Prayer beyond words

I was 10 when it happened. I fell in love with silence.

I was looking for my own church. My mom would drop me off at places of worship for different denominations — Catholic, Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. I think I also went to the synagogue. I would attend a service and no one would talk to me or even notice I was there. One day I went to my friend’s Quaker meeting. It was a group of about six-to-eight people that met in the living room of a house. The worship service was purely an hour of silence. If someone felt lead they could speak a simple message, but a meeting that small was mostly filled with a lot of silence. At the end of the meeting, one of the men rose from his seat and started to shake hands. Then everyone shook hands, exchanging a peace, breaking the silence.

And an amazing thing happened. Adults looked me in my eyes. I felt seen. I felt recognized as a spiritual seeker. I found my spiritual home. I stayed and became quite active in the Society of Friends. I served on committees as a teenager and helped to plan a national gathering. I attended Quaker camps, a Quaker boarding school and eventually a Quaker college where I majored in religious studies. All along, I was falling in love with silence and learning to pray beyond words.

Today that continues. Silent contemplative prayer is part of my daily life. As a Catholic and a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, I am now immersed in a prayer form similar to what I discovered when I was 10.

Since August 1, 1878, FSPA has practiced the constant prayer called perpetual adoration. In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, we sit in silence and pray beyond words. We adore. We give thanks. We feel our own littleness. We find a peace in our heart that remains with us long after we rise from our seats. We bring that stillness and burning love we find in adoration into our daily lives and all we do.

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Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Sarah Hennessey, Julia Walsh, Eileen McKenzie and Linda Mershon

I have to admit; sometimes I do not want to go to my hour of adoration. Sometimes I am tired or bored. It isn’t always all sweetness and light. But that is okay. That is the practice. I get there. I settle in, and slowly I become still. Every hour is different. It is a relationship. I am spending time with my beloved. Nothing stays the same. Sometimes the hour flies by and I find I have spent the entire 60 minutes in total stillness, have not moved a bit. I might be really involved in praying for others, or start to read a prayer, get caught on a word and the whole world opens up. It is a very intimate living time that changes with each experience. Somehow it never gets old.

Thomas Merton says that “Contemplation knows God by seeming to touch him. Or rather it knows him as if it had been invisibly touched by him … Touched by him who has no hands, but who is pure reality and the source of all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the real within all that is real.”

It is this awakening that I appreciate in those moments of quiet. Here is a video in which I describe seven simple steps to practicing prayer beyond words.

May you be blessed to discover this awakening in your own life!  

 

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

Sister-Sarah-Hennessey-cake-face

Sister Sarah Hennessy is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She grew up in North Carolina as an active Quaker and became a Catholic in 2000. For her, Jesus’ Messy Business includes falling in love with Christ AND with the People of God! Her heart is on fire for the Hispanic community, poetry, singing and accompanying people through birth, death and the living that comes in between. She currently ministers as the perpetual adoration coordinator at St. Rose Convent, as a Mary of the Angels Chapel tour guide, and a volunteer at Franciscan Hospitality House.

Darkness, valleys, and quiet intimacy with God

With less daylight and more darkness nowadays, I am finding I’m starting to get in the mood for deep prayer. I tend to want to rest, savor quiet and pray more. For some reason, darkness invites me to stillness and contemplation. How is this true when Christ is the Light of the World?

"sunset through bare trees" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“sunset through bare trees” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

I am guessing that one of the reasons is that when the darkness covers the cheery light like a heavy blanket, I am pushed to face a tough truth: The God of my mountain peaks must also be the God of my valleys. (I remember one of my good friends saying this a lot when we were younger. I don’t know if there’s another source for the statement though, so if you do, please let me know.)

While I am living, God keeps teaching me great lessons. And, the lessons I’m learning all seem to fall within the same category: stay close to God. No matter what happens or what situation I am in, I desire to experience intimacy with God.  Certainly if I do, then deep joy and peace can quietly comfort me, no matter if I am surrounded by darkness or in a valley of confusion and despair. God is so good!

Plus, if we’re really standing up for the poor, vulnerable, and advocating for Jesus’ non-violence message of love, we’re likely to put our popularity on the line. Perhaps, like scripture says, we’ll even end up persecuted:

They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name. 
It will lead to your giving testimony. 
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. 
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death. 
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives. Luke 21: 12b-19

Sometimes our persecutions may not be so extreme but come out of the suffering in our lives. But with the right attitudes, faith, and supportive relationships, God can help navigate through those persecutions too.

I love this story, and how it expresses that Truth.

We need loving relationships to help us be our best selves, And, we totally got to stay close to God to get through the tough times! The perseverance, the faith, the dedication and the unconditional love shall keep us safe and living.

May God bless us and help us know God’s closeness no matter our situations! Amen!