Joyce Gan spent a week in Guided Prayer, using the "Ignatian Contemplation" method. Here's what she experienced.

WHEN FATHER WILLIAM HENG came to my parish to talk about the Week of Guided Prayer, my interest was aroused. I was on my second journey as a sponsor after my baptism in 2004 and whereas I had been fearless in serving God on my first journey, I had been more hesitant and careful on my second. Journeys can be very spiritually trying…

I needed to discern where God really was in my life at that stage. For the next week, I made my way to the chapel at my Holy Spirit parish for an hour's prayer, contemplation, reflection and sharing with my prayer guide before going to work. It was a very tough journey to make.

Every morning, I knelt at the pews praying and asking for a particular grace from God before starting my reflections. If I kept my eyes open, I would notice the few other people praying in the chapel too and I would start imagining what troubles they must have to be there so early in the morning.

At these times, the prayer guide's advice always reminded me that anything that takes my attention away from God cannot be from God. So I would close my eyes and begin my battle with Sleep as I tried to reflect on my readings.

My first passage was John 1:35-39 - The Good Disciple. I used the "Ignatian Contemplation" method where I tried to imagine myself in that scene. The grace I asked for was for God to reveal his place in my life to me.

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As I went through my reflection, I could not decipher how much of it was my contemplation and how much of it was a dream. However, towards the end of the half hour, I suddenly "entered" the passage and I was John the Baptist, waiting with two of "my" disciples when Jesus walked by. "I" pointed Christ out to "my" disciples who hesitated at first and then followed him. In my contemplation, "I" felt bittersweet emotions and everything made sense immediately.

In RCIA, just as in my life, I am quick to profess my faith, earnestly too. Sometimes, it gets difficult when I have to live that profession though. I imagined John the Baptist feeling sad as he watched his disciples leave him for Christ even though he knows it is for the better - the way I felt when I watched catechumens get baptised and going their ways. But "I" was reassured when Christ turned around, smiled at "me" and beckoned "me" to follow him too.

It was only from my second day that God opened a door in my heart that I was afraid to open and he made me deal with my issues on death. From a young age, I had been fascinated by death because I wanted to know what was on the other side. Because I was so sure that there is an "other side", I also developed a strong faith in God before I knew who he was.

That changed when a good friend of mine passed away when we were 15. I lost God for just a few weeks but I remember those weeks to be filled with desperation and loss. I was frightened and desperately clinging on to my sanity for nothing made sense if my friend was gone without an "other side". It was my regaining God that cemented my faith in him.

Never again did I experience that desperation when people I love pass away. A feeling of loss still comes by but not fear. Yet the memory of my experience when I was 15 remained in me and I was afraid there might come another day when I would lose my faith again because someone dear to me dies.

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My passage on the second day was Isaiah 43:1-7 - The Liberation of Israel. The song "Be Not Afraid" was inspired by this passage and it reminded me of my candidate in RCIA who had passed on. I had held his hand as he died. So my thoughts went to death and before I knew it, God was speaking to me.

It was one of the most beautiful encounters I have had with him. I was sitting there at the pews and looking up at the crucifix. Suddenly, I was asking him questions about death and… he was answering me! I know that I was somewhat in a trance. Everything I asked, Christ countered. And he did talk like he sounded in the Bible!

Christ: "Are you afraid to die?"

Me: "No, I'm not." As a matter of fact, there is a part of me that yearns to see God.

Christ: "Then why are you trying to hold your friends from me?"

Yes, why was I? I doubt that I am the only one with that desire to be with God so why do I hold on to those who are on their ways earlier than me? I remember sitting there with my mouth open, my eyes fixed on the crucifix hanging on the wall before me, and the conversation just carried on.

Christ: "Do you want to come see me when you're dying?"

Me: "Yes!"

Christ: "Do you think they want to come see me?"

Me: "Yes!" Christ: "Then why won't you let them?"

Me: *silence*

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IT WAS AN amazing experience. I had not talked to God like that much anymore but being in that environment completely swept me away and placed me with him. Incidentally, the graces I asked for were that God would give me a faith strong enough to not waver, even in the face of death and for me to do his will.

I came away realising that we all have a reason for being here on earth. I know that we can talk to God anytime, anywhere. Yet the beauty about Guided Prayer is that it helped me to make a concerted effort to be disciplined enough to stay put in one place and commit all my time and focus to God. In that way, the channel of communication opens up much more easily and vividly.

Today, I remember that week's experience as a retreat I spent with God. I was with him everyday. I did not always hear the things I wanted to hear. In fact, I hardly did. Most of the time, he seemed to be gently admonishing me. But he showed so much love that I did not  feel ashamed at all. I just felt innocentand in complete awe.

(The Week of Guided Prayer is organised by the Sojourners' Companions, a group of prayer guides who journey with "pilgrims" in prayer using Scripture. Pilgrims are taught two methods of prayer - "Ignatian Contemplation" and "Lectio Divina".)

For more information visit www.catholic.org.sg/sojourners.

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