Week 1 Encouragements & Wisdom
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E & W reflections are additional helps for your Sacred Story prayer journey. Reflect on them ahead of your prayer exercises for the week or outside of your fifteen-minute prayer windows.
What are the fifteen-minute prayer periods?
There are many ways to pray. What you are learning in Sacred Story is a very specific prayer form, modeled on St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examination of Conscience. We live in a universe of opposed spiritual forces that work on us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Ignatius’ method will awaken us spiritually to see these opposed forces at work in our own personal story—our life—and in the world. This is the purpose and value of the prayer method.
Your fifteen-minute prayer windows for weeks 1-13 are primarily designed to assist you in establishing a daily habit of taking time for these windows of prayer. But we are also using these fifteen-minute prayer times to become open to Grace. We need these times of quiet prayer so we can listen, awaken and become conscious of how these opposed spiritual forces manifest themselves in that unique, unrepeatable human universe that is the story of my life. We want to allow God to reveal the goodness in our story up to this point in our lives. And we want God to reveal the patterns and habits that rob us of life. Our second goal for these first thirteen weeks is to receive a fresh start to our life story, by experiencing God’s healing graces in a confession of our whole history.
How should the fifteen-minute periods be used in weeks 1-13?
Do all the reading and reflection exercises for each week in the fifteen minute prayer widows. You may or may not finish them, but that is fine. Do what you can. Ask God to inspire you as you read to “see” and “hear” what is important to see and hear in the readings. Don’t fret with things that are not clear.
Should I change the length of prayer based on my moods?
St Ignatius has given wise advice when he says we should not decrease or increase the time of our prayer periods. Some days, when things are easy, you may want to go 30 minutes. Other days, when things are tough, you may want to do only 3 minutes. This shifting of times, based on your moods, will begin to significantly erode your daily spiritual practice and your daily commitment.
Does this rule of holding fast to the fifteen-minutes ALWAYS apply? There is one occasion when it does not. St. Ignatius said if you are upset, not peaceful or agitated, extend a prayer period by 1 minute. This discipline of extending a prayer period by one minute, during difficult times works powerfully to counteract the negative forces that trouble our hearts, and can often break the spell they hold over us.
Is it better to pray once or twice a day?
The best is what you can do DAILY. It is the daily ritual that is most important. My research demonstrates that those who pray twice daily are generally more faithful to daily prayer, than those who committed to once-daily prayer.
Why is that? A possible explanation is that when I have selected to pray only once a day, schedules, fatigue, unexpected events etc. can easily derail the one time a day I scheduled. If I have selected to pray twice daily, chances are that I will be faithful to at least of one of the periods of prayer. This is why I think those who select twice daily are generally more faithful to a daily discipline. Myself, I pray twice daily: once after lunch, and once in the evening before bed.
If I miss my “fifteen minutes” many days in a row, should I call it quits?
St. Ignatius wrote this to a layman, Jerome Vines, as practical advice on prayer: “Do what you can, calmly and gently. Do not be disturbed about the rest, but leave to God’s providence what you cannot manage yourself. God is well pleased with the earnestness and moderate anxiety with which we attend to our obligations, but He is not pleased with the anxiety which afflicts the soul, because He wishes our limitations and weakness to seek the support of His strength and omnipotence, with the trust that in His goodness, He will supply what is lacking to our weakness and shortcomings. Do not wear yourself out, but make a competent and sufficient effort, and leave the rest to Him who can do all he pleases.”1
So Ignatius tells us: just keep trying; do your best; don’t give up, and ask God to help you accomplish what you cannot do on your own. Simple!
How do I know if I am praying the “right” way?
I have intentionally been a bit unstructured with these early fifteen-minute prayer periods. I want you to find the time and locations for the prayer first. Gradually, I will introduce the structure that can carry you through the prayer.
Don’t be anxious about if you are doing it “right.” Are you thinking of God and trying to open your heart to God? Have you been trying to draw fruit from the readings? That is enough. Try not to overanalyze. Prayer, in all its forms, is a relationship between you and God, not a rigid, mechanistic process.
Just get those windows of prayer set in your day and we will gradually give them ritual shape to help you in your relationship with God who is absolutely delighted you are trying your best to open your heart in prayer.
What is the best time(s) of day for the 15-minute prayer?
During the initial 13 weeks of the year, it is less important when you do the prayer periods and more important to be faithful to some regular discipline. When we start learning the structure of the Ignatian prayer discipline after week 14, I will suggest times that help you look back over part or all of your day.
The Sacred Story prayer discipline is a “review” prayer geared to “listening backwards” in the day for the spiritual movements that were most significant. So, either mid-day and/or after dinner or before bed might be ideal. St. Ignatius suggests this prayer after the mid-day meal and after the evening meal. I do it after lunch and just before bed.
What if readings/prayers make me angry, guilty or feel manipulated?
Here is a short story: A friend recently was complaining how their friend always promised to do things for them, but then never followed through. My friend was REALLY upset by this friend of theirs who ALWAYS did this. They wanted me to affirm their anger, and then to get angry with them at their friend.
Instead I suggested they try to figure out why their friend’s behavior was so upsetting and anger inducing. They looked up and said: “Oh my goodness, I know exactly why! My dad was an alcoholic and when I was little, he always promised me things, and then forgot to do them when he drank. I don’t think I have ever forgiven him.”
It is fine if you get angry, guilty or feel manipulated. Just don’t waste the opportunity of the anger, guilt or feelings of manipulation! Set aside the drama of the feelings for the time being and ask yourself and God: “Why does this make me feel this way?” God will inspire you just like God inspired my friend, and you may then find yourself in a completely new place in your prayer exercises—and in your life.
What if I need something visual to help me pray?
Perfect! Get a picture of Christ and place it in front of you. Hold a crucifix or a Rosary in your hand. Find a picture of St. Ignatius you like and put it in your place of prayer. Take an image from one of the readings and visualize it in your imagination. Imagine yourself in your favorite church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We are embodied spirits and the sense of touch, taste, sight, smell are part of our spiritual character as well. Do what best helps you enter into a sacred place with God in your heart. Give yourself permission. Just remember though, this form of prayer is about attentiveness to spiritual dynamics. Use what you find helpful to aid you in cultivating “spiritual radar”, to listen to your heart.
What if it is better for me to read material first and then take what I have read to prayer?
Terrific! Everyone is in a different place in his or her life and should find the best form of digesting the readings and materials for prayer.
What is the Whole-Life Survey© (WLS©)?
The WLS© is an assessment tool that some parish communities who do the Forty Weeks prayer journey take at the beginning of the process. We will refer to it occasionally throughout the E&W’s because these supplemental lessons and advice were created with the help of feedback from parish communities who took the WLS©. Your pastor and/or your pastoral leader can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in this service of SSI. Currently, we do not offer the WLS to individuals using Forty Weeks for personal spiritual renewal.
Keep on going forward, just keeping moving forward with the practice.
You never know what gifts may await.
1 William J. Young, S.J., Letters of St. Ignatius Loyola (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1959), p. 404-5.