To draw apart in prayer

From the Gospel reading for today (Mark 1:29-39), the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

 

  In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’

 

This. To draw apart into silent prayer, unseen, unnoticed.

 

Reading through Catholic and specifically Ignatian blogs last night (the endless search for something that isn’t polemical and contentious), I found a note on Mary Ward, founder in 1609  of a society based on the Society of Jesus, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary Ward  died 370 years ago and as a newish Catholic, I was moved and encouraged by many of her writings.  A mix of common sense, integrity and  what felt like a very contemporary vision  to do with the freedom and ‘disponibilite‘ of women to be there for Christ. From a sermon preached by Gemma Davis at Osbaldwick, Yorkshire, where Mary Ward died and was buried:

 

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There are no saintly ecstasies or extraordinary visions here, but a ‘singular freedom’ from all that makes people cling to earthly things, and a total openness, dedication and flexibility with regard to whatever work is needed to establish the reign of God in this world. That singular or particular freedom is especially found in the capacity of such a person to hand over every aspect of their life to God.
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Mary Ward: ‘I will do these things with love and freedom, or leave them alone.’
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I remember my retreats with religious of the IBVM and  how I was encouraged to stay with insights and look harder at what came up in Lectio Divina. At the time I was deeply troubled and unhappy, unable to stay with anything for long, very lonely and — ‘lost’ is probably the word — in a hard place and  filled with bitter self-blame. Not really able to make any kind of retreat at all. Desperate for some kind of intervention or affection that would change my life, help me feel better about the stuck place in which I found myself, the inward despondency and anguish. Vacillating, uncertain, without any confidence, stumbling through readings with a frozen heart, pretending to agree with suggestions, exhausted and  unwilling to give up, admit that this wasn’t working. It is hard to look back and remember that struggle, how unheard and  ashamed i was kneeling in the chapel, walking through wintry suburban streets after sessions of meditation, seeing a dead bird caught between branches of a tree, a large starling. Coming back to the stuckness, the open Bible and the unreadable passages, the darkness and obduracy I could not seem to shift or  will away. No love there, just a craziness and turmoil.Going home on the train at the end of the retreat, terrified to be alone again, unable to work, friendless and alone, self-medicating, broken, despairing.
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Yet somehow, looking back now with a more compassionate hindsight,   I did respond to  something of what was there, even though I would keep drifting away, snatching back things handed over. Such struggles — the unfinished thesis, the issues around sexuality and identity, the grief and  self-doubt, the  fear that kept me locked into a small prison within. But I would sit and look at those images from A Painted Life and  feel a stirring within.
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Mary Ward
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‘He was very near me and within me, which I never perceived Him to be before.  I was moved to ask Him with great confidence and humility, what I came to know to whit, what He was.   I said, ‘My God, what art Thou?  I saw Him evidently and very clearly go into my heart and little by little hid Himself (and there I perceive Him to be still in the same manner, my meditation being ended an hour since).  I endeavoured to go forward according to the points of the meditation, but could not, He held my heart, I could not work.  I would then have asked Him something, bid Him welcome, but He would not let.  I once asked, ‘Will you lie there and do nothing?  And another time, ‘Make that heart perfect and such as you would have it’; but beginning my speech in both, I could not possibly go forward, I saw plainly that His only will was that I should neither work nor talk, but hold my peace.  I was weary with kneeling, having nothing to do sitting down, this idleness of all powers made me wish to sleep.  I would have like a walk, but dared not without His leave.  I composed I myself handsomely to attend on such a guest, but God would have none of it; my body was weary, and yet I did nothing; my mind quiet and much contented; all noise, or other things that at other times helps devotion seemed then unpleasing.  An hour was gone in the space of one quarter   I left unwillingly, remaining still in the same disposition.’                  Retreat at Liege October 1619
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Mary Ward
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