to having a
This may be the first time you have done this – though you may have been intending to for a long time
You have booked a day or 24 hr overnight somewhere - a retreat house, monastery or bolt hole of your own.
You want to spend some time in quiet, reflection and prayer.
You know you want this but are uncertain and even a bit nervous about how it will be.
There is no right or wrong way of doing it of course. It is very personal to each of us – and rightly so.
But here are some tried and tested suggestions for planning and using such a time.
Be honest about how you are anticipating the day.
Are there issues/pressures/concerns – practical and personal – that could easily get in the way?
How much experience do you have of quiet days, time alone, silence – and how do you feel about them?
These questions will help to discern how best to spend the time and what resources will support you as you do so.
You will get out of it what you are prepared to put into it – let it be a space for God.
You may be sharing the day with other people or a group. You need to decide how much you wish to be silent. Others may need to know this. Meal times are one such time. Some retreat houses serve meals in silence and play music in the background – or encourage you to bring a book to read. Most retreat houses will let you take you meal to a quiet corner or to your room. You are not being rude or unfriendly if you decide to not talk to anyone for the day.
Some find silence this easier than others. Although strange at first, it is actually quite a relief to have permission not to speak. Because we are not speaking, our other senses will be more alive, making us more sensitive, not less, to life around us – and to God's Spirit among us. 'God is a friend of silence'.
Finding a place to pray
We need to start somewhere. Geography matters. Find a place to sit or kneel. In your room, or in the chapel, or outside. This isn't always easy. Somewhere we can be still an (if possible, undistracted). God will bless with his presence what we offer him, however inadequate it feels. It may help to have a lit candle, an icon or picture or other focus for the eyes.
You pray as a some-body, not a no-body. Respect your body it is a partner in prayer. Whenever you pray, choose a posture that is comfortable but alert.
If you have not thought of this before you might take some time to explore different postures or visual aids to prayer.
Preparing for the day
We can't just turn on stillness. We seek stillness in the midst of very busy lives. The quiet can be a shock – like suddenly jamming on the brakes. If you can allow yourself some 'down time' the evening or day before the Quiet Day, to help you prepare that can be a real help.
On the day decide what you will do with your mobile phone, emails, lap top etc during the day. Be firm with yourself. Much less is essential than we think.
Using the time
Some retreat houses and all monasteries have regular times of prayer/worship. You may find it helpful to let these give a shape to your day by attending them. In between there can be time for personal reflection and prayer. The main advice is – whatever you do, attempt less than your inclination - and slow it down.
Some find this a helpful way of collecting thoughts and reflections, to return to later. This will not be polished writing. It can be a scrap book – phrases, notes ideas … any way that captures thoughts that are important and that you might return to.
There is a tendency to read too much – perhaps a way of trying to fill the silence? Read just a few pages and then pause and reflect. The re-read the pages. Then take one of the thoughts in what you have read and hold it in your heart. Be gentle with that word. Do not strain for results or feelings you feel you ought to be having. Some speak of 'rocking and cradling the word' – like a small child resting in a cot, digesting its feed.
You may find drawing or making things a helpful way of praying and reflecting, Some retreat centres have the facilities but you will probably need to take your own to be sure.
Seeking company or guidance
Retreat centres and monasteries will always have people available to talk and pray with. Just ask. Silence can be a searching experience and in the stillness things may come to the surface that need the wisdom of others to help s respond to.
The rule is 'pray as you can, not as you can't'. This is not a day for spiritual heroics! It may be better to decide that you will pray for short spells and then go for a walk or have a cup of coffee. We are all stopping in the midst of busy lives. We must be gentle with ourselves. The day is part of a greater whole.
Withdrawing from noise and bustle of daily living, even for a short time, leaves us more sensitive. Re-entry can feel as if someone has turned the volume up. Be gentle with yourself and how its feels. There were times when Jesus warned his disciples not to immediately talk about things they had experienced or been part of. That is wise. We need time to let things sink in a bit deeper. Don't chatter it away. It has been said that 'wise words need time to mature'.
'Don't be worried about what is happening or not happening; about what seems to be going on the surface. Hand that over to God, and believe that below the surface your mind and will and heart are being drawn into a place where God is at work – only pray that he will use the time in his own way. God is the source of your prayer.'
- finding a place
Here is a very simple pattern for a 10-20 minute time of prayer .
You could simply repeat this pattern at different moments through the day.
The golden rule: 'Pray as you can, not as you can't. Take yourself as you find yourself and start from there'. Life is often hectic and time to pray is short. Most of us need help to settle and become still. Here is a suggestion for 10, 15 or 20 minutes praying.
A place and a posture.
Choose somewhere comfortable but alert. Sitting, kneeling, standing? Would a visual focus help – a candle, picture, cross or a view from a window?
As natural as breathing.
As you sit quietly become aware of your breathing and then deepen it slightly and let it find a natural rhythm.
Now as you breathe in take in the words: 'Lord Jesus Christ'.
Imagine him coming like fresh life into the depths of your life.
As you breathe out complete the prayer with the words: 'have mercy on me'
We are receiving the love of God who comes to us as we are … and who then lovingly clears out the clutter and confusion of our lives and makes space for us to be with him.
Pray this prayer for a few minutes on the rhythm of your breathing.
An act of acceptance and offering
Quietly reflect on the 'world' you have brought with you to prayer – its moods, problems, joys, relationships. In the quiet you may already be aware of them pressing for attention. Do not push them away or fight them. Instead gather them up as if you hold them in your hands and offer them to the loving care of God.
Receiving God's Word
This is a good place to read a few verses from the Bible – slowly and more than once … chewing it over. Hold onto one word, phrase or image and make it your focus.
Praying for others
A suggestion for praying using your hands.
Hands cupped (as if holding something in them) – gather to God in offering, petition and thanksgiving the events of the past day or week ….
- be still for a while
Hands reaching out (as if showing God the world around us) – naming places and people and situations.
- be still for a while
Hands reaching up – as if in longing and welcome – we express our hope in God that he still comes to save and transform.
- be still for a while
The Lord's prayer, the words of The Grace or other words may be used or quietly bowing in worship and thanks.
Take some space …..