Prayer as relationship - Madonna Magazine

Prayer as relationship

Sr Myree Harris RSJ 30 November 2023

I remember walking up Kendal Street Cowra, talking to the Lord. It was simple and companionable. I must have been about 13. This became habitual. Along with it came a sense of the presence of God. I have never lost that awareness and so have rarely felt alone.
Not much later, I felt drawn to find some way to be quiet with God. I went to St Raphael’s church some afternoons and just sat there. I found a magazine with a holy hour reflection and started to read a few lines and allow them to sink in, then just stay with the quiet. It was meditation that deepened into contemplation. It was all sheer gift.

After completing the Leaving Certificate, I entered the Sisters of St Joseph, more as a means of living out a by-now deep love relationship with God than anything else. I had never known the Josephites but the story of Mary MacKillop was part of our family history. My grandmother had arranged to enter the Congregation, but her father died, and Delia remained at home, helping raise the large family.
In my experience, religious life in the early 1960s was no place to develop a personal prayer life. Apart from points for meditation read out in the chapel as novices fought off sleep, there was little or no formation in personal prayer. Silence was enforced, but what you were supposed to do with that space was a mystery.

Life consisted of rules and physical work. We never knew how many were in our group. Many young women came and went, disappearing overnight and never mentioned again. There was no privacy or solitude. I just kept doing what I had been doing. I am saddened that some women seeking a life dedicated to God, were not helped to develop a personal relationship with God in prayer.

Admiration for the work of the Sisters would not sustain people when the stresses and tragedies of life came crashing down. There was not even an opportunity to study scripture or theology. Once in the schools, there were large class loads and not much time for anything else. Over the years, that all changed and there were opportunities for spiritual direction, directed retreats and study. 
It was not until 1980, when the Catholic Education Office Sydney sent me to study in Chicago, that it all made sense. Through Bill Thompson SJ, whom I had meet briefly in Sydney, I was offered John Dillon SJ as spiritual director. After grilling me for four hours, he announced he was taking me on.

Then he said, ‘You’ve been given a gift of prayer. What are you going to do about it? Gifts can be lost’. He proceeded to say, ‘Allow God to love you. Don’t do anything else until I tell you to do so.’ I don’t think he ever told me to stop. Over the next 16 months, John taught me Ignatian Spirituality, basing it on experiences I had shared in direction sessions.
Since I was away from home and studying, there was spare time and I could use that for prayer, sometimes in my room and other times sitting on the grass looking at beautiful Lake Michigan.

Prayer deepened and I became aware I wanted to make the Spiritual Exercises. That was possible over the Christmas break. I went to a small Jesuit community at Loyola House on Albion Ave and saw Ted Tracy SJ each day, staying for Mass with the community. It was a profound experience, and the great grace of that time was an awareness of God as Father.

Back home, I found good Jesuit directors for retreats, especially the late Gerald Coleman SJ and Tim Quinlan SJ. During one retreat, I was walking near Canisius College and became aware Jesus could understand my love for the Father in fact, I could live in companionship with Jesus for the Father and his people. 

From mid 1981 to 1988, I was a member of a Christian Life Community group based in Lane Cove. Meeting every Tuesday night, we had silent prayer then reflected together on that prayer and on our lives. It was a perfect mix of prayer, spirituality and life. Bonds were formed, many lasting to this day.

In 2001, I made the Spiritual Exercises again, this time at Guelph, directed by Erik Oland SJ. In the second week, my prayer changed, and I was drawn into a deep love relationship with Jesus. I returned home and asked the late Patrick O’Sullivan SJ to direct me. He did so until his death in 2022.

Over the past months, I have had major surgery, followed by a slow recovery. There was little formal prayer. There was just resting in the company of Jesus, conscious of his love and support. For all the gifts and graces I have been given in prayer, I am profoundly grateful.