DIY Prayer Retreat #6: Praying with Our Senses at the Beginning of a New Year

Nearly every month I gather with friends for a silent retreat. It has been a rich experience. I explained how it works here.

Thanks to Ann Green, who helped me put this retreat together.

Supplies needed:

  • Jelly Bellies (5 per person)
  • an assortment of photographs or pictures cut out of magazines
  • art supplies such as: sketch paper, construction paper, tissue paper, scissors, glue, markers, crayons, pencil crayons, etc. (optional)

The first Bird Back by Lulu Lovering


Praying with Our Senses at the Beginning of a New Year

10:00 am:  Arrive and enjoy conversation over tea or coffee.

10:30 am: Gather in silence and listen to a restful instrumental song such as Mary’s Lullaby –Gemma, Rest 

Light a candle and read aloud:

Pied Beauty 

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.       

 All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
  —Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

Housefinch with Goldfinch

Welcome! Today we will use our senses to pray as we let go of the old and welcome the new. Listen to the words of Isaiah, the prophet:

This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
—Isaiah 43:16-19

Listen to the words of Matthew:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,  and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. —Matthew 4:18-22

In the next four hours of silence, you are invited to listen to your soul and listen to God as you pray with the following exercises.

Jelly Bellies by Wicked Sushi

Prayer Exercise #1:  Jelly Belly Prayer

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
–Psalm 34:8

  • Sit comfortably alert with your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths and then begin to breathe normally again. Relax into your breathing and take some time to let go of distracting thoughts and come fully into the present. Open your heart to Jesus who is present to you now.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to awaken your senses and guide you.
  • With your eyes still closed, take one Jelly Belly and put it into your mouth. Take your time as you taste and chew it.
  • What do you taste? What do you feel as you taste it? What words describe the flavours and your response to it?
  • Let the flavour or response bring to mind an experience from the past year. Take a few minutes reliving that experience with Jesus.
  • Receive it as an unchangeable moment in your life.
  • Breathe in and out: Amen
  • When you are ready, choose another Jelly Belly. Repeat the above process until all 5 candies are consumed.
  • What was most significant to you in this prayer exercise? You may want to journal about it.

Between prayer exercises enjoy a puzzle, sketch, colour, knit, go for a contemplative walk.

“The contemplative dimension of walking comes through my presence to the world around me and to what is moving through me as I walk. I listen for the ways the divine is speaking through the world. I listen to my own heart beating more loudly because of the vigour of my movement. I listen for the ways that new ideas arise in this space.”Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule

splash!-Anne Yungwirth

Prayer Exercise #2:   Visio Divina 

Opening to the image

  1. Choose a photograph that evokes the strongest response in you (positive or negative).
  2. Open your heart to the movement of the Spirit in this moment.
  3. Take a good loving look at the image. What do you notice first? What do you notice next?
  4. Take a moment to notice within yourself  your initial responses to the image as you pay attention?
  5. Take another good look at the image, noticing the details to see what might be there that are important for you.
  6. Again, notice within yourself what arises in you? What seems to be strong—either attraction or aversion?

Conversation with God

  1. What do you sense God offering you?
  2. What would you like to say to God?
  3. Let the conversation flow as it seems appropriate.


  1. Take a few minutes to be still with what has been given. Allow your heart to settle with what is present for you today.
  2. Offer a final expression of loving surrender to God.

leaf cropped


Optional activity for longer retreats : Multimedia artwork  

  1. Reread Isaiah 43:16-19 & Matthew 4:18-22
  2. Draw or cut out and paste on a piece of construction paper a tree with branches on it.
  3. Cut out leaves from construction paper to go on the tree. Make them big enough to write one or two words on them.
  4. Make some leaves spring colours (green) and others fall colours (yellow, orange, brown, red).
  5. On the fall leaves write down former things you feel God inviting you to let go of.
  6. On the spring leaves write down new things God is doing or bringing into your life.
  7. Using the other supplies provided, draw or add anything else you would like to put in your picture.

“Be. Here. This moment. Now is all there is, don’t go seeking another. Discover the sacred in your artist’s tools; they are the vessels of the altar of your own unfolding. Look at this cup of holy water, washing clean the brushes. See the blank page, awaiting your blessing. Gaze on the colours before you, each one a name of God: Saffron, Cobalt, Azure, Ruby. Say each one slowly and taste its juice in your mouth. Let this be your prayer. Brush them across the page. First the small strokes, then the large sweeps. Lose track of all time. This too is prayer. Listen for the words that rise up: Awaken. Envision. Sing, Alleluia. Place marks on the page saying I am here. Watch as word and image dance together. Luminous. Illuminated. This is your sacred text. This is where God’s words are spoken, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. Be there to catch them as they pass over those sacred lips, tumbling so generously into your open arms.”
Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule

 3:00 pm: Gather again in silence and listen to a restful instrumental song such as All Shall Be Well –Gemma, Trust

  • Share what was most significant for you today.
  • Allow for a moment of silent prayer after each person shares.
  • Close in prayer.

Lord, you have made a way into this year,
a path through the mighty waters;
let us go forth together.
We leave behind our former things
and receive the new thing you are doing.
Walk with us into 
the wilderness;
help us drink deeply from your stream.


Credits and References:
“The First Bird Back’ by Lulu Lovering. Used with permission.
“House Finch and Goldfinch” by Beau Considine. Used with permission.
Photo of Jelly Bellies by Wicked Sushi. Used with permission.
“Splash” by Anne Yungwirth. Used with permission.
Instructions for Visio Divina are from SoulStream’s Living from the Heart course. Used with permission.
“Leaf’ by seyed mostafa zamani (cropped slightly). Used with permission.
© Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission from Esther Hizsa is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided there is a link to the original content and credit is given as follows: © Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.

About Esther Hizsa

Esther is a spiritual director and writer. She lives in Burnaby with her husband, Fred, and they have two grown children and two grandchildren.
This entry was posted in Prayer, Prayer Retreat Outline, Reflections, Resource and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to DIY Prayer Retreat #6: Praying with Our Senses at the Beginning of a New Year

  1. Pingback: Held | An Everyday Pilgrim

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