March 1, 2018
By Sarah Brabant, SHCJ Associate, American Province
Anita Martineau’s wonderful article on praying in the shower brought back memories of my prayer journey. For years my praying was pretty much limited to exclamations of “Oh, my God!” and various requests. This meager prayer life, coupled with my lukewarm spirituality, prompted me to attend my first silent retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau. I thought surely I would be asked to kneel for hours in daily prayer and/or memorize long passages of scripture. I was ready to show God that I was willing to do either or both. I was in for a surprise. All of my spiritual directors picked up on the fact that reading was my drug of choice. I was given nothing to read except a short bible verse and told to focus on this verse several times a day. I was encouraged to walk, to bicycle, and to swim. That was it. I found myself thinking about my daily verse as I walked and walked and walked, and one day in the pool, I realized that I was saying the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the 23rd Psalm as I swam. And then I found myself talking to God and then, at last, listening to God. Each summer I returned for three-day retreats, then five-day retreats, then eight-day retreats, and finally, thirteen years after my first retreat, I returned for the thirty-day retreat. When I had signed up for the original retreat, I was determined to do all that was asked of me. I would show God what I was willing to do for Him. Little did I know that this wish to “show God” was finally to be tested.
In each room of the retreat house was a prie-dieu, and one day I decided that I would kneel on this for the entire hour of one prayer period. It was a miserable hour. My back hurt, my knees hurt, and I grew increasingly thirsty. But I was determined to show God. Later, at a meeting with my spiritual director, I shared what had happened with, I admit, some pride in my perseverance. She was particularly interested in my thirst and inquired whether there was something wrong with the water fountain just outside my room. When I responded, “No,” she said, “Well, why didn’t you get a drink and then resume your prayers?” Before I thought, I said, “I wanted to show God what I was willing to do.” Her eyes rolled up as she dryly commented, “Well, I’m certain He was impressed. Turn the page.”
At long last, I understood that prayer time was an opportunity to be alone with God, not an attempt to show God anything. There is a story about Saint Ignatius that when he prayed, he often lay on the floor. One of Saint Ignatius’ followers noted that he often fell asleep and the holy man replied, “Well, I must have needed sleep.” I don’t know if this is a true story, but it rings true for me. Now when I retire to my prayer chair, a comfortable old plush but worn rocker, I look forward to being with God. I read the Psalms and lessons for the day. I watch the birds feeding at the feeder outside my window. If I am restless, I gather my colors and my coloring book and begin to color. Slowly I find myself quieting down. Sometimes I ask God something. Most of the time I sit in silence and sometimes, God speaks to me. Sometimes a person will come into my mind. I always call this person when I arise from my chair and am amazed at how often the individual will thank me for calling, and tell me s/he needed a call.
Thank you, Anita, for sharing that you pray in the shower. At eighty-five, I no longer swim, but it was swimming when I was really able to be with God in prayer.
The Significance of Grand Coteau, LA, in the life of Cornelia Connelly, Founder of the Society
Grand Coteau, LA, is a sacred place in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus’ history. Cornelia and her husband Pierce lived in Grand Coteau with their five children, and where two of those children died – one in a tragic accident and the other as a newborn baby. Both children – John Henry and Mary Magdalen – are buried in Grand Coteau. It is also the place where Pierce told Conrelia of his decision to pursue ordination as a Catholic priest, a decision that set into motion a series of events that led to the end of their marriage. The Holy Child Sisters speak of Grand Coteau as the place where the Society was founded and “on a breaking heart.” To read more about Cornelia’s life, visit the Society of the Holy Child Jesus’ website.