By Kevin O’Brien, SJ
Fr. William A. Barry, SJ, a renowned spiritual director and scholar of the Spiritual Exercises, offers a very helpful, concise definition of prayer: prayer is a conscious, personal relationship with God. He proposes that we can learn about our relationship with God by considering our relationships with other people. In his book, A Friendship Like No Other, Fr. Barry refines his long-standing definition of prayer: “The best analogy for the relationship God wants with us is friendship. God desires humans into existence for the sake of friendship.”
Barry’s image of God’s friendship may be novel to some, particularly those who wrestle with fearing God. We all have various images of God floating around in our heads. For example, because of our childhood experiences, we may see God as a kindly yet distant grandfather figure or as an accountant of good and bad deeds. Scripture gives us an assortment of images, including God as a nurturing mother; as a merciful Father; as a judge; as a benevolent Creator; as the Spirit; and of course, as Jesus Christ.
As we get older, our images of God evolve. You may encounter new images of God as you pray the Exercises. We need to let go of images that get in the way of a grown-up relationship with God, who is both far beyond us, yet so close to us.
No image fully captures who God is. We naturally try to put our experience of God into words, but all words will be inadequate because we are dealing with God, who is Ultimate Mystery. We must be careful not to turn our images of God into idols. Instead, we let God reveal Godself to us, gently and naturally.
If you experience God as mostly removed from your life, or if you commonly have feelings of fear when approaching God, then you may want to take extra time with [the] introductory days of the Exercises, praying your way to a more trusting experience of God. The writer of the first letter of John assures us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (4:18). Pray to experience such consoling love of God, who deeply desires for us to experience the joy of our creation.
Excerpt from The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien, SJ.
Distractions in Prayer by Kevin O’Brien, SJ