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.

four-women-in-chapel
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.

Quaker lessons for a Catholic girl

I grew up as a Quaker in North Carolina. Now I am a Franciscan Sister in Wisconsin. You may think I have traded hush puppies for cheese curds and simple silence for complicated ritual. But actually I find God constantly holding me in love and light through them both. For me, there is more in common between these two paths than difference.

Especially now as we enter Advent, some particular Quaker sayings speak to me on how to prepare for the Christmas event of the coming of Christ.

hands-candle-flame

QUAKER WISDOM:

Speak only if the words improve upon the silence

The Quaker (officially the Society of Friends) meeting I grew up in was unprogrammed, meaning that our worship service was an hour of silence. During that silence if you felt a “leading” you could speak. Maybe you would share an insight you had that week, a thought on a piece of Scripture, or even sing a song. In any case, there should be a deep prompting that the words you are going to say are worth breaking the holy silence we are all gathered in.

This seems to me a good habit for every day, but especially for Advent. Have I gotten lost already in the Christmas season or am I silently preparing in expectant waiting? Am I speaking from my heart, from a deeper sense of life-giving hope?

I’ll hold you in the Light
Currently, I have a prayer ministry as the coordinator of prayer intentions at our convent. When I was a Quaker, instead of “I’ll pray for you,” it was more common to hear my Quaker friends quickly say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” They are referring to that Light of Christ that shines in everyone, the unifying communion of God’s love that is always ready to hold us. In the Light, we can see our gifts and our struggles more clearly. In the Light, we are not alone. In the Light, I am completely known as I am.

My heart is always touched deeply by this phrase of love and concern. The term of “holding” signifies to me more than a fleeting prayer. My friend will hold me, sustain me, and even join me in that Light that unites us all. This phrase reminds me that Advent is a time of communal retreat. It’s not something we do alone. The people of faith are preparing for the coming of Christ and together we are united.

That all flesh should keep silence
So, why sit in silence and wait? The foundation of Quakerism is that God communicates directly with each and every person. The Inner Light is within us all. The noise and clutter of the world get in the way. But silence clears a path. For me, personally, sometimes sitting in the silence was also like sitting in the dark. I never knew what was going to come next. I let go of my own expectations, even of my own words, and simply waited. As one Friend states:

The one cornerstone of belief upon which the Society of Friends is built is the conviction that God does indeed communicate with each one of the spirits He has made, in a direct and living inbreathing of some measure of the breath of His own Life; that He never leaves Himself without a witness in the heart as well as in the surroundings of man; that the measure of light, life, or grace thus given increases by obedience; and that in order clearly to hear the Divine voice speaking within us we need to be still; to be alone with Him, in the secret place of His Presence; that all flesh should keep silence before Him. ~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909

I love this! God leaves both “a witness in the heart” as well as in our “surroundings.” As we enter Advent, am I both seeking within and without to see God’s love made visible? Advent as preparation is both about waiting and about seeking at the same time. We know the Light is coming, and the darkness helps us hunger for it more.

“And then, O then, there was one, even Christ Jesus who could speak to thy condition.”

george-fox
George Fox

This is the quintessential Quaker quote that started a movement. George Fox, who founded the Quakers, was an avid seeker. From his journal he records how he traveled around asking questions both of priests and Protestant pastors, but no one seemed to help him. But then, with great joy he heard a voice which told him that Christ Jesus “could speak to thy condition.” God communicated directly. From that all else flows—the silent meetings, simplicity, conviction not to pick up weapons; the sense that every person has dignity and all life is holy.

For me this is also the Advent lesson. As we wait for the Light, time collapses. The beautiful Scripture readings lead us through the three-fold coming of Christ. In the past, Christ was born and changed the world forever. In this very moment as I wait, Christ comes within my own heart. As we try to build the kingdom of justice and peace on earth we anticipate the future fullness of Christ’s coming. Christ indeed does speak to each of us where ever we are in our own condition. Taking the time to turn to God opens up the space for that direct, but often subtle experience of God.

Advent lessons
I will admit that in the convent there is a fair amount of ritual around Advent—special readings, colors (violet), traditions, and songs. (If I hear “O Come Emmanuel” one more time!!!) I’ll never forget the first Sunday I realized that most of the sisters had dressed liturgically and were wearing violet to match the season! But ultimately, it is a time of waiting and expectation. Waiting in silence for the Light is the Quaker’s specialty. I find myself returning to silence and the Quaker wisdom that raised me to come to a deeper appreciation of the season. Truly, Christ has come, is with me now, and will come again. My heart spills over with hope, especially in these darker days. As Brian Wren says so simply, “When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong. And none shall be afraid.”

Amen!

About the Rabble Rouser:

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, playing guitar 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.

Silence: sacred and dangerous

Those who spare their words are truly knowledgeable,

and those who are discreet are intelligent.

Even fools, keeping silent, are considered wise;

if they keep their lips closed, intelligent.

– Proverbs 17:27-28

I am no stranger to silence. In fact, I love it and have often chose to lean into it.

Silence is powerful and sacred. I savor silent, comfortable moments shared with my loved ones. Especially when I am praying.

Silence is rich with meaning and Truth. God often uses beauty to communicate with us when we tune in and really pay attention.

It is hard to listen to God in moments like these if I am occupied with my technological toys or filling gaps with chatter.

"old olive tree in Assisi" by Julia Walsh FSPA
Old Olive Tree in Assisi by Julia Walsh, FSPA
"flower through stone" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Flower Through Stone by Julia Walsh, FSPA
"Inside San Damiano" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Inside San Damiano by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Yes, much is revealed to us in silence.

The thing is, it is such a powerful force; it can be constructive and destructive.

Despite its sacredness, there are times when we must absolutely not let silence have the last word. Indeed, in the wrong time and place, silence can be very dangerous.

Sometimes the Gospel calls us to end silence. We must use the power of our voice to protect the oppressed, to advocate for justice, to love our neighbors.

This video recently served as a powerful reflection for me on just that:

What role might silence play in your life today? How is God calling you to enter into silence?

And, how is God calling you to end the silence and use your voice for God’s glory?

Holy Week Soundtrack

During this sacred week there are certain songs that, without fail, end up on repeat in my head. Perhaps you’re interested, as the music could enrich your Holy Week too.

Palm Sunday

“Hosana” from Jesus Christ Superstar

Holy Thursday

“Stay With Me” by the Taize community

Good Friday

“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” Sung by Johnny Cash

Holy Saturday

Actually, this day does not have a song.

It is a day of silence, listening, waiting, and hoping. For me, this can is only done well without an agenda and with a lot of openness and trust in God. This will actually be the main thing I’ll tune into during Triduum this year.

From: http://virtualmethodist.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-sound-of-silence.html

 

 

Easter Sunday

“Christ the Lord is Risen Today” Preformed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

 

Hope you have a Blessed Holy Week & Happy Easter, Messy Jesus Business readers!

Peace, Sister Julia

Praying to Slow so Silence may Swallow

In the time of now-and-not-yet tangled together, I pray that my final days of Advent anticipation shall slow down and seem more sacred.

Poetry pours from my soul as I offer God this hope.

Silence swallows by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Silence swallows

me. Holy is this

invasion. Enter

mystery. Evasion

impossible. Listening

lines lift up signs:

Wait. Surrender. 

Forward frosty Light.

Now and not yet makes

me: more free. Hushed. Be.

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Street violence and holy darkness

This past Monday one of my former students was shot and killed on the streets of Chicago.

Advent is a time of darkness.  Sometimes it is obvious to us that there’s a such thing as holy darkness. And, sometimes the darkness is so cold and heavy that it seems to swallow our hope.

During Advent we are called to open up our lives to the hope that our heartaches make us hungry for.  No matter how overwhelmed or ugly things may seem, we try to resituate our habits and hearts and create time and spaces so Love may arrive and change us.

When the darkness that corrupts our anticipation is because of ugly injustice, we can become tempted to turn away from Truth.  The Truth is that many powerful promises are packed into the waiting within Mary’s womb.

How do we not give into the temptations so that we remain faithful to our trust in Love?  The nativity story teaches us that we can only do this through community.  Together we know that even when life flings the worst at us we need to allow openings as wide as canyons for Christ’s coming.  No chaos ought to cause us to close our minds or hearts to the changes that come from Christ’s presence.  Really wide openings of anticipation and healing hope emerge when we collect as communities and pray, cry, vigil, and serve together.

Only when we’re bonded together can Christ’s peace crack through the din of despair.  That’s why good Advent activity happens in community.

Mensa’s death on Monday was another moment of senseless street violence. No one should ever be killed by another person, but when the victim is a young man full of great energy it’s especially awful. I knew Mensa  from when I served at the now-closed St. Gregory the Great High School in 2008-2009. Then, he was an ordinary teenage boy who was very kind, smiley, helpful and humble– certainly someone who could have helped create more peace on the streets.

Before my former colleagues reached me with the news about Mensa, another sister and I had spent some of Monday night hanging up Christmas decorations. We giggled, climbed on furniture and hung lights and bows in open spaces around the house as cheery Christmas carols blared from the stereo. I had the special privilege of setting up the simple nativity scene on the commode in our dining room.  The nativity scene is the centerpiece of all our decorations, so I tried to arrange it with great care.

In the creche, Mary, Joseph, an angel, and a couple of animals all are focusing their attention on an empty trough.  When Baby Jesus shows up on Christmas Eve, he’ll get tucked right into the little bed that they’re focused on.  Although Mary and Joseph are technically just figurines in the scene, their posture is a great reminder for me of how to wait in holy darkness.

"Advent Nativity" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Advent Nativity” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

They’re together. They’re quiet. They’re very still.  They could get tired from being faithful to allowing an open space for God to be between them.  Yet, they boldly believe that Love will arrive, so they continue to wait.

We all are waiting for Love to arrive and feed our hungry, hurting hearts.  We are together, trying to be quiet and still, no matter the commotion.  We may get tired and overwhelmed by the injustices and suffering, yet we’re trying to allow signs of hope to be seen in the darkness. We’ll light candles and vigil on street corners, we’ll fast outside government buildings and we’ll pray through the night. As we do, we’ll create openings for quiet so Christ can come tell us of light, peace, and joy.

The holy darkness gets cold, especially when someone like Mensa dies.  Yet we’ll keep waiting in silent expectation because we still believe. Even in the darkness, healing happens and hope can arrive. Amen!

still in God’s presence

Today marks 134 years of Perpetual Adoration in my community’s chapel.

I am honored and amazed that I have had a small part in upholding this sacred tradition.  In the past year, I was also thrilled to play a role in the development of this book:

I will never understand how Christ is present in the Eucharist. I don’t really want to understand. Mystery and wonder seem to increase my faith, somehow.

What I know, though, is that Christ is present.  I experience a hushing presence of God in our adoration chapel that causes me to be still and pray.  It’s awesome and powerful.

I love God. And, I love the opportunity that adoration provides to uphold the ancient God-given order:

Be still and know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

exalted on the earth.   Psalm 46:11

Thanks and Glory be to God! Amen! Amen!