June 02, 2012

Consolation in Prayer

     I just finished reading a book I bought at the Cenacle during my silent retreat late last year. The book is called When Women Pray by Doucet and Hebert. It is a memoir of sorts, small chapters written by two women. Each woman took every other chapter, each dealing with their own spiritual walk and the connection to their families. The book was intriguing to me, because it is of great interest to be a spectator in other persons walk's toward the Lord. How does one get to where they are, how did the suffer along the way, what did they do with that suffering? Are they a winter or summer Christian? How do they look at the world, and how does their relationship with God translate into how they treat those around them. This is a good book for my inquisitive questions. My questions might be too bold to ask face to face to a stranger, so I love it when a book lays it all out in chapter form for me to follow along. The greatest question for me when I read a book is a question to myself, is there anything I can eek out of this reading that will stay with me, live in my heart, and help me in my journey to be closer to God, to be a greater lover of people, to inspire me to find more rest in my place as God's child?
     The sub-title of the book is "Our Personal Stories of Extraordinary Grace." It was not all flowers and perfume, as I was afraid it could have been. Each chapter started with a quote or two from their favorite personal readings, and then led into a story, and then a discipline to practice. It was an easy book to read, not too deep, just what I needed to lead into my summer readings and a contemplative retreat I will be attending this upcoming weekend. I liked the book, and I am glad I waited to read it, it met me where I am right now and gave me some insight and thought that I will hold onto.
    There is a chapter called "Consolation in Prayer." The lead off quote is by St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises. "I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord."
The chapter continues....When the spiritual seeker is in a state of consolation, God seems near and the inner spirit is enlivened with the gifts of peace and compassion for self and others. The person often wants to do more for God because of an increase in faith and to spend more time in her community of believers. Consolation leads us outward.
    Consolation in the spiritual sense is not necessarily happiness as we usually perceive it. I think of my friend Brenda, who received deep consolation on one of the saddest days of her life. As she attended her brother's funeral, she was suddenly aware of being lifted on a blanket of prayer. The many people who had assured her they were praying for her truly were praying. She felt God come close. Her heart experienced a peace that was outside of her circumstances.
    St. Ignatius of Loyola advised those in consolation not to become puffed up, lest they decide that this grace is of their own doing. He always taught that the consolation is a gift of grace and not a reward for our goodness. It is helpful, however, for us to write about our consolation so that we can return to our memories when darkness comes. During desolation, the memories of past graces received can lift us and give us hope.
    Perhaps one of the most helpful things to know is that both consolation and desolation in prayer and in life come to every saint, sinner, and pilgrim on the inner journey as a part of God's somewhat mysterious plan. So, if we rest in God's love, perhaps we can have more humility in consolation and courage during desolate times.