Praying to the Holy Spirit

Jack Levison, author of Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life and 40 Days With the Holy Spirit (which I wrote about here and here) has just had another book published by Paraclete Press.  The book, Holy Spirit, I Pray, is a book of prayers to the Holy Spirit.

A slender, beautifully bound book, Holy Spirit, I Pray contains a series of prayers divided in categories – prayers for morning, prayers for nighttime, prayers for discernment, prayers for crisis and prayers for anytime.  Each prayer is accompanied by the Scripture text that inspired the creation of the prayer.

As I observed to parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes when I led a book study of one of Levison’s earlier books two years ago, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit often gets short shrift. We know that we get the gift of the spirit at Pentecost, some of us can even list the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on that person of the Trinity.  Levison observes in his introduction to this book, citing St. Basil,  the Holy Spirit is often seen as a medium of prayer and worship rather than as an object of prayer and worship.  (Clearly there are exceptions, and there are some well-known prayers to the Holy Spirit.)

There are many beautiful prayers in this book.  I thought I’d here share one of those that immediately resonated with me.

Holy Spirit
Spirit of Jesus
Spirit of Truth:
Ignite in me a passion for the truth
Instill in me a craving for knowledge
Inspire in me a hunger for wisdom.
Not just any truth, random knowledge, indiscriminate wisdom
But the truth about Jesus
who barked at his mother
who cried like a baby
who wore the towel of a servant and washed feeg
who prayed the night away
who broiled fish on a spring morning.
Come to me as
the Spirit of Truth
the Spirit of Jesus
Holy Spirit.

You might consider this book as part of your Lenten prayer.


Place These Words Upon Your Heart

My friend Rabbi Norman Cohen gave the sermon this year at the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service in Minnetonka.  Although I was out of town and unable to attend (we had a wonderful Thanksgiving in Appleton with my daughter, her boyfriend and his family), he was kind enough to send me a copy, which he also posted on Facebook.

There are many wonderful thoughts in Rabbi Cohen’s sermon about gratitude, welcoming the stranger and interfaith dialogue.  He concluded his sermon with a Hasidic tale I had not heard before:

A disciple asks the rebbe: ‘Why does Torah tell us to “place these words upon your hearts”? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?’ The rebbe answers: ‘It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.’

Makes you pause a bit – at least it made me pause.  And it presents the best prayer I could wish for us given the state of our world today: May our hearts break open so the Word of God may fall in.

Hermitage Time

As important as my annual 8-day retreat is to me, I also find it helpful to find other opportunities to heed Jesus’ invitation to “Come away and rest awhile.”  The hermitages at Wellsprings Farm offer a wonderful opportunity to do just that.

I spent Friday late morning to yesterday late afternoon away from computer, work and conversation.  Prayer, reading, walks on the wooded “Sacred Path,” and labyrinth walks.  Quiet time with God.  It was wonderful.

In the foreground is the hermitage I stayed in – the Dome.  (In the background is what has been referred to as Hermitage #2, although I think it has been named House of Francis.)

There is little I love more than walking in the woods.  As much as I enjoy summer walks when the trees are full, I have always found a special beauty in trees this time of year.  

The labyrinth is unlike any I’ve ever seen.  The path is cut through a large grassy area, so that in some parts you see only the grass around you as you walk it.

A selfie in the early morning on Saturday, when it was still a bit chilly.  As I left the house on Friday, the first hat I saw was one Elena’s then babysitter knit for her when she was eight.  If I looked silly wearing it, there was no one there to tell me so.

I love the “CSR” model the owners of Wellsprings Farm have developed: “Similar to community supported agriculture (CSA), where individuals or organizations purchase a share of produce for a season, annual Community Supported Retreat (CSR) members receive a “share” of overnight stays at Wellsprings Farm.  Like the CSA, the CSR is a creative, local economic model rooted in reciprocity and connection.  In its best form, the Community Supported Retreat (CSR) model allows for more direct and meaningful relationship to the land and to one another.”

I am very grateful to my friend Richard, who told me about Wellsprings in time for me to purchase the last open membership for the year.  And I am looking forward to my next visit!

Wellsprings may be the only CRS model of hermitages, but there are other hermitages out there.  Even for those who can’t get away for a longer retreat, an occasional day of silence, contemplation and just being with God is a wonderful gift to give yourself.

Look at the Throw-Away Lines

Reacting to my post of yesterday about Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak, my friend John wrote me a brief e-mail this morning commenting on how much he loves these “throw away lines,” which are often so rich. I replied that I was amazed I had missed the line about which I wrote so many times in my reading and prayer with that Gospel passage, to which he responded that he has had that experience so many time that now he almost looks for those throw away lines.

That seemed to me a practice worth sharing.

You know what I mean by throw-away lines: the lines that are part of the descriptive detail of the narrative story that we tend to gloss over in out haste to get to what seems to be the central encounter. So in yesterday’s Gospel: What will Jesus say to, or do for, Bartimaeus. And so it is easy to pass over Bartimaeus’ throwing aside his cloak.

I think there is a particular danger with passages we have heard so many times to glaze over until we get to “the good part” – the central part, the place where all the action is. If we do that, we can miss an awful lot.

I’m reminded as I write this of a morning where I was praying with the passage in John’s Gospel in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I got to the first line of the passage: There was a man named Lazarus who will ill, and I never got any further. I had a very powerful experience that took off only from that one line – I never got to the “good part,” the big action. I didn’t even get to the powerful exchange between Jesus and Mary, let alone the raising of Lazarus. Yet the prayer I had taught me an enormous amount. Something I would have missed if I skipped over the “throw away” line.

So, consider adopting my friend John’s practice: Look for the throw away lines.

Lord’s Prayer for Justice

I just finished facilitating a book discussion series at Our Lady of Lourdes on Ron Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, a classic of Christian spirituality. The participants and I had a great series of discussions over our sessions together.

In the fourth part of the book, Rolheiser describes several “key spiritualities within a [Christian] spirituality. One of those is a spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking. The chapter ends with “A Lord’s Prayer for Justice,” which some of you may already be familiar with. Given the contrast between the way of the world (survival of the fittest) and the rule of God – where God always stands on the side of the weak, Rolheiser suggests we might occasionally pray the Lord’s Prayer in this way.

Our Father … who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the aged, the very young, the unborn, and those who, by victim of circumstance, bear the heat of the day.

Who art in heaven … where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being will be well.

Hallowed by thy name … may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards. May the reverence we give your name pull us out of the narcissism, selfishness, and paranoia that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbour.

Your kingdom come … help us to create a world where, beyond our own needs and hurts, we will do justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with you and each other.

Your will be done … open our freedom to let you in so that the complete mutuality that characterizes your life might flow through our veins and thus the life that we help generate may radiate your equal love for all and your special love for the poor.

On earth as in heaven … may the work of our hands, the temples and structures we build in this world, reflect the temple and the structure of your glory so that the joy, graciousness, tenderness, and justice of heaven will show forth within all of our structures on earth.

Give … life and love to us and help us to see always everything as gift. Help us to know that nothing comes to us by right and that we must give because we have been given to. Help us realize that we must give to the poor, not because they need it, but because our own health depends upon our giving to them.

Us … the truly plural us. Give not just to our own but to everyone, including those who are very different than the narrow us. Give your gifts to all of us equally.

This day … not tomorrow. Do not let us push things off into some indefinite future so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice because we can use present philosophical, political, economic, logistic, and practical difficulties as an excuse for inactivity.

Our daily bread … so that each person in the world my have enough food, enough clean water, enough clean air, adequate health care, and sufficient access to education so as to have the sustenance for a healthy life. Teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus.

And forgive us our trespasses … forgive us our blindness towards our neighbour, our obsessive self-preoccupation, our racism, our sexism, and our incurable propensity to worry only about ourselves and our own. Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it.

As we forgive those who trespass against us … help us to forgive those who victimize us. Help us to mellow out in spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect parents and systems that wounded, cursed, and ignored us.

And do not put us to the test … do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothing to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor. Spare us this test for none of us can stand before this gospel scrutiny. Give us, instead, more days to mend our ways, our selfishness, and our systems.

But deliver us from evil … that is, from the blindness that lets us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.


Rather than recite the entire prayer in one sitting, it would be worthwhile to take one line each day and let that be the focus of our prayer and the intention for our day.

Traveler’s Prayer

Today was the opening celebration of the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus. The celebration included an address by the University President, music from the Law School choir (yes, our law school has a choir), and prayers of blessing from each of the three Abrahamic faiths.

One of our students and the President of the Jewish Law Student Association, Sara Gangelhoff, selected and read the prayer she selected from the Jewish tradiiton. Although she prayed the prayer in Hebrew, here is the English language version:

May it be Your will, G-d, our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace (If one intends to return immediately, one adds: and return us in peace). Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world. May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You G-d, who hearkens to prayer.

A wonderful prayer for our students beginning or continuing their law school journey, and for all of us on our jouney in this life.

Formal Prayer and Praying

While looking for a youtube on video, I came across an interview with the Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast.  He is someone who has been very influential to me and I have cited him here before.

The first question the interviewer asked Brother David was how many times a day he prayed.  Brother David replied by explaining that one needed to distinguish between formal prayer times and praying.  Praying, he suggested, is something we should be doing all of the time.  As for prayer times, he explained that the Rule of Benedict called for seven periods of prayer during the day and one during the night.  But these formal ones, he suggested are really not so important in themselves.  Rather they exist to remind us to be praying at all times.

I think I take issue with calling them “not so important,” in that my experience praying in Benedictine communities is that those formal periods of prayer can be quite powerful.  But I do think there is something to the suggestion that these formal prayer periods are what remind us – and perhaps what enable us – to pray all of the time.

What does it mean to pray at all times?  Brother David put it this way: “To be praying at all times means to be moment by moment attuned to life attuned to what life wants from you.”

Here is the entire interview:

(For those reading by e-mail, if you have trouble seeing the video, click-through to the blog itself.)

Baruch Atah Adonai

My dear friend Larry is spending time this summer in Israel studying Hebrew, as part of his journey into deeper practice of his Judaism.  To the great benefit of many of us, he has been blogging regularly while he is there.  (He talks about the path that led him to be in Jerusalem this summer here.)

Yesterday, Larry wrote a post about prayer.  He began by acknowledging that, like many of us, he sometimes loses his concentration during prayer.  His method for dealing with the distraction is to concentrate “on three little words” – the three words that begin every Jewish blessing: Baruch Atah Adonai.  Christians would say,  “Blessed are you Lord God”; Larry, as others of our Jewish bothers and sisters says, “Blessed are you, Ha’Shem.”

Whether Jewish of Christian, and by whatever name we refer to God, what Larry writes in his post can be helpful advice:

Baruch Atah Adonai. One doesn’t need to know another word of prayer. One doesn’t need another word of Hebrew. All one needs to attain true kavanah, true spirituality, true gratitude and appreciation of all that we have (“for he has made to me all that I need”) are these three little words. Blessed are you, Ha’Shem.

Repeat these words. Just these words. Repeat them when you want to pray but don’t know how. Repeat them when you see beauty. Repeat them when you are happy. Repeat them when you see misery and when you are sad — especially when you see misery and when you are sad, for you do not know and cannot know when misery becomes glory and sadness becomes joy. But you do know that without misery and sadness happiness and joy do not exist. And you do know – or I hope you do – that even in misery and sadness is the pure act of living, the pure appreciation of life that you would not know were it not for – Baruch Atah Adonai….

Baruch Atah Adonai.   Nowhere are these words more meaningful than when facing existential questions. Questions of reward and punishment, happiness and misery, joy and sorrow, life and death.  Why is one serene and one troubled, one healthy and one ill, one prosperous and one suffering? Why is there sorrow? Why is there evil?…

The answers are unimportant.  For what we do know is that we are alive. And to be alive is to experience the world, however we experience it. That, in itself, is a blessing. The greatest of all possible blessings.  And so, Baruch Atah Adonai. Three little words that are the essence of gratitude. Three little words that are the essence of prayer.

Prayer is not really all that complicated.  I was reminded by Larry’s post of Mary Oliver’s poem Praying, which includes the lines, “just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.”

Thank you, Larry, for this and all of your wonderful posts this summer.


A Minute Would Be Good Enough

The tradition at the Jesuit Retreat House is that the director who offers the reflection at Mass is responsible for leading the prayer at the following day’s staff meeting.  Since I offered the reflection at Mass on Monday, I had responsibility for the prayer at our final staff meeting yesterday.  (The retreat ends this morning with Mass and breakfast.)

After the opening song I selected, I read Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem Psalm, which I came across several years ago.  Here is the poem:

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in the first light.

I then invited the others to reflect on a time when when “a minute” or “a hand on the door” was enough for them, a situation where something small, momentary, was enough to give them deep consolation, to give them exactly what they needed from God.  The sharing was deep and beautiful.

You might consider the same invitation.  Reflect on a time when a minute…a hand on the door was “good enough” for you.

We leave the retreat house this morning, each of us in awe and gratitude for the graces given by God during these days.

I Woke Up This Morning (or, more accurately, The Sounds of Silence)

There is a poem I learned in grade school titled I Woke Up This Morning.  A half century later, I still know the poem by heart.  The child narrator of the poem describes his day, from the moment that he “woke up this morning At quarter past seven [and] kicked up the covers and And stuck out [his] toe.”  From that moment on, his day goes downhill – a series of “no”s and instruction and correction.  It ends with his declaration

Well, I said
That tomorrow
At quarter past seven
They can
Come in and get me.
I’m Staying In Bed.

The lines came to mind as the antithesis of my feeling when I got up this morning.  I woke up from my bed in the retreat house with a smile and a wink at God and then stood at the window in my room looking out at the lake with a sense of excitement at what these days will bring.

The retreat opened last night with dinner followed by an opening group session where the 55 or so retreatants and the 10 directors introduced themselves.  After that we had our opening Mass, the end of which signalled the beginning of the silence retratants will observe during the retreat.

In my view, silence is an incredibly important part of the retreat experience. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once observed, “By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak…[a] space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other.”

“A space is created for mutual listening.” That mutual listening is something that was important to St. Ignatius. Ignatius does not believe our prayer should be a one-sided conversation where we do all the talking. Rather, we want to let God speak to us, and the silence helps that. Silence allows us to let go of some of the noise and distraction that prevents us from really focusing and hearing what God wants to convey to us. There is that beautiful passage in the First Book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures about God speaking to Elijah: God spoke to Elijah not in the storm, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the quiet gentle whisper which could only be heard in the silence. We want to adopt the posture of Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

And so I encouraged my retreatants not only to think of silence as refraining from conversation, but also to try to avoid checking e-mail, surfing the net or even doing a lot of reading outside of the material they are praying with.

Where do you find your silence?