Hands open, ready to receive what God places in them
It is in the spirit of gratitude that I have invited my sisters to collaborate with me in this new series featuring original prayer by FSPA — Franciscan Way — as we celebrate our 140th year of round-the-clock prayer, perpetual adoration. The tradition of perpetual adoration has taught us many things; most of all that prayer has the power to transform our hearts. We become more like Jesus in what may appear to be silence but, just below the surface, is a world of intimate conversation and reverent listening.
We all pray in different ways. Sometimes prayer is communal and has a rhythm and flow to it; praying as an assembly at Mass, the liturgy of the hours or the rosary, and in other ways is spontaneous; a creative pouring forth of adoration like an overflowing faucet from the depths of one’s soul, finding expression in clay, paint, poetry, song or journaling. Prayer is not a one-size-fits-all experience: different pathways to prayer have the capacity to draw us closer to God in our own unique way.
New ways to pray can be exciting for me, yet sometimes resting in the familiar words of the psalms or a prayer learned by heart refreshes my soul. I also engage in prayer while shaping clay on my potter’s wheel or expressing myself in some other artistic endeavor. I am grateful for all the ways I am inspired to pray.
The image of prayer that comes to me is one of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-13), each person hearing God in their own language. Their reactions are surprise and pure joy as they realize comprehension is happening in that moment.
Have you experienced breakthroughs like this — feeling heard, listened to? Are you simultaneously trying to recall the conditions that helped you attain comprehension?
A turning point came for me years ago when I was just beginning to discern religious life and desperately seeking a sign: proof that one way to pray or the other was right for my life. A wise, elder sister I knew challenged me, questioning "How are you listening?" Her words consumed my heart. She told me to go home, sit in my favorite prayer space, close my eyes and posture myself in a position of receiving by opening the palms of my hands—ready for what God would place in them. “It may take time, but wait for what you hear.” Doubtful, I went home and did just that. The answer I was seeking took months but the practice has become my pearl of great price ... my own treasure buried in a field (Matthew 13: 44-48).
Since then, I’ve discovered that even in conversation with others, I need to listen more than I speak. This is not my natural inclination as an extrovert who loves to talk; characteristically sharing my opinion without hesitation. I used to approach prayer the same way ... talk, talk, talk… thanks God for the chat … goodbye. Then I'd move on with my to-do list. Now I know that extreme chattiness can signal my stubbornness and resistance to listen.
I have also learned in prayer to listen for council which, for me, means refraining from formulating an imagined response to a thought God has not yet spoken. Council also means that we make decisions together. I routinely sought council from family and friends, considering their thoughts in my decisions. But not always from God. I kept showing up to prayer and metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears and complaining to others how God wasn't talking. But as I took in the advice I’d received those years ago I realized that the Holy Spirit is really good at getting my attention and inviting me to contemplation. It is powerful to sit in attentive silence — a practice I have incorporated into my life.
And so I ask you the same question I once received: how do you listen? How do you pray? What avenues to communication have you discovered in your journey? What would you like to share with your peers traveling the road of discernment?
Franciscan Way is a series featuring original prayer by Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.