Day 1: What matters in the Desert

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29 Mar 2020

With Jesus in the Desert’ is an online retreat that has been developed for people who are in social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been designed to run for 14 days, but may be adapted and run as needed.

If you have someone to contact in any way during the retreat to speak about what is happening in your retreat and your day, that could be very helpful. Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia can put people in touch with experienced spiritual directors for one-to-one spiritual direction using online platforms such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. For enquiries, please contact (02) 9488 4597.

1. Preparation for prayer.

Sit comfortably, aware of any tension in your shoulders or tightness in the chest. Allow yourself to relax. Look around the room that is your desert during this retreat. Look through the window at the world now closed to you. Allow God to enter the room and your life.

2. Ask God for what you want.

In a few words or an image, can you express how you are right now? How would you like God to be for you today? Ask God to open your mind and heart to what God wants to give you today.

3. Prayer to introduce day’s theme.

Dear Lord, help me to be open to you now, and all this day. Believing that you are everywhere, may I sense your presence with me now. May I learn anew that you love to be with me. Amen.

4. Readings for prayer during the day.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
(Luke 4:1-2 NRSV)

Psalm 121 (NRSV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
 from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
 who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
 he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
 will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
 the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
 nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
 he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
 your going out and your coming in
 from this time on and forevermore.

5. Reflection.

As we begin the days that we spend in self-isolation, they may seem to stretch endlessly and tiresomely ahead. Jesus probably felt the same at times during the forty days that he spent alone in the desert. And the Jewish people certainly felt frustrated during the forty years they spent wandering in the desert.

We begin our retreat by praying on Jesus’ time in the desert. He went without food, was exposed to the heat and cold, and had to deal with all his anxieties and fears within.

Our experience of self-isolation is a desert time, away from friends and the diversions that make days pass pleasantly. It can play on our minds and make our hearts heavy. But we have been led here, as Jesus was by the Holy Spirit. It is also a place of opportunity in which we can reflect on our lives and grow closer to Jesus.

6. How to pray.

There are many ways to pray. Do what you find the most helpful way to be with God.

If you find it helpful to pray with the Gospel story for today, read it slowly a couple of times and let it sink in. Then imagine the scene through Jesus’ eyes. How does he experience time passing. Compare what he would have experienced with what you feel in your time of isolation. Talk with him about it as you would with a friend.

The Psalm gives you words to pray with during the day if you find them helpful. When you read the words, let the images you find there sink into your heart and strike you’ This psalm draws us to trust God’s care for us.

Consider putting on some quiet instrumental music for your prayer.

7. Closing Prayer.

Loving God, stay with me during this hard time in the desert. Also be close to everybody who is isolated during the epidemic. Thank you for the gift of all the people who love me and of those whom I love, especially those from whom I am separated. During these days show me how deeply you love me, and free me to love you more deeply. I ask this through Christ Our Lord.

8. Reflection on prayer.

Spend a few minutes looking back at your prayer. Don’t judge it, but recall the places where your heart was stirred – by love, anger, anxiety, and other feelings. Hold those moments out to God. If it is helpful, write them down.


Day 1  Evening Prayer

1.  Become aware of God’s presence.

Say thank you to God for getting you through the day. Look back on the events of this day of self-isolation. The day may seem heavy and uneventful to you. Ask God to help you see as God sees.

2. Pay attention to your emotions.

The Spirit of God works in the movements of our hearts. Look back through your day like a video camera. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? Joy? Where are these feelings coming from? What might God be telling you through these feelings?

3.  Choose one time when you have felt strongly and live it again.

Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that has struck you: a feeling of love, boredom, irritation, tranquillity or hatred etc. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something, apparently insignificant, but one which touched your heart, such as seeing a flock of galahs turning into the sun. Allow your response to the feeling to flow spontaneously from your heart— whether you feel gratitude, regret, joy or anger.

4. Look towards tomorrow.

Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges of another day in isolation. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Ask God for guidance and understanding or for the gift of hope and good humour.

5. Finish with a conversation with Jesus.

Ask for healing, ask his protection and help or wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Say thank you for the gift of your life and for the gift of the people who love you and those whom you love.

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