As I mentioned in my last bulletin article, the retreat I just completed is a part of a Spiritual Direction Training program in which I am enrolled. The first year of the program did not really say anything about the practice of giving spiritual direction. Rather, the main focus was our own relationship with the Lord in prayer. I could tell that some of the participants initially thought this was unnecessary, as they wanted to jump right into how best to direct others in the spiritual life. But we all soon discovered the wisdom of taking time to ensure we as future directors were on solid ground with our spiritual lives. As the saying goes: You cannot give what you do not have.
As we began the program nearly a year and a half ago, one of the first resources we read was an article titled: “Prayer: A Personal Response to God’s Presence”, by Armand, M. Nigro, S.J. Having read this article many years ago, I was surprised how returning to it was such a refreshing experience. As the title explains, the author defines prayer in rather simple terms: “Prayer is a personal response to God’s loving presence.”
Though simple on the surface, this short definition is profound in depth. It makes clear that prayer is first and foremost about God, not us. God is the one who is present to us, inviting us to turn to Him in prayer. We think that it is we who decide when to pray, but in reality, the initiative is on the part of the Lord. Our deciding to pray is a response to His being present to us.
Beginning our prayer with understanding this dynamic is very important, because it will get us moving in the right direction. It prevents us from becoming too self-centered in our prayer. Instead of jumping into telling the Lord what we want, thinking about our needs, our desires, we first acknowledge that He is present. He has called us, and He is delighted that we are present to Him who has never ceased to be present with us.
The author then proposes a beautiful recommendation on what our first step in prayer should be:
First of all, if prayer is a personal response to God’s presence, then, the beginning of prayer is to be aware of that presence, simply to acknowledge it, to be able to admit: “Yes, God my Father, You do love life into me. Yes, You love life and being into the things around me and into all that comes into my senses. You love talents and these longings into me, etc.” The focus is on God and what God does.
Perhaps the next time you sit, stand, or kneel to pray, whatever form that prayer may take, you can pause and call this important truth to mind. God, who loves you and delights in you, is already present, and your coming to pray is a response to that presence. Take a moment to acknowledge His loving presence to you, and thank Him for that gift. Beginning prayer in this way can be a game changer.