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Lucky people

30 November, 1999

Anne Power recounts her experience of deepening in prayer and meditation and discovering that this was bringing her back, after many years away, to the Catholic Church of her youth. I breathed in the air and slowly sighed it out, longing to be home. I looked around me and saw a church full of people […]

Anne Power recounts her experience of deepening in prayer and meditation and discovering that this was bringing her back, after many years away, to the Catholic Church of her youth.

I breathed in the air and slowly sighed it out, longing to be home.

I looked around me and saw a church full of people singing songs of praise to God. With many of them, their hands were uplifted, their faces joyful or ecstatic, their bodies swaying in time to the rhythm of guitars and drums. After several minutes of praising God, they would settle down to pray aloud, listen to the scriptures, and hear a sermon which would be inspiring and theologically sound. If there was Holy Communion, some liturgy would accompany it. There would be more singing, and then they would drink tea and coffee together, happily chatting. Lucky people.

Why did it not feel quite right to be here?

All Christians
I blamed myself. We were all Christians. We all came here to worship the one God. This form of worship was clearly acceptable to the majority, therefore I must be lacking in something.

One might expect that after over twenty years of not being Catholic any more, I would be more involved in where I was. It was a lively Anglican church with a large congregation. Many if not most of them would, like me, have experienced some kind of conversion: we would call ourselves ‘born-again’. Some may have deliberately rejected a former religious upbringing: others, like me, may have simply drifted away from it.

There was another difficulty: prayer was such a struggle. I could talk to God, but I had no sense of His presence. He felt distant from me. Peace was also distant from me. There was a restlessness deep within that nothing could calm.

Searching for a place of rest
I turned at first to the Yoga class I had originally joined in order to tone up. I found that my favourite part was the bit at the end when we visualised a peaceful scene and meditated upon it. It gave me the idea that there was rest to be found within myself. I began to wonder if there was any point at which Christianity connected with meditation, and I remembered a convent school retreat I had enjoyed when I was fifteen that had also given me a feeling of stillness and deep joy.

I went on retreat again at the age of 42, to a Jesuit Spirituality Centre. It was an individually guided retreat – just me and my prayer guide.  I was glad that it was ecumenical, because my computer didn’t seem to have anything on offer that was Anglican and included the word ‘meditation’. It was quiet there, and most of the praying was done on one’s own.

The silence was noisy for me. It released a clamour of questions in my mind, above which one inner voice kept protesting ‘I’m not a Catholic! I’m not a Catholic!’ This voice upset me because it expressed the dissonance I was feeling: in a single moment I could feel that I had found what I was looking for, but that it was no longer fully accessible to me. I could not take part in the sacraments that accompanied the retreat. I could not join in the prayers to Mary.

Finding ‘Sacred Space’
When I rejoined my Anglican fellowship I felt even more at odds with it than I had before, and after some computer searching found Sacred Space, the prayer site run by the Irish Jesuits. I became a daily participant. It helped me not to feel so isolated in my ‘new’ way of silent prayer. I loved the way it guided me through stages to a connection with a God that was inside, and not outside, of me.

After a time, though, I began to be aware that I longed to actually meet with people who were like-minded, and that my prayer life, before my retreat considered a chore, was something I yearned to develop. I searched some more, and via a chain of connections began to attend a Retreat in Daily Life run by another Jesuit Spirituality Centre.

At last, at last, I could sit in silence and meditate with others on the scriptures and what they were saying to me personally. There was fellowship in our separateness. There was peace, and there was God. It was beautiful, so beautiful. The sense of stillness and calm I found there began to spill over into the rest of my life.

Coming home
A question raised itself: if this is where I am growing as a Christian, if this is where I feel I belong, then in what way am I not Catholic? Is it just a case of loose ends – doctrines that I had never fully understood? I read around, and discovered that that was, indeed, the case. I visited my local Catholic church for the first time, and that was when I once more breathed in the air, and slowly sighed it out, knowing I was home.

Now the Catholic Church unfolds for me like a flower, revealing ever more beauty. I realise that everything is in place here to make it easier to be a Christian. We have images and other artefacts like the rosary to aid our meditation, we have the sacraments to help us see God in all the stages of our lives. We have priests to serve and teach us – and not just on Sundays! We have a connection to believers all over the world and even (here I speak of the saints) in other dimensions. We pray with our ancestors. We have organisations like the SVP to help us serve others.

And most of all, for me, we have the prayers. It is wonderful to say the Divine Office every morning and evening, topping and tailing the day by regaining a spiritual perspective on all that happens to us. The liturgy of the Mass doesn’t just give structure and consistency, freeing it from the whim of fashion. It is overflowing with meaning. It is magical. And we share it with Christ. Every time.

We are so lucky. We are lucky, lucky people.

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