18 Sep The Ways of Prayer
To help us grow and learn from one another’s spiritual practices, we asked two members of the Venn team to write short reflections on the people, places, and experiences that have shaped their prayer lives. Katrina Belcher describes the influence of Mother Teresa’s life dedicated to love and service. Luke Fenwick draws to mind his experience at Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Barcelona, the life of Teresa of Ávila, and the words of Scripture. Both offer ways for us to remember, reflect, and emulate in our own prayer lives. The beautiful photos were taken by Luke during his time at Montserrat.
My prayer life has always been encouraged and energised by the writings of the saints. When I find my zeal for prayer waning or when the demands of life seem to take precedence over the solitude of prayer, I go straight to St Augustine, St Teresa of Ávila, St. Ignatius, the list goes on; and most recently, to Mother Teresa. This community of saints, those who have walked this path so humbly before us, inspire me to follow their example and enter more deeply into a life of prayer.
But how does this look in action? As a mum of two, my moments for solitude are limited, and even when I get the opportunity, I sit with Scripture and wait on God and–nothing. Prayer can very easily feel like ticking a box, and stilling my mind for any decent length of time is a challenge. But what Mother Teresa has shown me is that my prayer life has very little to do with my efforts, and the more I focus on my effort with God and the outcome of my praying, the more I am hindering God actually speaking and moving.
Mother Teresa’s life of prayer involved years of loneliness and suffering and a longing for union with Christ that was all-consuming and never satiated. Instead of giving up, she continued to faithfully serve the Lord by loving the poor. Instead of focusing inward, her prayers led her to serve everyone, knowing that in doing so she was serving her Lord.
Mother Teresa’s sacrifice of self is something that has challenged me consistently over the past few years. The complete denial of her own comfort for the service of others is so counter to the culture we are immersed in, and though culture has a part in shaping who I am, the example of Mother Teresa challenges me to question who or what I am choosing to serve.
Like Mother Teresa, I know the only way to grow in the love and service of others is to ground my life in prayer. So, I try to punctuate my day with prayer: morning and evening family prayers, praying for people who come into my mind, asking God regularly to reveal himself through those I meet. Much of this is on the go, in the car, walking with the kids, a prompt from things I see on TV–all of it hopefully building a prayer life with God at the centre and others’s needs before my own. Living and praying in communion with God, my community, and the world.
There’s a monastery tucked away in the hills about an hour inland from Barcelona. At the bell’s toll people converge before the portico of the church attached to the monastery. My memory often summons this scene as my hands open. And there’s a garden in the monastery and beyond the church that gently wakes me to God’s presence when I remember and pray. Water burbles in the background. At times Teresa of Ávila looms in my recall as well—somewhere in the hills by the portico and over the stream through the garden. Teresa was noble by class and wealthy by birth, and she assumed the Carmelite habit in 1536. Years in the school of prayer, and some out of the school by her own admission, led Teresa to co-found an order dedicated to poverty and prayer. As one commentator puts it, Teresa understood the contemplative life as “essentially a matter of the sustained awareness of living within the movement of God’s love into creation through the life and death of Jesus Christ”.
I read “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” (Matt 6:10), and I read Teresa’s work and life as an articulation of and education in what this means. I find that Scripture leads me into prayer and out of prayer, and I find that people who have been there before often help me to find my feet in the text and in the spoken word. Teresa’s remark rings true: “To get to know God’s friends is a very good way of getting to know him.”
I’ve attempted to gesture toward memory’s spatial attunement and how it serves prayer by sharing with you an entwinement of Scripture and Teresa on the grounds of the monastery at Montserrat. But the nub remains elusive to me. Let this summary suffice: a year ago, as I spent several days with the monks, Jesus came near with love at heart, and what this might mean, I cannot yet say, except to say that for Teresa, the words “Your will be done…” issue from friendship with God in Jesus Christ, and they enlist the pray-er in the service of God’s love, in the context of community, and in the face of sufferings mundane and exceptional. Jesus’s approach to the pray-er and the praying community affirms and confronts by turns, Teresa tells us, and this too I have found in prayer and I’m still learning as I pray.