Like many of you, I find that January is a good time to review the past year, notice hopes and desires that might be stirring, and make some choices about where I want to refocus my energy. Over time I’ve become more intentional about including Jesus in this review, turning to forms of prayer that bear good spiritual fruit for me. Through colloquy and visio divina, I explored some metaphors that shed light on Christ’s shared desires for my prayer life this year.
One of the gifts of Ignatian prayer is an encouragement to engage in conversation with Jesus in a form of prayer called colloquy, “as a friend talks to a friend.” We trust that the thoughts and feelings arising during prayer are part of a dialogue between dear friends. As my relationship has deepened, conversations with Jesus have become more like those I have with people closest to me: those I listen to with my heart and who listen to me with theirs; those I allow myself to be vulnerable with and them with me; women and men who are mutually supportive when we struggle and celebratory when we succeed.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a 1000 words, so sometimes when I have a question I’m pondering I engage in a form of visio divina for prayer-conversation with Jesus. I choose pictures, either prints of my own or use a random picture generator, to suggest images as metaphors that can “speak” a response to my question. Playing with these metaphors helps lead me to insights.
Authors, psalmists, poets, and songwriters use metaphors to convey multiple meanings simultaneously. As a figure of speech they connect seemingly unrelated ideas. For instance, Mary Oliver’s “Starlings in Winter” uses an image of “acrobats/ in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,/ dipping and rising.” Oliver leads us through her poem connecting the sight of black birds in flight to her experience of “grief, and of getting past it.”
Turning to visual metaphors, I asked Jesus, “What are your hopes for my prayer life this year?” and randomly chose some of my own photos. As I reflected with each picture, I asked Jesus and myself, “What are we looking at? What else do you/I see? What details do we notice?” Then “In what ways is this image like prayer life? Why do you/I say that?” capturing notes in my journal. Here are some highlights of what I saw and “heard” during prayer:
- Sunsets and sunrises revealed an invitation to be as intentional in prayer at the end of the day as I am at the beginning. I recalled from Genesis: “evening came, morning followed…and God saw that it was good.” This connection felt like a hope-filled invitation that I take time to notice how each day has been part of a new creation with, in, and through Christ.
- A gothic church with soaring wood vaults, a rose window warming cool green granite walls with rainbow-hued medallions, and the sun blazing a shaft of light into the sanctuary offered Jesus’ hope to continue to see me in church during parish adoration on Tuesdays while soup kitchen volunteers gather in the undercroft to prepare a meal for evening guests. In a second interpretation, this image also felt like encouragement to share Christ’s word with others as I prepare through prayer to facilitate retreats and other programs.
- I was moved by a picture of my mother in a sight-seeing gondola smiling as we ascended taking in dramatic views of the Tetons. Her presence felt like Christ reminding me to pray with my communion of S/saints, conversing with her and other loved ones in prayer.
- Tree-lined mountain streams recalling past 8-day retreats reminded me that between the pandemic and my mother’s illness and death it’s been awhile since Jesus and I shared that kind of experience. I felt Christ’s invitation to find a time and place to once again sink my roots into life-giving waters with him in the coming year.
What was also helpful for me to notice is that while my prayer and Christ’s hopes are leading to action, in many ways they are less about doing something new and more about a shared desire for being together, companions through the ups and downs of everyday life. What might be Christ’s hopes for your prayer life this coming year?
There are many opportunities for Ignatian-inspired retreats around the country. Explore a Jesuit Retreat Center in your area, or check with your church or local diocese for suggestions.
Photo by Jamieson Gordon on Unsplash