I just returned from spending a couple of days at the hermitage that I frequent for brief retreats into the solitary life.
Every time is different from the time before – but always beautiful – as God’s abundant love overflows into me. Even the terrain varies from one Memorial Day weekend to the next, as Nature extravagantly reinvents spring every year.
I do not enter the hermitage with a plan – or at least not a well-formed one. I pack enough for a week, though only staying for two days. Extra socks because of the unseen puddles that always seem to find me. Food enough to nourish this non-faster for a couple of days. A book or two for prayer and reflection; my Kindle Fire loaded with more books – just in case. Usually some art supplies come along or perhaps some sewing to do by hand.
And, of course, camera must come along – just in case there are butterflies.
With ever-changing nature surrounding me and raw materials at hand, things happen. God draws me to Him, near to His heart, that I might listen and learn. I never know how He is going to do it – only that He will.
A couple of weeks before I left, a half-remembered prayer from long ago kept coming to mind. I had had a copy of it back in college – but where it was among my belongings I did not know. It wasn’t the sort of thing I would have thrown away…
“I’ll have to look that up one of these days,” I told myself. Yet, as is often the case, I kept forgetting to search for it when sitting at the computer. I remembered a phrase or two from the prayer – probably enough to turn it up. So much easier than digging through dusty boxes.
Forgetting as often as I did, one day shortly before I left, I finally remembered. And, without difficulty, I found the prayer online and printed it so that I could have it close at hand.
As I started packing my things, a little voice within instructed me to take the prayer with me to the hermitage.
And so I did.
Many things happen every time I go to the hermitage, some delightful and some not so easy or pleasant. But there is always growth in this holy place of God’s love.
Soon after I arrived, I became aware that I was to learn this prayer by heart. I do not often try to memorize things anymore. I am grateful not to be in school, with exams always around the corner. Looking up information when I need it works well these days.
And my aging brain is grateful – for it has become much more effortful to commit things to memory than it used to be.
(I discovered this a few months ago when it occurred to me that I didn’t know the names of the twelve apostles. I was a bit disturbed to realize that, as a lifelong Christian, I couldn’t list them. So I set out to memorize the twelve names. It’s a little embarrassing to say how long it took to get them all reliably into my long-term memory…)
In any event, I discovered a copy of the prayer at worldprayers.org and it was broken into stanzas. So I began my labor, one stanza at a time. At various intervals during the day, I would repeat the words of the stanza I was on, checking to make sure that I had the wording just right.
It’s funny how something so seemingly simple can be such a challenge. I might be in the middle of reciting it to myself when I would stop and wonder, was it “shall” or “will”? And so on, with each little turn of phrase, thinking I had it correct, only to discover that I was off by a word or two.
But this was good. Because I knew what God was up to.
Some sources say that the origin of the idiom, to “learn by heart”, stems from the ancients’ confusion about which body organ involves learning. Because the heart is such a vital and central organ, it was assumed to be the center of knowledge.
Of course, science now tells us that the brain, not the heart, is the organ that stores data for us. This is indisputable.
But God was using this exercise of my brain to teach my heart. Relentlessly, He was pressing me to learn this prayer, not only with my mind but with the depths of my being.
He is calling me to make this prayer part of who I am.
The prayer, “Radiating Christ”, was composed by John Henry Cardinal Newman but is probably best known for being a favorite of St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa).
I have transcribed the prayer for you below, from memory, correcting a few small errors. Every time I think I have it, I find that one or two little words were not recalled just right.
It is good to be so humbled. For as my heart continues its learning of the prayer, surely many, many more errors will need correcting.
May it be so, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(by John Henry Cardinal Newman)
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.
It will be You, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.