[NOTE: Be on the lookout tomorrow for one last email from me with instructions on how to be notified the next time another prayer challenge arises (whenever that may be). The archive for all the emails from our prayer challenge can be found here: https://leavenintheworld.com/9dayprayerchallenge/. – Jessica]
Day 9 Focus: Hope
On this ninth and last day of our prayer challenge, let us ask the Spirit for the light of hope to shine in the darkest corners of our hearts:
- Spirit, in times when the darkness paralyzes us with fear, shine your Light on our hearts that we might we reminded that You are with us.
- Spirit in times when the darkness is so overwhelming that we become numb or complacent, shine your Light on our hearts that we might be reminded that you call us to be a Light to the world.
- Spirit, in times when the darkness causes us to lose hope, shine your Light on our hearts so that we may recognize the ways You are already working all around us and through us to bring about your Kingdom here on earth.
Written by Rachel I. Stott, MDiv
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
The above poem came to mind as I prayed about the Santa Fe shooting. I was weary to my bones. At times, I felt there is no hope. But as I looked up the poem and re-read it, Dickinson’s words reminded me: Hope is sweetest in the storm. The storm rages and the song grows stronger never ceases even as the conditions get worse.
The lesson to see the hope amid destruction is at the very heart of the Christian story. The central symbol of Christianity, the cross, is a symbol of hope. While Jesus’ body was violently bloodied, broken, and hung from wooden beams, we know it is not the end of the story. The Resurrection is. Though the storm may rage, we need to lift our eyes and hearts to see the hope that is ever constant.
Individual feathers are strong but unable to fly. The coordinated efforts of the many features of the bird, feathers included, achieve one of the most wondrous events: flight. Gravity, a very powerful force, is overcome. We are not able to soar without each other and without the help of the Holy Spirit, who is often imaged as a dove.
This 9-Day Prayer/Novena grew out of a sense of sadness, horror, and frustration at the gun violence in our society. Coming together to pray is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we can do when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We help each to see the hope, the listen to the song, to notice what is holy.
Dickinson closes the poem saying that Hope never asks a crumb of her. Here, I disagree a bit. I believe that the God is asking something of us: to notice the good. We have a role to play in the unfolding of history. We are called to see and honor what is good and holy; not just see the evil. Becoming paralyzed by evil is tantamount to letting it win. Evil is, a very powerful force, but it can be overcome.
How can we train ourselves to see God in all things, including horrible situations? How do you train for most things? You practice. Just as you exercise your muscles to become strong, you can exercise your spirit to become attentive. This life-changing insight comes from the masterpiece St. Ignatius of Loyola gave the world 450 years ago: The Spiritual Exercises.
While there much to be said about Spiritual Exercises, below I will offer an adaptation of a critical part of Ignatian spirituality: the Examen. The Examen is a daily exercise that St. Ignatius thought so critical that he counseled that The Examen be the one prayer prayed if only one can be done in a day. (You can also do it more than once a day!)
There are many adaptations; the following is one I modified because I wanted to add names to help us relate to our ineffable God. I encourage you to write your own! Simply follow the fivefold pattern.
The simple, nutshell instructions are:
- Go to the same place each time to pray. Creating a simple space to pray is as easy as sitting in the same chair when it’s time to pray. You can certainly elaborate. (It’s kind of fun actually!)
- Make some gesture to mark the beginning of this prayer time, such as the sign of the cross, a bow, light candle, etc.
- Reflect upon the day with the intention to seek the good-the holy-the things for which we are grateful, as well as the times we need to ask for forgiveness.
Train yourself to see both. For both good and evil exist, yet we believe that good overcame evil in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit aid you in seeking her presence in the here and now.
by Rachel Stott, MDiv
Loving God, I place myself in your presence. Open my heart. Help me rest in your embrace as I review the day, noticing its blessings and opportunities for growth.
Creator God, help me see that all is gift from you, myself included. Today, for what am I most grateful?
Gentle God, open may eyes and heart to be more honest with myself. Where did I embrace your love today? Where did I move away from it?
Compassionate God, I ask forgiveness for the wrongs I did today. Help me heal the hurts.
Faithful God, help me make choices to live deeply in your love, comforted that you will always be by my side.