My earliest memory of prayer is mother’s short prayers to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady as she woke me up every morning. Our daily family prayer in the evening instilled into me that prayer puts one in touch with the Divine. My understanding of prayer was to say prayers, sing hymns to God and thus to spend time in the presence of God in the church or at home. Silence in between was restful and so was calming. But there was an inner yearning in me to want to understand more about prayer, how the contemplatives spent so much time in prayer… I tried reading books on prayer… my search continued.
Then one afternoon, out of boredom, I searched for a book to entertain myself, and my eyes fell upon a book titled Vipassana. I didn’t know the meaning of vipassana. Now I know vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” It is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques rediscovered 2500 years ago by Gotama the Buddha, and is the essence of what he practiced and taught. Out of curiosity, I started reading the book and completed it in one sitting and hoped to get a chance to go through such an experience. When God wants one to do something, the whole world conspires to see that it gets done. And that is exactly what happened. Out of the blue, I heard that the formation personnel are going to Nepal for a Vipassana retreat. I lost no time to contact them to travel with them to Kathmandu for a Vipassana retreat.
Of all my prayer experiences, one that I treasure most and one that has helped me to deepen my understanding of prayer more than anything else was making this Vipassana retreat – a ten-day Buddhist rigorous meditation exercise of sitting still for almost ten hours a day, observing one’s breath and body sensations with short breaks in between. As one enters the place of retreat, all religious props like the Bible, rosary or, for that matter, all sorts of religious articles are taken away from you and kept for safe keeping for the ten days of Vipassana. No religious deity is invoked for assistance. Going through this for ten whole days was not easy, to say the least, but rewarding … the words of Jesus: “The truth shall make you free,” became alive for me! I was happy to get a method of prayer where I am just devoid of everything – just being empty and present before the Divine.
Questions for reflection:
What is prayer for me? How do I spend the time of prayer?
Am I happy with the way I spend my time in prayer?
Rita Puthenkalam, SCN is from Kerala, South
India. She made her first vows as a Sister of
Charity of Nazareth in December 1963. Besides
completing an MA in English literature, she has
also done some four years of Pastoral
Theology. Rita spent almost 15 years teaching
Scripture and the English language to SCN
formees at various levels of their formation. She
spent nine years working in collaboration with
the Jesuits in various fields: education, refugee
service, and conducting courses in pastoral
theology. She was the Coordinator of On-Going
Formation first in Patna and then in Bangalore
Provinces for fifteen years. Nurturing feminist
spirituality in religious women remains dear to her
heart. This is what urged her to compile and edit the SCN prayer book,
Contemplate the Heart of God for the use of SCNs of Patna and Bangalore
Provinces. At present, she resides in Snehalayam, where SCNs have St.
Vincent’s Higher Secondary School.