Ever feel like the quality of your prayer is a bit off? When my regular practice starts feeling dry or stale, or like I’m just going through the motions, I find it helpful to revisit some of St. Ignatius’ “Additional Directions” that he proposes “to help one to go through the exercises better and find more readily what [the one praying] desires.” (SpExx. #73-77)
What am I listening for? Am I clear about the grace I seek?
Throughout the Exercises, St. Ignatius encourages us to set our intentions before praying, offering specific instructions for meditations and contemplations, including naming the grace, insight or emotion I seek. This practice provides helpful grounding before turning to scripture or spiritual writings, or before turning out the lights at night.
Where is a good place for listening? Where will I go to pray?
Whether you are a morning or evening pray-er, take a moment to consider, or reconsider, where you pray. For me, having a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair where I can see outside helps signal my body, heart, and soul that it’s prayer time. When I’m feeling dislocated by unexpected events, unsettling changes, or the first night in a new place, I’ve learned to figure out before going to bed where to find (or brew) that first cup and where I’ll carry it to pray.
Who am I listening to? Am I bringing my full attention?
The direction I most overlook is to pause “for the space of an Our Father… and with my mind raised on high, consider that God our Lord beholds me, etc.” (SpExx #75) I confess that recently God our Lord has beheld me caught up in a different kind of “etcetera” – checking out the weather forecast, or Facebook feed, or morning news-site briefing. I’m most likely to get sidetracked on the way to prayer when I forgo the print version of my daily prayer guide and use the phone app instead. Note to self: leave the phone beyond arm’s reach.
Would praying somewhere else help my listening?
I take St. Ignatius’ inclusion of “etcetera” here and elsewhere in the Exercises to mean “be flexible,” keep doing what works for as long as it continues to bear fruit, and if it doesn’t try something else. (SpExx #76-77). For instance, the places I pray at home vary from season to season. In summer you might find me with feet propped up on the balcony railing watching waves colored apricot by sunrise roll into the beach, or taking a to-go cup down to the water’s edge. Spring and fall I ponder the changing color of treetops in the park from the recliner in my bedroom, while during Advent and Christmas I’m drawn to curl up in the dark on the couch before the lighted tree.
Or might something else help facilitate prayer?
Most of the time I’m comfortable sitting in silence. Other times I find it helpful to begin or end with music. Occasionally I’ll pick a picture from my photo collection or draw, allowing images to help put words to feelings. Other times I might go for a walk instead of sitting still, attending to sights and sounds around me.
How is your prayer these days?
I encourage you to review your own prayer practices.
- Reconsider the time and place.
- Become intentional about naming your needs and desires.
- Remember to behold God beholding you.
- Minimize distractions.
- Be flexible with where, when, and how.
And as you listen more deeply for The Word in prayer, receive with a grateful heart The One who is our daily bread given to us to share for the life of the world.
- Review Vinita Hampton Wright’s helpful checklist of 5 ways to create a good prayer space.
- Ponder Anthony de Mello, SJ’s famous quote: Behold God beholding you, and smiling.
- Listen to Myron Walker’s recording of Taste and See, a hymn based on Psalm 34 by James E. Moore.
Photo by kira auf der heide on unsplash.com