Prayer and Listening

God's voice in nature as shown by a bird

From Carolyn Gray’s presentation on Oblate Day:

One could focus on one or the other of these topics; however, I find it difficult to separate the two. The day I began my preparation for sharing with you, I was praying Psalm 101 and I was struck by the verse: “I accompany those who love you, that I may grow in Wisdom: I enter into the Silence, into the Eternal Light, and listen for your gentle Voice.”

In Wisdom from the Tradition, we read: For Benedict, careful listening is the prelude to wise discernment. Learning to listen is a first step on the path toward monastic transformation.” I have found deep riches in my life as an Oblate, by being associated with other Oblates and with all of the Benedictine Community. I find constant nurturing in this good company and in the Rule.

One of the ways I serve my community is as a hospice volunteer. Learning to listen was an important part of our training. Praying for a patient before I meet them and before I see them each visit is one way that I have felt God leading me in how best to minister to that person. I have been so enriched through listening when many of my dying friends want to pray and to talk about God and about their own journeys.

Again, in Wisdom from the Tradition we read: “Courage is required if we are to listen to others with open minds and hearts. We are at risk of being overwhelmed and confused by unfamiliar perspectives and ideas. We will at times feel unprepared to explore, test and then embrace what is good and discard what is not. Yet a meeting of heart to heart is possible. ………”

It goes on to say: “The transformative experience of coming to terms with other people’s realities can offer new life. We can discover in ourselves an unprecedented desire to learn God’s other ways with the human community and to share in the divine compassion for humankind.”

Benedict is clear that prayer forms the heart of each member and the collective heart of the community. Joan Chittister says: “Prayer is not an activity of a day. It is a process of growing consciousness of a lifelong relationship with God. Like any relationship, it develops only if we maintain the contact.

Being an Oblate helps me to balance my life. Most days, I begin early with prayer and lectio. Some days prayer and lectio come later in the day. Sad to say, now and then a day may slip by without this precious time with the Lord, and I find that the rhythm of those days isn’t as smooth. Even so, I am more aware of bringing an attitude of prayer and of the awareness of the Presence of God to whatever I am doing. The Rule tells us that even our weaknesses take us to God if we let them. And I am finding that prayer calls to me rather than my looking for time for prayer.

In my daily life, I have found that prayer has opened my heart to become a more compassionate person. It has helped me to be more understanding and more open to hearing what is really being said. In Wisdom from the Tradition, it states: “Benedict remained always realistic. “……..he knew how necessary the regular practice of forgiveness was if the bonds of love and peace were to be kept strong.” Benedict also teaches his followers how praying can form forgiving hearts.

Just recently we traveled to northern Arizona to see two of our children and their families. We have talked over the years about moving out there to be closer to the kids. One family is in Prescott and one is in Flagstaff. We actually found an ideal place in a little town between the two. After we’d been back home for a few days, I asked my husband, “What are your thoughts about moving to Arizona?” He shrugged his shoulders and dejectedly said, “We’d have to make all new friends.” In the past I would have been upset about that response because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. By the grace of God, as I listened, I heard something deeper. I was able to hear and consider his pain and his doubt. He wasn’t sure he wanted to leave all of our friends. I didn’t push. Rather, I prayed and I tried to listen. Today we are quite excited about making the move. (In fact, today he is hosting open house for us!)

Early this spring, my heart was heavy as I went to prayer group. My only sister, who is ill and lives alone, had a crisis. I thought it was my place to protect my sister. A precious friend, and part of our prayer community gently said to me, “Let’s just bring it to prayer and you’ll know what to do.” After prayer, not only was this self-inflicted burden lifted from me, but our Divine Physician gently showed me how my false self was in the power and control mode.

Contemplative prayer has enhanced my entire prayer life. My attitude has changed in many ways. Years ago I would worry when my prayer was dry or if I felt out of sorts. Today I know that the awareness of the Presence of God is not dependent upon my feelings and moods. In Columba Stewart’s book, Prayer and Community, she states, “Lectio is to be a conversation with God about one’s life.” I no longer run away from God when a problem arises, but I continue to learn to bring every aspect of my daily life, the ups and downs right to my relationship with God. Who better to listen to and talk to than my Maker and my Friend! I try to pray and listen, to learn what God wants of me.

Being in community with the Benedictines, the Oblates and with our contemplative friends in prayer, lectio and holy listening has greatly expanded my consciousness. It has added new energy to my interior life and to my ordinary daily life. And, I have loved being introduced to the richness of prayers of other traditions. Eternal life has taken on new meaning for me.

I am so deeply grateful to God for calling me to be an Oblate and for deepening my prayer life. I am grateful to God for so many beautiful companions on my journey. I humbly ask for your prayers, and I promise you mine as we travel together into the Arms of Everlasting Love.

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3 thoughts on “Prayer and Listening

  1. Dear Carolyn.

    This is an old post and I don’t know if you will ever read my comment. I have been reading on the main Benedictine site for quite a while, but I only just today started reading all the post here on the Oblate blog.

    I am so glad I did. I am myself an Oblate-novice of a Benedictine community in Ireland… I live in Denmark… and I have found so much good and interesting reading in these very varied posts. I really have found food for thought, for very deep thinking about my own spiritual life and where my path will be leading me.
    Your words resonate with everything I feel myself, about having discovered this way of living a more concious and balanced life. Like you I often feel that prayer is looking for me! If for some reason I don’t take the time for prayer and lectio, they will come looking for me… making me feeling hungry for them.
    I try to follow the time-schedule for prayers at my monastery, in order to feel connected to my monks. I see each of them clearly in my mind and feel their presence with my heart when I can pray together with them.

    I will be forever grateful for having found this community… the monks have been a wonderful inspiration to me on my spiritual journey towards closeness with God.

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  2. It is always wonderful to hear that the Benedictine way of life and prayer has touched yet another person’s life and world. Although we do not look for affirmation for its own sake, it is good to hear it once in a while. But even more, to know that someone’s life has been enriched by our presence.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Sr. Ruth Ksycki, OSB
    Director of Oblates

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  3. Dear Sister Ruth and Toolah:
    Thank you so much for passing this along to me. Having Irish ancestors makes this even more poignant! I thank God over and over for my gift of being an Oblate and for the deep support it has been to me! God’s blessings and love to you.

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