leave yourself open to more distractions than usual. Handling these in a constructive way will involve learning to see them as an invitation to live with the reality of your human limitations. If you respond to your distractions by accepting them as a part of your human limitations or what Jesus calls ‘poverty of spirit’, then they can become a source of the contentment or joy that Jesus says belongs to those who adopt this attitude to life.

Integritas

currently seeks to honour their priorities by developing the following nine initiatives :