Here is a Lenten retreat outline that came out a contemplative evening I facilitated at Tenth Church last week. The Lectio guide is adapted from Living from the Heart and used with permission from SoulStream. For this retreat, it is helpful to have collage materials, paper and coloured pencils or crayons.
Light the Christ candle and begin with an opening prayer.
Listen to the song Lenten Lands by Steve Bell
My love has is gone away in Lenten lands
Gone far away and clean forsaken me
And will she perish in those desert sands
Or will she turn again and come to me?
I brought her out of Egypt in her youth.
She come to me when we were on the run.
She tires of freedom now; she tires of truth
And seeks for something new under the sun.
The time of year is come when all things turn.
The sun returns to warm the wintery earth.
The land revives the plants and seedlings yearn
Towards their rich beginnings and their birth.
And will she turn and or will she turn again?
I hold my arms out wide upon the tree
And will she see me yearn to her through pain
And turn again and turn again to me?
The grapes are swelling on the fruitful vine.
The figs are ripened low upon the bow.
I break the bread for her and pour the wine
And all I am is turned towards her now.
- What did you notice going on in you as you listened to that song? Take a moment now and name the feelings that emerged.
- You may notice feelings of hope, desire for God, or love. You may notice feelings of resentment, anger, shame, or frustration. Whatever feelings you notice, welcome them as honoured guests to your house, your body.
Welcome them? Are you kidding me? you may be thinking.
We may notice that some feelings draw us close to God and others away from God. We know by experience how easy it is to open to God when we feel gratitude or wonder, but when we’re bored, discouraged or angry, connecting with God can be a challenge. This may lead us to believe that when we have unpleasant feelings, we’re far from God. Without a second thought, we look for ways to fix or get rid of those unwanted feelings so we can be close to God again. Our feelings become barometers that measure our closeness to God. Good feelings? We’re great. Negative feelings? We better do something about that.
Our feelings are simply messengers telling us what’s going on in us, revealing our longings, fears, joys, and griefs. They give us useful information.
God always welcomes us and all our feelings in the same way the father welcomed the prodigal son. The last line of Lenten Lands reminds us that God is always turned toward us. The question is: are we turned toward God?
The pivotal word in Lent is “repentance” which simply means “turning.” In our feelings, we can turn toward God or away from God.
You’ve probably heard the terms “consolation” and “desolation.” Generally, they are understood to mean emotional states in which we feel consoled or desolate. However, when Ignatius of Loyola taught about prayer centuries ago, he didn’t define them as emotional states but as states of orientation. Consolation means we are turned toward God. Desolation means we are turned away from God.
As we enter into prayer today and throughout the forty days of Lent, I invite you to notice when you are in consolation and when you are in desolation.
We are in consolation
- when we recognize and express any feeling to God, even anger, frustration or resentment.
- even if we shout at God. Even if we use expletives and tell God off, we’re still in consolation because we’re engaged with God.
We are in desolation
- when we jump on a good feeling as if it were a horse and ride away from God, pursuing the next thing that will make us happy or successful.
- when we don’t like how we feel and turn our attention to what might make us feel better or make that feeling go away.
- when we isolate ourselves from others or God because we feel ashamed or disappointed.
- Take a moment now and hold the reality that all your feelings are good. Your emotional state is not a measure of your worth, your spiritual maturity or your closeness to God. All your feelings invite connection with God. They cannot keep you from God’s presence. Return to noticing the feelings that emerged as you listened to the song Lenten Lands ant turn to God in them.
- Take a few minutes in silence to sit with your eyes closed or journal or draw.
An Introduction to Lectio Divina
We come to this prayer practice from different places. Some of you are familiar with Lectio, yet for others, this may be the first time you’ve prayed this way. No matter how experienced you are with Lectio, I invite you to open your heart to receive what God might have for you today as I offer this introduction.
Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading.” It’s an ancient prayer form introduced by St. Benedict in the sixth century and continues to be used by the Benedictines and other monastic traditions. Today it’s practised by both Catholics and Protestants in every walk of life.
Lectio Divina is… “a posture of approach and a means of encounter with a text that enables the text to become a place of transforming encounter with God.”
—Robert Mulholland, Invitation to a Journey
This “posture of approach” is a receptive posture. We open our hearts to God in prayerful receptivity. Our basic intent is to receive God’s presence in Scripture by opening up to it rather than by trying to grasp or master the meaning. We make an internal shift from control to receptivity, and we commit ourselves to God’s action and purpose.
Reading scripture [in this way]… is reading (and listening) with heart and spirit open. Don’t try to find something or make anything out of the passage. Wait for the gift that God has for you in it. Read slowly and reverentially, savoring what you hear and gently listening for the still, small voice of God that says, ‘This is my word for you today.’ It is listening for the voice of God, communicated through Scriptures and revealed by the Spirit. It is, therefore, prayer because it is an opening of self to God.
—David G. Benner, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer
Our desire is to encounter God so we can receive what God has for us. Lectio Divina sets the stage for that encounter to happen. Mulholland says the text becomes “a place of transforming encounter.” The scripture text is the place where we meet God. The real me meets the real God in the place where my life and the Word of God intersect. The Holy Spirit prepares us to receive God’s Word and be transformed by our meeting with God.
When we pray in this way, it’s like making a date with God to meet up in a specific location. There’s a certain amount of relief in the fact that we don’t have to make anything happen; all we have to do is show up and open our hearts to God. However, there’s a discomfort in this as well. We make ourselves vulnerable. We risk being disappointed. What if God doesn’t show up? What if nothing happens? This type of prayer stretches our faith. It requires taking a risk and being vulnerable, so we need to be gentle with ourselves as we open to this way of praying.
Remember what I said earlier about our feelings, that they are guests who have useful information for us? In Lectio Divina, we meet up with God as we are, in our present emotional state, no matter whether it’s stormy or calm. We acknowledge and welcome our feelings as a part of our present reality and turn toward the One who is turned toward us now.
Practising Lectio Divina Together
The Meeting Place: Isaiah 30:15-18 The Voice (adapted)
Listen! The Lord, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel says,
“In returning and rest, you will be saved.
In quietness and trust you will find strength.
But you refused. You couldn’t sit still;
instead, you said, ‘No! We will ride out of here on horseback.
Fast horses will give us an edge in battle.’
But those who pursue you will be faster still.
When one person threatens, a thousand will panic and flee.
When five terrorize you, all will run pell-mell,
until you are as conspicuous as a single flag standing high on a hill.”
Meanwhile, the Eternal One yearns to give you grace and
that’s why God waits.
Come to Quiet
- Sit comfortably alert with your eyes closed.
- Take a few deep breaths and then begin to breathe normally again.
- Relaxing into your breathing, take some time to let go of the past and the future and come fully into the present.
- Turn your heart to Jesus who is present to you now. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you.
Listen to your life
- What have you been experiencing lately? Where is the energy either positive or negative? What might you be avoiding or resisting?
- Let it arise within you rather than try to analyze yourself. Feel the energy of it and open your heart to meeting God in connection with this.
- If nothing arises, that’s fine. Maybe you’ll be surprised in the prayer itself.
First Reading: Listen for what is given to you.
- As the passage is read aloud, listen for a word, phrase or image that attracts you as you listen.
- Let it enter your heart by repeating it over to yourself softly and lovingly during the silence after the reading.
Second Reading: Ask “How is your life touched by what has been given?”
- As you hear the passage read again, let the word interact with your present life experience.
- What does this word or image evoke in you?
- What part of your life resonates with what was given?
- Allow the connection to arise naturally in your being.
- Sit with that impression during silence.
Third Reading: Ask “Is there an invitation here for you?”
- Listen to the passage read aloud a third time. Given the connection that is emerging between the word/image and your life, what might God want to do for you?
- What invitation, reassurance, encouragement, or clarification might God be offering you in this moment?
- Ponder what arises during several minutes of silence following the reading. Trust what comes.
- How would you like to respond to God? Do that now in your mind.
- Take time to relax and rest in what has been given.
- Don’t try to make it bigger or more spiritual than it is.
- Receive it with humble gratitude and rest in God’s loving work in you.
ENTER INTO SILENCE
During the next few hours, allow God to deepen what emerged in the Lectio as you sit in silence, walk, eat lunch, colour, draw or make a collage.
Gather again at the end of the day and give participants an opportunity, one by one, to share briefly what was significant for them in this retreat. Remember to receive what each has offered as a gift without comment, questions or advice.
Pray for one another and the world.
May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
–John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
–Lamentations 3:23, 24
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“This praxis booklet helps you learn and establish a Welcoming Prayer practice–consent on the go–as well as understand the contextual background for its transformative process. Structured in a 40-day format, the praxis booklet includes teachings on the human condition, nuances of the prayer practice, as well as reflections from practitioners, Scripture, and related wisdom. To support learning and practising the prayer, each day includes a beautiful image, brief reading, Scripture, and mini-practice for the day.”–Contemplative Outreach