Love: A Guide for Prayer

Love: A Guide for Prayer

by Jacqueline Bergan, Marie Schwan

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Grow closer to God through six weeks of prayer focused on a specific spiritual topic.

Since their original release in the late 1980s, the Take and Receive prayer-book series has sold more than 150,000 copies, and its five themed books are hailed as classics in the Ignatian prayer tradition. The first two books in the series are being repackaged and reprinted by Loyola Press.
Love: A Guide for Prayer and Forgiveness: A Guide for Prayer provide topic-based opportunities for people to grow deeper in their relationship with God through prayer. The theme of each volume directly correlates with a segment of the Spiritual Exercises, though no previous experience with the Exercises is needed to benefit from these books.
Covering 36 days over a six-week period, each day offers scriptural passages with commentary, followed by a suggested approach to prayer for that day. Especially helpful is a section at the beginning of the book that explains the different types of solitary prayer that readers will be asked to engage in throughout the six weeks, such as meditation, contemplation, and centering prayer.
Ideal for all who desire a closer relationship with God, these books help us reimagine what it means to pray and help us see with new eyes God’s presence and activity in our daily lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780829436617
Publisher: Loyola Press
Publication date: 12/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jacqueline Syrup Bergan is connected with the Franciscan Renewal Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and teaches Ignatian spirituality for the Arizona Ecumenical Institute.
Sister Marie Schwan, CSJ, is in ministry for the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.  She offers spiritual direction, conducts retreats, and is on staff for the Jesuit-directed Commissioned Lay Ministry Program and the deaconate formation program.

Read an Excerpt

Twenty-five years ago, we were together in ministry on the plains of northwestern Minnesota, bringing to parishes days and evenings of prayer. There we witnessed, and were touched by, the goodness, openness, and spiritual hunger of those who came to learn to pray and to spend time in prayer. We felt compelled to provide a follow-up to these brief spiritual experiences; thus was born the dream of writing a self-help approach to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Our own experience of the gift and power of Ignatian Spirituality created a desire to share its richness.
What we experienced as a call became a somewhat wild and faith-filled commitment to provide, at a time when such was not widely available, an approach to the Spiritual Exercises, making this Christocentric dynamic of conversion available for people who did not have the luxury of local retreat centers nor spiritual directors—some were living in parishes without resident pastors. We were so convinced of the importance of this project that we agreed that even if we were unable to find a publisher willing to take a risk with a series written by two unknown women from Minnesota, we would complete the series and wait for its moment.
We experienced the blessing of God when Bishop Victor Balke gave us a loan of $7000 to have the first volume printed. We sold 2000 copies—to all our family and friends—and paid our debt. We still had 3,000 copies on hand. Then a publisher approached us, and the series was on its way. It was always more God’s work than ours.
It is with delight and gratitude that we witness the new edition of Love, the first volume of the Take and Receive series. We are happy that the series is finding a home at Loyola Press, which has as its mission to be a repository of Ignatian spirituality.
Through the past twenty-five years the series has supported the prayer life of men and women, lay and religious. It has provided a basis for spiritual direction, been used as a text in some college courses, and has served as a guide for prayer groups—and continues to do so.
The content of this new edition remains remarkably unchanged. It speaks, we think, of the enduring quality of the series.
Over the years we have kept in prayer all those who have made use of these books, and all who supported us in the writing and the publishing of them. Our prayer for each one has been, and continues to be, the prayer of St. Paul:
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable  greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (Ephesians 1:17–19).
Jacqueline Syrup Bergan  Marie Schwan, CSJ
Feast of the Transfiguration, 2011

Getting Started: How to Pray
Lord, teach us to pray.
Luke 11:1
Prayer is our personal response to God’s presence. Just as Jesus was present to his first disciples, so God is present to each of us every day. Therefore, we can approach him reverently with a listening heart. He speaks first to us. In prayer, we acknowledge his presence and in gratitude respond to him in love. The focus is always on God and what he does. The following suggestions are offered as ways that will help us be attentive to God’s word and to respond to it uniquely.
Daily Pattern of Prayer
For each period of prayer, use the following pattern:
Before Prayer—Preparation
Plan to spend at least twenty minutes to one hour in prayer daily. Although there is nothing “sacred” about sixty minutes, most people find that an hour better provides for quieting themselves and entering fully into the Scripture passage. To better prepare your heart and mind, take time the evening before to read the commentary as well as the Scripture passage for the following day. Just before falling asleep, recall the Scripture passage.
During Prayer—Structuring Your Time
As you begin your prayer time, quiet yourself; be still inside and out. Relax and breathe in and out, deeply and slowly. Repeat several times.
Realize that you are nothing without God and declare your dependence on him. Ask him for the grace you want and need. Then read and reflect on your chosen Scripture passage, using the appropriate form, such as meditation for poetic and nonstory passages or contemplation for stories or events. (See the section on the variety of ways to pray privately, page 3). Close the prayer period with a time of conversation with Jesus and his Father. Speak to God personally and listen attentively. Conclude with the Our Father.
After Prayer—Review
At the conclusion of the prayer period, take the time for review and reflection. The purpose of the review is to heighten your awareness of how God has been present to you during the prayer period. The review focuses primarily on what St. Ignatius described as the interior movements of consolation and desolation as they are revealed in your feelings of joy, peace, sadness, fear, ambivalence, anger, or any other emotion.
Often it is in the review that we become aware of how God has responded to our request for a particular grace or of what he may have said to us. Writing the review provides for personal accountability, and it is a precious record of our spiritual journey. To write the review is a step toward knowing ourselves as God sees us.
In the absence of a spiritual director or spiritual companion, the writing helps fill the need for evaluation and clarification. If you have a spiritual director, the written review offers an excellent means of preparing to share your prayer experience.
Keep a notebook or journal with you during prayer. After each prayer period, indicate the date and the Scripture passage that was the subject of your reflection. Then answer each of the following questions: Was there any word or phrase that particularly struck you? How did you feel? Were you peaceful? Loving? Trusting? Sad? Discouraged? What do these feelings say to you? How are you more aware of God’s presence? Is there some point to which you should return during your next prayer period?
A Variety of Ways to Pray Privately
There are various forms of scriptural prayer. Different forms appeal to different people. Eventually, by trying various methods, we become adept at using approaches that are appropriate to particular passages and are in harmony with our personality and needs. This guide will make use of seven forms.
1. Meditation
In meditation, one approaches the Scripture passage as though it were a love letter. This approach is especially helpful in praying poetic passages.
To use this method, read the passage slowly, aloud or in a whisper, savoring the words and letting them wash over you. Stay with the words that especially catch your attention; absorb them the way the thirsty earth receives the rain. Keep repeating a word or phrase, aware of the feelings that are awakened in you as well as a sense of God’s presence.
Read and reread the passage lovingly, as you would a letter from a dear friend, or as you would softly sing the chorus of a song.
2. Contemplation
In contemplation, we enter a life event or story passage of Scripture. We enter the passage by way of imagination, making use of all our senses. Theologians tell us that through contemplation we are able to “recall and be present at the mysteries of Christ’s life” (13, p. 149).* The Spirit of Jesus, present within us through baptism, teaches us just as Jesus taught the apostles. The Spirit recalls and enlivens the particular mystery into which we enter through prayer. As in the Eucharist, the risen Jesus makes present the paschal mystery, in contemplation he brings forth the particular event we are contemplating and presents himself within that mystery. God allows us to imagine ourselves present in a specific Scripture passage, where we can encounter Jesus face-to-face.
To use this method, enter the story as if you were there. Watch what happens; listen to what is being said. Become part of the story, assuming the role of one of the persons. Then look at each of the individuals. What does he or she experience? To whom does each one speak? Ask yourself, “What difference does it make for my life, my family, for society, if I hear the message?”
In the Gospel stories, be sure to talk with Jesus. Be there with him and for him. Want him; hunger for him. Listen to him. Let him be for you what he wants to be. Respond to him.
3. Centering Prayer
The Cistercian monk and writer M. Basil Pennington has noted, “In centering prayer we go beyond thought and image, beyond the senses and the rational mind to that center of our being where God is working a wonderful work” (25, p. 18).
Centering prayer is a very simple, pure form of prayer, frequently without words. It is a path toward contemplative prayer, an opening of our hearts to the Spirit dwelling within us. In centering prayer, we travel down into the deepest center of ourselves. It is the point of stillness within us where we most experience being created by a loving God who is breathing us into life.
To enter centering prayer requires that we recognize our dependence on God and surrender to his Spirit of love. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . . that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). The Spirit of Jesus within us cries out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).
To use this method, sit quietly, comfortable and relaxed. Rest within your longing and desire for God. Move to the center within your deepest self. This movement can be facilitated by imagining yourself slowly descending in an elevator, walking down flights of stairs, descending a mountain, or going down into a deep pool of water.
In the stillness, become aware of God’s presence. “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10). Peacefully absorb his love.
4. Prayer Word
One means of centering prayer is the use of a prayer word. It can be a single word or a phrase. It can be a word from Scripture or one that arises spontaneously from within your heart. The word or phrase represents, for you, the fullness of God. Variations of the prayer word may include the name “Jesus” or what is known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
To use this method, repeat the word or phrase slowly to yourself in harmony with your breathing. For example, say the first part of the Jesus Prayer while inhaling, the second half while exhaling.
5. Meditative Reading
So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said . . . eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
Ezekiel 3:2–3
One of the approaches to prayer is reflective reading of Scripture or other spiritual writings. Spiritual reading is always enriching to our life of prayer, but it is especially helpful in times when prayer is difficult or dry.
To use this method, read slowly, pausing periodically to allow the words and phrases to settle inside you. When a thought resonates deeply, stay with it, allowing the fullness of it to penetrate your being. Relish the word received. Respond authentically and spontaneously, as in a dialogue.
6. Journaling
The mystery was made known to me . . . as I wrote, . . . a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.
Ephesians 3:3–4
Journaling is meditative writing. When we place pen on paper, spirit and body cooperate to release our true selves. There is a difference between journaling and keeping a journal. To journal is to experience God’s presence as we see ourselves in a new light and as fresh images rise to the surface from deep within. Journaling requires putting aside preconceived ideas and control.
Meditative writing is like writing a letter to one we love. We recall memories, clarify our convictions, and allow affections to well up within us. In writing, we may discover that emotions are intensified and prolonged.
Because of this, journaling can also serve in identifying and healing hidden feelings such as anger, fear, and resentment. When we write to God honestly, he can begin to heal past hurts or memories that have stayed with us for years. In addition, journaling can give us a deeper appreciation for the written word as we encounter it in Scripture.
Journaling in prayer can take various forms:
Write a letter addressed to God.
Write a conversation between yourself and someone else. The other person may be Jesus or another significant person; the dialogue can also be about an event, an experience, or a value. For example, you can give death, separation, or wisdom personal attributes and imagine each as a person with whom you can converse.
Write an answer to a question, such as, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) or “Why are you weeping?” (John 20:15).
Allow Jesus or another person in Scripture to “speak” to you through the pen.
7. Repetition
I will remain quietly meditating upon the point in which I have found what I desire without any eagerness to go on till I have been satisfied.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (31, p. 110)
Repetition is the return to a previous period of prayer for the purpose of allowing the movements of God to deepen within the heart. Through repetitions, we fine-tune our sensitivities to God and to how he speaks in our prayer and in our life circumstances. The prayer of repetition teaches us to understand who we are in light of how God sees us and who God is revealing himself to be for us.
Repetition is a way of honoring God’s word to us in the earlier prayer period. It is recalling and pondering an earlier conversation with one we love. It is as if we say to God, “Tell me that again; what did I hear you saying?” In this follow-up conversation or repetition, we open ourselves to a healing presence that often transforms whatever sadness and confusion we may have experienced the first time we prayed.
In repetitions, not only does the consolation (joy, warmth, peace) deepen, but the desolation (pain, sadness, confusion) frequently moves to a new level of understanding and acceptance within God’s plan for us.
To use this method, select a period of prayer to repeat in which you have experienced a significant movement of joy, sadness, or confusion. You might also select a period in which nothing seemed to happen—perhaps because of your lack of readiness at the time.
To begin, recall the feelings of the first period of prayer. Use as a point of entry the scene, word, or feeling that was previously most significant. Allow the Spirit to direct the inner movements of your heart during this time of prayer.
Four Spiritual Practices and Helps
1. Examen of Consciousness
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
Psalm 139:1
The examen of consciousness is the instrument by which we discover how God has been present to us and how we have responded to his presence through the day. St. Ignatius believed this practice was so important that, in the event it was impossible to have a formal prayer period, it would sustain one’s vital link with God.
The examen of consciousness is not to be confused with an examination of conscience in which penitents are concerned with their failures. It is, rather, an exploration of how God is present within the events, circumstances, and feelings of our daily lives. What the review is to the prayer period, the examen is to our daily life. The daily discipline of an authentic practice of the examen brings about a balance that is essential for growth in relationship to God, to self, and to others. The method reflects the “dynamic movement of personal love: what we always want to say to a person whom we truly love in the order in which we want to say it. . . . Thank you . . . Help me . . . I love you . . . I’m sorry . . . Be with me” (10, pp. 34–35).
The following prayer is a suggested approach to the examen. The written response can be incorporated into the prayer journal:
God, my Father, I am totally dependent on you. Everything is a gift from you. All is gift. I give you thanks and praise for the gifts of this day.
Lord, I believe you work through and in time to reveal me to myself. Please give me an increased awareness of how you are guiding and shaping my life, as well as a more sensitive awareness of the obstacles I put in your way.
You have been present in my life today. Be near, now, as I reflect on
—your presence in the events of today
—your presence in the feelings I experienced today
—your call to me
—my response to you
Father, I ask your loving forgiveness and healing. The particular event of this day that I most want healed is . . .
Filled with hope and a firm belief in your love and power, I entrust myself to your care and strongly affirm . . . (Claim the gift you most desire, most need; believe that God desires to give you that gift.)
2. Faith Sharing
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
Matthew 18:20
In the creation of community, it is essential that members communicate intimately with one another about the core issues of their lives. For the Christian, this is faith sharing, and it is an extension of daily solitary prayer.
A faith-sharing group, whether part of a parish, lay movement, or diocesan program, is not a discussion group, sensitivity session, or social gathering. Members do not come together to share and receive intellectual or theological insights. Nor is the purpose of faith sharing the accomplishment of some predetermined task. Instead, the purpose is to listen and to be open to God as he continues to reveal himself in the church community represented in the small group that comes together in his name. The fruit of faith sharing is the “building up” of the church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).
The approach of faith sharing is one of reading and reflecting together on the word of God. Faith sharing calls us to share with one another, from deep within our hearts, what it means to be a follower of Christ in our world today. To enter faith sharing authentically is to know and love one another in Christ, whose Spirit is the bonding force of community.
An image that faith-sharing groups may find helpful is that of a pool into which pebbles are dropped. The group gathers in a circle around a pool. Like a pebble being gently dropped into the water, each one offers a reflection—his or her “word” from God. In the shared silence, each offering is received. As the water ripples in concentric circles toward the outer reaches of the pool, so too this word enlarges and embraces, in love, each member of the circle.
Faith-sharing groups are usually made up of seven to ten members who gather at a prearranged time and place. One member designated as the leader calls the group to prayer and invites them to some moments of silence, during which they pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. The leader gathers their silent prayer in an opening prayer, spontaneous or prepared.
One of the members reads a previously chosen Scripture passage on which participants have spent some time in solitary prayer. A period of silence follows each reading of the Scripture. Then the leader invites each person to share a word or phrase from the reading. Another member rereads the passage; this is followed by a time of silence.
The leader invites those members who desire to share how this passage personally affects them—whether, for example, it challenges, comforts, or inspires them.
Again the passage is read. Members are invited to offer their spontaneous prayers. Finally, the leader draws the time of faith sharing to a close with a prayer, a blessing, an Our Father, or a hymn. Before the group disbands, the passage for the following session is announced.
3. The Role of Imagination in Prayer
Imagination is our power of memory and recall, which makes it possible for us to enter the experience of the past and to create the future. Through images we are able to touch the center of who we are and to give life and expression to the innermost levels of our being.
The use of images is important to our development, both spiritually and psychologically. Images simultaneously reveal multiple levels of meaning and are therefore symbolic of a deeper reality. Through the structured use of active imagination, we release the hidden energy and potential to become the complete person that God has created us to be.
When active imagination is used in the context of prayer, and with an attitude of faith, we open ourselves to the power and mystery of God’s transforming presence within us. Because Scripture is, for the most part, a collection of stories and rich in sensual imagery, the use of active imagination in praying Scripture is particularly enriching. When we rely on images as we read Scripture, we go beyond the truth of history to discover the truth of the mystery of God’s creative word in our lives (12, p. 76).
4. Coping with Distractions
It is important not to become overly concerned or discouraged by distractions during prayer. Simply put them aside and return to your prayer material. If and when a distraction persists, it may be a call to attend prayerfully to the object of distraction. For example, it would not be surprising if an unresolved conflict continues to surface until you have dealt with it.
Part One
God’s Love
Week One, Day 1
God’s Encircling Presence
Psalm 139:1–18
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.
Psalm 139 calls us to one of the most precious insights conceivable: the experience of ourselves as a divine “secret.” Scholars are not certain of the psalmist’s intent. The psalm may be a hymn of thanksgiving. It may even have been a defense; some scholars speculate that it was composed by a religious leader accused of worshipping false gods. What is obvious is that it is a consideration of God’s pervasive, pursuing presence, shaped not in impersonal terms but in concrete images drawn from the life experience of the poet.
The psalmist stands before God. In the opening verses, he is aware of the penetrating gaze of God, who knows the psalmist’s very heart and soul. It is the gaze of the physician, diagnostic and incisive, probing and discerning the evasive but death-dealing symptoms of disease. It is the look of the mentor who perceives the hidden potential within the student and is sensitive to the inner drive of unrealized dreams. It is the mother’s contemplation of her child, the love-knowledge of a creator for that which has been formed in the embrace of love.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” The poet is aware of God’s inescapable presence. Like the atmospheric shield that encircles our planet, God’s presence is everywhere. God shows his face in the depths of despair as well as in the heights of joy. He meets us at every crossroads, even in the dark recesses of our unfaithfulness. There is no escape. So great a love demands a total response.
“Where can I flee from your presence?” The poet looks into his own heart and reverently contemplates the marvel of God’s creative action, not only in the womb of his mother but also in his personal history. The hands of God have been knitting him together, leading him through the various stages of his life, and they have brought him to this moment.
Suggested Approach to Prayer:
God in My Life
Daily Prayer Pattern (refer to pages 1–3).
I quiet myself and relax in the presence of God.
I declare my dependence on God.
I ask for the gift of trust and confidence in God’s love and for a readiness to let God teach me to pray.
I review my life and write down twelve significant events of my life from my birth until the present time.












How has God’s love been present and revealed to me at each of these events?
I focus on one event; I remember the time and imaginatively re-create and enter into the scene of the event:
Where am I in the scene? What kind of day was it?
What did I feel? Joy? Delight? Any other emotion?
Who were the people involved?
I let the feelings that I experienced then be present to me now.
I pray Psalm 139. I let the words wash over me. I open myself to receive God’s love. I allow his presence to enter and to fill me.
I thank God for being present within my history.
I close my prayer with the Our Father.
Review of Prayer
I record in my journal the event I focused on and the feelings and reflections I experienced.
Week One, Day 2
You Are Precious
Isaiah 43:1–7
But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
    For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.
In this passage, God directly addresses his people, the Israelites, through the words of Isaiah, the poet and prophet. It is helpful in reading these verses to have some sense of the historical references. God’s people carry the name of their ancestor Jacob, who was given the name Israel by God (Genesis 32:23–32). The passage through the sea may be a reference to the saving event of the Exodus through the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Strongly yet tenderly, the Lord speaks to his people and reminds them of his love, not only in the formation of the nation of Israel but also as a sustaining presence throughout the perils of their history.
In the passage, God directly addresses the fear of his people. In the timelessness of God’s word, we, the new Israel, are reassured in the midst of the perils of our lives and our times.
Fire and water were, to early Israel, ever-present and realistic threats. In the face of fire, there was no recourse, no help. People were at the mercy of flames as fire swept through a village, destroying every home. Never a seafaring people, the Israelites also had a deep fear of the sea’s dark mysteries.
Primordially, water and fire are symbols grounded deeply in our human psyche. Paradoxically, they are representative of danger and death as well as of cleansing, new life, power, and energy. The images of fire and water engender responses not only of fear and anxiety but also of hope.
As the Old Testament word is spoken today, in our personal lives and in society, where do we experience the passage through the sea and the walk through fire?
“Do not fear, for I am with you.” With unerring accuracy, this passage identifies our most vulnerable weakness: fear, fear of being unloved and unlovable. To each of us, whenever we are in the throes of that fear, the Lord says: “I have called you by name . . . you are mine . . . you are precious in my eyes . . . I love you . . . I am with you.”
In the midst of their fear-filled experiences, the Israelites heard these incredibly reassuring words of God. In our own lives, we often discover that the Lord’s favorite time and place to speak are during these same kinds of experiences!
Suggested Approach to Prayer:
A Love Letter from God
Daily Prayer Pattern
I quiet myself and relax in the presence of God.
I declare my dependence on God.
I ask for a deep experience of God’s care, goodness, kindness, and faithfulness to me.
Method: Meditation (refer to page 6)
The word of God is a word of love addressed to us during the difficulties and trials of our lives:
I approach Isaiah 43 as God’s personal love letter to me. I allow his reassuring words to enter into my heart.
I let the words wash over me. I stay with those words or phrases that have particularly touched me.
I talk quietly to God in my own words, thanking him for his word of love.
I close my prayer with an Our Father.
Review of Prayer
I write in my journal any feelings, experiences, or insights that have come to my awareness during this prayer period.
Week One, Day 3
God First Loved Us
1 John 4:7–8, 18–19
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
God is love. How easily we say it; how often we hear it. How do we penetrate a phrase that is, in so many ways, a cliché? St. John reaches out to guide us toward a greater understanding of, and openness to, that love.
John tells us that the origin of all love is in God and that human love is a reflection of God’s love. He assures us that God’s love is a creative force, a love that has called into being all of creation—each one of us! We are invited to receive and to return love.
God’s love is an effective love. It changes us—our way of seeing and our way of responding. Although we cannot see God, we can see the effect of his love in the circumstances of our lives. His love becomes visible in an awareness of his caring for us through all the people who have loved us. It becomes visible in the ­realization of the many times we have been spared the consequences of our sin and foolishness.
Most of all, God’s love becomes visible when we feel our fears dissipating and our hearts expanding with love and concern for others. Even if our personal experiences of being loved have sometimes been disappointing, there is within the core of us, always alive, always yearning, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of God, which continues to create us and to hold us in being.
God is love; he has first loved us.
Suggested Approach to Prayer:
A Window on God
Daily Prayer Pattern
I quiet myself and relax in the presence of God.
I declare my dependence on God.
I ask for an experience of God’s care, goodness, kindness, and faithfulness to me.
My image of God has been formed by experience. My life reflects the image I hold in my heart. The image is not fixed; it is ever growing toward fullness.
I will use the following exercise as a window on God, to see more clearly who God is for me. Use this space for feelings, insights, questions, or resolutions that emerge from your reflection on the other three areas:
God—as he was presented to me, or taught to me, when I was a child   
God—as I would like to know him; as I would like him to be; as I would like to relate to him   
God—as I have come to know him through my own experience and searching   

I close with the Our Father.
Review of Prayer
I write in my journal about any new awareness of how God has been a sustaining presence throughout my personal journey.
Week One, Day 4
Love Made Visible
Exodus 19:3–4
Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
After three months in the desert, the Israelites came to an oasis. They pitched camp facing the mountain. From that mountain, Moses and his people received an astonishing offer: the God who led them out of slavery offered them an invitation into a relationship of freedom. He gave them the choice to love, and that choice was based on what they had experienced of his love—an unfailing faithfulness.
This faithful presence of God was experienced not only in their deliverance from the Reed Sea but also in his caring for them in the desert. The ancient symbol of the eagle is used to express to the Israelites God’s presence and power; he will be with them, even carrying them on the journey.
While the description of the offer may seem legalistic and formal, what God was really offering the Israelites was a relationship of love. I will be your God, and you shall be my people (Leviticus 26:12). This love was not unlike a marriage between two people. The contract was formal and legally binding, but the commitment was one of love. In choosing to love each other, a uniquely intimate union is created—a union that will sustain and support them.
Like the Israelites, we too receive this astonishing offer. Insofar as we say yes, the promise—the covenant—is fulfilled, and we become God’s own people, a priestly people, holy and consecrated.
Suggested Approach to Prayer:
An Astonishing Offer
Daily Prayer Pattern
I quiet myself and relax in the presence of God.
I declare my dependence on God.
I ask for the gift of experiencing God’s care, goodness, kindness, and faithfulness to me.
Method: “Your eyes saw what I did” (Joshua 24:7)
I reflect how, in my life history, I have been “carried” and sustained by the love I have received.
I recall the many ways in which this love was made visible—through the provision of my physical needs, through supportive relationships, through the enjoyment of life and a sense of purpose.
I become aware that these gifts have been a part of God’s plan for me. I allow myself to experience the security and freedom of God’s particular care and choice of me.
In light of this experience of all God has done for me, I imagine and record in my journal how the commitment God has offered me might appear if written. For example:
“I, God, as your creator, do hereby agree to love you unconditionally. I will manifest this love within the circumstances and reality of your life in the following ways:
I will support you by

I will nourish you by

I will give you

I will

The conditions of this commitment have been effective from the moment of my first thought of you. This offer is exempt from ever being terminated.
Signed, God”
I close my prayer with the Our Father.
Week One, Day 5
Tender, Kind, and Compassionate
Psalm 103
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
    he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
    on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
This psalm is an Old Testament magnificat, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. In its beauty, it is an encompassing theological statement that comes alive in the unique and profound depth of the psalmist’s personal spirituality. It is liturgically expressed in song and was probably sung by an individual rather than a choir. The reference to God as king suggests that the setting was the festival of the Lord’s enthronement at the beginning of the new year.
In this psalm we have one of the clearest descriptions of an individual’s relationship to God. The psalmist recounts to us how he experiences God in relationship to himself, to his people Israel, and to all of creation. The psalm reveals to us a God who is near, yet transcendent, loving, and faithful. God is as near as our next breath. He is present in the healing of our brokenness, in the forgiving of our sins, and in the joy of our tender sharing with one another. Just as the molting eagle receives new feathers for flight, we too receive all that we need.
Standing among his own people, the psalmist recalls that God’s love revealed the covenant offered through Moses on the mountain of Sinai. This covenant was one of everlasting mercy. The word used here is hesed, the Hebrew word that embraces the fullness of a love that is totally kind, tender, and compassionate. Such love is a gift, undeserved and unconditional.
The psalmist reassures us that, although we, as human creatures, are frail and live for only a brief time, the fullness of our existence is realized within the faithfulness of God’s love for us. We need only surrender ourselves in trust.
Finally, the psalmist tells us that God embraces not only all of humanity but also all of creation. He is Lord of heaven and earth. May he be Lord of each human heart.
Suggested Approach to Prayer:
The Energy of Love
Daily Prayer Pattern
I quiet myself and relax in the presence of God.
I declare my dependence on God.
I ask for the grace to experience God’s care, goodness, kindness, and faithfulness to me.
Method: Meditation
I read the psalm slowly, several times. As I read, I breathe in the tender, kind, and understanding love of God. I imagine the strength of this love flowing through me. Just as my arteries deliver the sustenance of life to every cell and synapse of my body, God’s sustaining love permeates my entire being.
I allow myself to experience the energizing refreshment that this love brings.
I close with the Our Father.
Review of Prayer
I write in my journal any feelings, experiences, or insights that have come to my awareness during this prayer period.
Week One, Day 6
Suggested Approach to Prayer
Daily Prayer Pattern
I quiet myself and relax in the presence of God.
I declare my dependence on God.
I ask for the grace to experience God’s care, goodness, kindness, and faithfulness to me.
It will be particularly helpful to read “Repetition” on pages 7 and 8.
In preparation I review my prayer by reading my journal of the past week. I select for my repetition the period of prayer in which I was deeply moved by joy, gratitude, or awe. I proceed in the manner I did originally, focusing on the scene, word, or feeling that was significant.
Review of Prayer
I write in my journal any feelings, experiences, or insights that have come to my awareness during this prayer period.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi
Getting Started: How to Pray 1
Part One—God’s Love 15
Week One
 Day 1 Psalm 139:1–18: God’s Encircling Presence 16
 Day 2 Isaiah 43:1–7: You Are Precious 22
 Day 3 1 John 4:7–8, 18–19: God First Loved Us 26
 Day 4 Exodus 19:3–4: Love Made Visible 30
 Day 5 Psalm 103: Tender, Kind, and Compassionate 33
 Day 6 Repetition 37
Part Two—God’s Goodness 39
Week Two
 Day 1 Hosea 11:1–9: With Cords of Kindness 40
 Day 2 Luke 12:4–7: From Fear to Confidence 44
 Day 3 Isaiah 49:14–16: Held in Remembrance 47
 Day 4 Psalm 136: God’s Kindness Forever 50
 Day 5 Psalm 8: Ordained to Glory 55
 Day 6 Repetition 58
Part Three—God’s Creation 59
Week Three
 Day 1 Jeremiah 18:1–6: On Being Resilient Clay 60
 Day 2 Job 1:20–21: Naked before God 63
 Day 3 Psalm 104: The Splendor of God 66
 Day 4 Psalm 19: The Language of Love 72
 Day 5 Why Me? 77
 Day 6 Repetition 79
Part Four—Spiritual Freedom 81
Week Four
 Day 1 Romans 9:20–21: The Potter’s Choice 82
 Day 2 Exodus 3:1–6: Within the Fire 85
 Day 3 Genesis 22:1–18: The Blessing of Trust 88
 Day 4 Philippians 3:7–11: From Law to Love 92
 Day 5 Romans 8:18–25: Hope 95
 Day 6 Repetition 98
Week Five
 Day 1 Isaiah 45:9–13: Within the Chaos 99
 Day 2 Hebrews 11:17–19: Faith 102
 Day 3 1 Corinthians 9:19–23: Side by Side 105
 Day 4 Philippians 1:21–26: In Christ 108
 Day 5 Repetition 111
 Day 6 John 3:22–32: The Bridegroom 112
Part Five—Commitment 117
Week Six
 Day 1 1 Samuel 3:1–11: Here I Am 118
 Day 2 Luke 1:26–38: Model for Surrender 121
 Day 3 Wisdom 9:1–12: Plea for Wisdom 124
 Day 4 Romans 8:31–39: From Judge to Lover 128
 Day 5 Ephesians 3:14–21: Christ: Fullness of God 131
 Day 6 Letter to God 134 Appendix A
 For Spiritual Directors 135
Appendix B
 Index of Approaches to Prayer 137
Bibliography 139
About the Authors 143


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