Here is another one-day prayer/silent retreat outline prepared by my friend Joy Richardson, a spiritual director in Coquitlam. You’ll find the introduction to DIY group prayer retreats here and other outlines under resources.
GOD: ALMIGHTY GENTLENESS
After people have gathered, begin with a time of quiet. Light the candle and welcome God’s presence.
- As we take turns reading the following passages, open yourself to the presence of God. Take in the words and the overall flow of the passages. In the silence that follows, continue to open yourself to the Spirit of God.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. —1 John 4:18-19 (NRSV)
There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment, so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. We love, because He first loved us. —1 John 4:18-19 (Amplified Bible)
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. —1 John 4: 17-19 (The Message)
Excerpts from Let Yourself Be Loved by Phillip Bennett:
Sometimes when we are feeling most trapped in our fear and self-frustration . . . a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you. Do not try to do anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. If that happens to us, we experience grace.
Grace can break in when we least expect it. God’s love is stunning, sometimes disorienting as it streams into our darkness, accepting us as we are. As we open to love, we find something surprising: instead of ironing out the wrinkles of our character—our neurotic wounds, our anxieties, our peculiar psychic dead-ends—love comes to enliven us as we are. We are breathed into by the Spirit of Life, set upon our feet to stand before God and the world in all the glory and vulnerability of our true selves. We had imagined we would become some other sort of person—that we could escape the bedeviling flaws of our character. Instead, we discover that those ‘flaws’ are the very openings through which love can touch us to the core of our being. (p 57)
Our own attempts at chiseling away our own anxieties and distractions never succeed, but we are promised that the fullness of love alone can cast out our fears. This casting out continues over our lifetime. The key is not to judge our fears or try too hard to get rid of them. Only by befriending the fears in our hearts do we give up trying to control them and simply open our hearts so that love may work its deep healing within us. (p.8)
By placing ourselves in the presence of unconditional Love— through prayer, meditation, reading, being with and serving others—we return to the mysterious Center beyond our ego control and comprehension. This alone can calm our fears and ground us deeply in reality. In subtle ways we find ourselves becoming more loving, less fearful and grasping. Slowly, like water wearing down a stone, the steady drops of love are washing away our fears. As we place ourselves daily under the stream of divine mercy, the living waters of love flow through us, slowly penetrating our fearful, dark recesses. The change that is wrought within us is gradual but deep; slow and subtle, but always profound. (p. 7)
- On the second prayerful reading, is there a word or phrase that God is drawing you to? Perhaps you would like to share it.
Individual Prayer Sessions:
Please choose whichever sessions God draws you to or ignore them all. Be sure to take a couple of chunks of time to go for a walk, knit, eat lunch, or do some other quiet activity to give yourself some down time. These sessions can be as brief or as long as you wish. If you want to do a couple of them in the same time period, that is fine.
Complete the Lectio.
Respond: On the third reading, listen for how the passage connects to your life. Allow yourself to be with God in this place. Take all the time you need.
Rest: On the fourth reading, simply rest in the love that God has for you. Let the words wash over you. Allow God’s Spirit to draw you close and fill you with God’s love, grace and peace. Linger in this place.
Bennett says, “Only by befriending the fears in our hearts do we give up trying to control them and simply open our heart so that love may work its deep healing in us.”
What does it mean to befriend our fears? My spiritual director led me into a time of doing just this. I want to share this process with you.
What are two things you like to do with friends? (e.g. have coffee, go for a walk). Picture yourself doing one of these with your fear. (e.g. your fear is sitting across the table from you at a café). If you are able to, name that fear. How do you feel? If a friend was sitting across from you, how would you treat them? Can you treat your fear the same way? Spend time here. Can you listen to your fear as you would listen to a friend? Take more time visiting with your fear. What do you notice? How do you feel?
At a contemplative gathering one evening, the leader talked about taking different parts of ourselves (e.g. our fears and anxieties) and bringing them to Jesus in communion. I wanted to be with Jesus with my fear. If you choose to, you can too.
Take your fear, and place it at the communion table with you and Jesus. (Some folks like to place themselves at the table with the Trinity in Rublev’s icon of the Trinity.) What does your fear look like? Be with Jesus as He serves your fear the bread and wine. How does Jesus look at the fear? What is His attitude to the fear? Does Jesus say anything to your fear? Does the fear say anything to Him? Be with this. Jesus now serves you the bread and wine. How does He look at you? Does He say anything to you? Do you say anything to Him? Be in this place. After Jesus has served you the bread and wine, look at your fear again. What does your fear look like now? Has it changed at all? How? Notice how you feel as you look at your fear now? Does your fear need anything? If this fear comes again, will you treat it any differently than you treated it today? Will you connect with it over coffee? Can you befriend it a little—or not really? What might befriending it look like?
Respond creatively any way you wish to something from your time with God. One possibility is to sift through the pictures or use crayons and paper. Make a collage or colour a picture of your fear before Jesus serves it communion, and then another of it after it has experienced Jesus giving it communion. Notice your feelings and thoughts during this time
Optional reading for a longer retreat: Here are additional quotes from Phillip Bennett. Rest with Jesus and savour this time with Him as you sit with them.
By placing ourselves in the presence of unconditional Love—through prayer, meditation, reading, being with and serving others—we return to the mysterious Center beyond our ego control and comprehension. This alone can calm our fears and ground us deeply in reality. In subtle ways we find ourselves becoming more loving, less fearful and grasping. Slowly, like water wearing down a stone, the steady drops of love are washing away our fears. As we place ourselves daily under the stream of divine mercy, the living waters of love flow through us, slowly penetrating our fearful, dark recesses. The change that is wrought within us is gradual but deep; slow and subtle, but always profound.
But when we realize that our need for love is at the root of all fears, we can slowly open ourselves to the inflowing of love, letting ourselves be loved AS WE ARE, NOT AS WE WISH TO BE.
Credits and References:
Let Yourself Be Loved by Phillip Bennett, 1997.
Thank you to Sharon Chila for sharing Bennett’s quotes with Joy and others so it could become the basis for this retreat.
“Moonbeams” by Jessie Wilcox Smith (September 6, 1863 – May 3, 1935)
“Joy Is Measurable” by Funkybug. Used with permission.
“Pondering” by Karl Kaufman. Used with permission.
“Coffee with a friend” by Andrew Hyde. Used with permission.
Icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev (1360-1430) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Crayons” by Cinnamon Funch. Used with permission.
© Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim, 2017.
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 2013-2017. http://www.estherhizsa.com