St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises contain some wonderful suggestions for how we should begin our prayer period.
First, for Ignatius, all prayer begins with what he calls a preparatory prayer in which we call to mind (in David Fleming’s words) “the attitude of reverence with which I approach this privileged time with God.” Ignatius speaks of having the desire that all I do be in service and praise of God.
Ignatius further elaborates on this in his “Additions” (which appear in the material relating to Week One of the Exercises): When you are beginning a prayer session, stand for a few moments where you will pray, consider that God is already there waiting for you, and make some act of reverence. What we are doing here is simply preparing the place and our heart and becoming aware of God’s presence – recognizing the space as sacred and reminding oneself this is sacred time. (For me, by the way, it is helpful at home to have a designated prayer space – the place I go for my prayer that is different from where I sleep or where I work or where I have my morning coffee.)
It is helpful to remember that we are not inviting God someplace God is not already present; God is already here waiting for me. With that awareness, we consider how God is looking at me. (This could be an entire prayer period: When you look at me God, what do you see?)
We want to know we are held in eternal gaze of God and that God gazes at me. This is very important: If I don’t know God gazes like this at me, I can not know that he does for others and I can’t do for others. I can’t look at anyone else with that love if I don’t see God’s gaze on me.
Second, Ignatius tells us “to ask God our Lord for what I want and desire.” Asking for a grace is a basic dynamic of Ignatian prayer.
Why do we ask for a grace? I think Ignatius would say that asking for a grace is to create a disposition of openness, making me more available to receive God. Asking for a grace opens oneself to experiencing God in a personal way. Asking for a grace also helps us get in touch with our deepest desires.
Asking for a grace also helps us to be humble in the best sense; we know we need help and only God can give it to us. That is good way to enter into retreat and into our daily prayer. Recognizing my need for God makes me available to receive God. We are most strong when we ask for help.
Jesus so often, when he met people, asked them, “What do you want? What can I do for you?” So as you sit down to pray, spend a minute to reflect on what you need from God at that time. What is it the grace you seek?
Note that this is a the seventh in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20.