Where do you pray?

Prayer mandala

I have been thinking about my prayer spot recently because I have mentioned it a few times (Last week in Cromer, Meet you in the Morning) and I was reading a post on Ignatian Spirituality yesterday by Marina McCoy about giving herself a monthly retreat day.

In the Spiritual Exercises, in the additions, Ignatius says:

The purpose of these directions is to help one to go through the exercises better and find more readily what he desires.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola; trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

and in the third addition he suggests that:

I will stand for the space of an Our Father, a step or two before the place where I am to meditate or contemplate

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola; trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

The words in bold are mine, and here, I want to spend some time considering the nature of this place. I might just have a chair in the living room – I do, and I use it to pray sometimes. It faces a large picture of Jesus washing Peter’s feet by Seiger Koder. You can find it, with a reflection, at The Society of Jesus in South Africa.

This place is a very comfortable place to pray, and facing the image helps me to imagine how He is looking at me. It is not the place I pray most often though: it is where I go when I am struggling. I have a space set aside specifically for prayer in my room. I was being absolutely honest when I said that I go into my room and be alone with God. Currently it looks like this:

This is my prayer spot: it is a sacred space in my home that is set aside to spend time with God. I change the display and the flowers regularly, trying not to let it become stale. I may have the scripture open at the text I am praying with, but not always, and I have different cloths to change the meaning or mood, depending on what is going on in the liturgical season or in my life. Here, in ordinary time, and with my work on Exploring Personal Prayer, I have been sensing God’s joy and gladness, so I have chosen the brightly coloured cloth, which reminds me of the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit and in general, life in all of its fullness. I am currently using the chair, rather than the prayer stool, because, for some reason, I am resisting the discomfort of the latter. I have changed my position to one which is helping me to resist the resistance to prayer, and is therefore more fruitful, in line with the fourth addition of the Spiritual Exercises. Here are some others I have used at different times:

Used when I was training to be a spiritual director and was presenting The First Principle and Foundation. Suggestive of themes of creation, with undercurrents of Eden and hearts of stone, movement into the First Week.
Used at Sheringham in the week we were looking at images. There are no images on the table to distract from those chosen for prayer. The crimson suggests the divinity of Jesus.
The arrangement used at Sheringham for the session on imaginative contemplation. We were praying with the gospel passage from Matthew on the baptism of Jesus. The blue cloth represents the water, and the mandala artwork is called “River”. More on that at a later date.
This was my prayer spot for Holy Saturday this year. The cloth is purple, for the season of lent,and the doll is a symbol of myself as a loved sinner, and transformed by God in the process of the Spiritual Exercises. The painting is the one I did during the exercises on the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The poem is from Rumi:

I asked.

What about my eyes?

I will fill them with tears.

I asked.

What about my heart?

I will break it with sorrow.

I asked.

What about my body?

I will crush and throw it away.


You get the general idea. So why do I go to this trouble? Simply, because I want to communicate with Him how important He is in my life. I’m giving Him space in my life by giving Him space. I take care, and put thought into making my prayer environment a special place in my home. It is a compliment to the One I meet there. It helps me to find more readily what I desire, which is a conscious awareness of His presence, and through it, the grace to become who He would have me be.

How does He look at me?

The flow through an Ignatian prayer period. You can print it onto A6 card to keep in your prayer spot.

A discussion recently on the question at the beginning of a prayer period “How does He look at me?” has been occupying my thoughts. The question is posed in this way to provoke me to:

…consider that God our Lord beholds me, etc

Third addition, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.,

and for me, it is an important addition, because it has an impact on my prayer and my response to God. Please allow me to use, by way of analogy, a creature from the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to explain my perception.

Consider infinite God, outwith space and time, represented by the occamy in it’s giant state at the beginning of the scene. He sees me in my past, present and future…who I was, who I am and who I will become. The open teapot represents me when I still myself before Him in prayer, and try to connect with how He is looking at me in the present moment, and the relative smallness of it represents my capacity for God. In order for God to meet me in the present, in my here and now, He moves from His capacious infinity, to my limited capacity: like the occamy at the end of the scene, God makes Himself small in order to meet me where I am. It’s almost as if He focuses and thinks:

Ah, this is who you are, at this moment, in this space and time.

My soul senses this movement in God, and feels the pain of it – I am not who He sees when He looks at me. It is not a desolating, self loathing “I am a worm” realisation; it is the honest and humble knowledge of myself as a loved sinner before my almighty, all loving God, who treasures me and regards me as precious, and His. It provokes in me the desire to become the person He sees when He looks at me. It is a beautiful paradox. I desire to become the person He sees and desires me to become because I sense in His movement that I am not yet the person He sees and desires me to become. For me, considering how He beholds me in the here and now, near the beginning of my prayer, is a significant practice in helping me to feel the reality of wanting to become the person He sees when He looks at me. I’m not that person, but I really want to be.