For a couple of years our contemplative group has been having one-day prayer retreats that are simple, wonderful and free. Up to eight of us have gotten together at one time. We bring our own lunch and meet for a morning or a day at a participant’s home who provides tea and coffee.
In the first half hour, the day’s facilitator (one of the people attending) shares with the group a scripture passage as well as a reflective reading, song, poem or picture and some reflective questions. Then we disperse into different rooms or nooks in the house while maintaining silence.
During the two to four hours of silence, we take walks, knit, journal and, of course, pray. Using cell phones, the internet or reading (even spiritual books) is discouraged. For the last hour of the retreat, we gather again. Each person is given an opportunity to share confidentially with the others what came out of the day. Listeners are asked to hold what is shared as a gift without giving advice or telling their own stories. Then we are invited to pray for each other.
If you would like to have a prayer retreat with a friend or two, feel free to use this outline I put together for a recent retreat (below). Let me know if you have any questions.
What God Has Given, What God Is Doing
I receive your love, your presence, and this day as a gift from you.
I open my heart to you.
Please lead me deeper into your transforming love as we live these next hours together.
-Morning Prayer of SoulStream Community
Beholding the One beholding you, and smiling:
God can get tiny, if we’re not careful. I’m certain we all have an image of God that becomes the touchstone, the controlling principle, to which we return when we stray.
My touchstone image of God comes by way of my friend and spiritual director, Bill Cain, S.J. Years ago he took a break from his own ministry to care for his father as he died of cancer. His father had become a frail man, dependent on Bill to do everything for him. Though he was physically not what he had been, and the disease was wasting him away, his mind remained alert and lively. In the role reversal common to adult children who care for their dying parents, Bill would put his father to bed and then read him to sleep, exactly as his father had done for him in childhood. Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there staring at his son smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you, you fall asleep.” Bill’s father would impishly apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long. Soon enough, Bill’s father would pop one eye open and smile at his son. Bill would catch him and whine, “Now, come on.” The father would, again oblige, until he couldn’t anymore, and the other eye would open to catch a glimpse of his son. This went on and on and after his father’s death, Bill knew that this evening ritual was really a story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his kid. How much more so God. Anthony de Mello writes, “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.”
God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval. What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. “You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.” There is not much “tiny” in that.
– Gregory Boyle, SJ., Tattoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion
Love’s Invitation to receive God’s good gifts:
Jesus said, “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?”
– Matthew 7:7-11 (The Message)
Love’s Invitation to give your entire attention to what God is doing right now:
Jesus said, “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wild flowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
– Matthew 6:30-34 (The Message)
- God is not tiny, but God can become tiny enough to enter a life cracked open a little. Will you allow God to enter into your mind and heart? And, once in, will you allow God to show you a love as big as the universe, as tender as a new mother, as playful as Bill Cain’s father?
- What gift has God given you recently? How did it make you feel when you received it? How do you feel when you think about it now? What does that gift tell you about God?
- Why now? Why has God given you this gift at this particular time in your life?
- Is there something else God would like you to notice as you sit with this gift?
- What is God inviting you to do with what has been given and unfolded?
- How would you like to express your gratitude to God for God’s “can’t keep his eyes off you” love?
I THANK YOU GOD FOR MOST THIS AMAZING
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
by e.e. cummings