In my reading of Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within, I have come upon the chapter describing St. Teresa of Avila’s seven mansions. As a preliminary to the discussion of the mansions, Fr. Dubay described her teachings regarding vocal prayer.
Letting go of old habits
As a pure beginner in contemplative prayer, I have felt confused of late as to whether I should be using my imagination to conjure up images during prayer, or think of concepts. From my reading I have gathered that my imagination falls very short of what is possible just by letting go of everything human and allowing myself to be drawn into God’s presence.
Being a creative sort, and a visual learner, putting aside my imagination has been hard to say the least. I have found some wonderful consolation in prayer doing such things, and have also pondered many wonderful ideas. These things aren’t wrong, but they just scratch the surface. God is inviting me to go much deeper and to do that, I must put aside these primitive ways of praying.
Bless St. Teresa and her innate understanding of human nature. She offers concrete ways to enter into this prayer, and I tried one this morning amidst an array of distractions.
She suggested focusing on a favorite image of Jesus and I have an icon I treasure that hangs on wall across from the rocking chair in our bedroom where I will pray and write. It’s pictured to the left.
I began to pray my rosary and focused on the picture. Now mind you, there was an unusual amount of noise and chaos going on around me – the roofers had arrived promptly at 7:30 am and were tearing our roof apart! Shingles were falling like rain!
Peace in the midst of chaos
In the middle of the rosary, one of the workman knocked on the door, needing to get into our basement to access the chimney. I calmly let him in and resumed my prayer.
My son then came in and we discussed plans for the day. I continued to remain calm and returned to prayer as if nothing happened.
This has never happened before!
Interruption to prayer always entailed frustration, aggravation, irritation. Yet this time I managed to stay in the presence of Jesus and remained calm. My peace was not disrupted.
Gazing upon the face of Jesus
The only thing I can think of that I did differently was to keep my focus on Jesus and just gaze upon Him.
My spiritual mother daily sits in her rocking chair and just contemplates the face of Jesus. I was in awe of that and envied her.
Now I have a taste of what she experiences.
It’s possible for me, and it’s possible for you too. Fr. Dubay reminds anyone who will listen that we are all called to deeper communion. St. Paul reminds us to “pray always.” It can be done.
And the more you taste it, the more the desire will grow.
Copyright 2011 Susan Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.