“Prayer of Repetition is like a seasoned fisherman who knows he can go back time and time again to a good fishing hole and find fish. The spot never seems to empty of good fish, and he gets a new one every time.”
…I mean, I don’t eat fish, but I can appreciate the sentiment. Perhaps, we swap out fishing holes with a strawberry, tomato, or cucumber plant in your garden that keeps producing fresh produce for you every time you go and look…
I first formally heard of the Prayer of Repetition while going through the 18th Annotation, which I did near the beginning of 2022 as part of my training to become a spiritual director. Created by St.Ignatius originally as an intense, 30 day retreat, The Spiritual Exercises were a gathering of his own experiences to form several prayer practices that encompass the life conversions, values, hopes and wisdom Ignatius received from God. Ignatius wanted all people to know ‘His Lord and Majesty’ (what Ignatius’ name for God was), in the deep, intimate, and personal ways that he had.
What started as The Spiritual Exercises, the 30 day retreat by Ignatius, it was also crafted to become The Retreat in Daily Life, often referred to the 19th Annotation, is a year long experience which allows individuals to carve out smaller portions of time each day for the spiritual practices instead of leaving the daily life behind and engaging in a retreat. From here, the 18th Annotation was also created as a 10 or 12 week experience through the five themes of The Spiritual Exercises.
My experience with The Spiritual Exercises of the 18th Annotation were, quite simply, fruitful, beautiful, and a time I think back often fondly to. God met me in transformative ways and simply the beauty of contemplation (contemplation is the practice of looking intently upon something or someone, then noting what stirs in us; an emotion, question, response, or desire. We bring that response into an honest conversation with the Father, Son, and Spirit.). With no need to ‘achieve’ or ‘produce’ or ‘become’, it becomes a truly authentic space with you and God, being present to each other and, as a theme for me appeared throughout, a space of deepening intimacy.
Through the 10 weeks of the 18th Annotation, one of the Spiritual Exercises was the Prayer of Repetition…
“To help us simplify and slow down our praying, Ignatius suggests that we do “repetitions” of previous scriptures. This does not mean that we reenact a prayer period minute by minute, or rehearse every part of the scripture passage. Instead, we return to some word, image, desire, insight, feeling, attraction, resistance, or other interior movement that was particularly strong when we first prayed that scripture or reflection. “Repetitions are not meant to be boring, as if to say, ‘I’ve already done that!’ Instead, they are intended to help us go deeper.” —Kevin O’Brien SJ” – From the 18th Annotation Handbook
Let’s dive into the Prayer of Repetition together!
1. Identify a scripture passage that was meaningful for you.
This could be any passage! There’s no right or wrong here, just identify a passage that had previously been meaningful for you. Read the passage again, bringing to mind again what was so meaningful for you when you first encountered this passage.
2. Bring to mind the meaningful part and ask God, “What more do you want me to receive from this scripture passage?”
To bring to mind the meaningful part, you could think about it as if you’re talking to a friend about a passage that was powerful, sharing with them the parts of your time of reflection of the passage that were especially meaningful or impactful. Essentially honing in on the key part that was most impactful. Ask God in your own words, “What more do you want me to receive from this scripture passage?”. It could be as simple as “God, what else is here?”. Make it authentic.
3. Listen and then have a simple conversation with God like two friends chatting.
Sometimes the idea of ‘having a conversation with God’ can feel foreign; are you supposed to audibly hear a voice that responds to you? How do I ‘hear God speak’? God speaks in many ways; through words, through words in a passage that stand out to us more than others, through nature, through others, through our insights, emotions, and more.
So, I offer you the alternative question of, ‘how do I discern if this is God speaking or not?’ Discernment is a biiiiiiig topic to dive into but, for now, when you have this conversation with God like two friends chatting as a response to the question “What more do you want me to receive from this scripture passage?”, notice your thoughts, feelings, insights, pulls towards ideas laid out in other parts of scripture, what happens in your imagination and ask, ‘is what is coming up leading me closer TOWARDS God, or does it seem to take me further AWAY from God?’. Or, does this lead me to a place of more Faith, Hope, and Love? Or, is it taking me away from Faith, Hope, and Love? As you add those markers of ‘towards God and towards more Faith, Hope, and Love’ to what you’re noticing, you’ll begin to be able to discern if it’s God you’re connecting with.
In my own experience, I journal my conversations with God. The insights I have, the thoughts, the feeling, the experience. I often say ‘God is so cool’ when an insight draws me closer to the Creator or when I see bigger themes start to connect in smaller stories. It is then I can see God showing up as I ask the question, “What more do you want me to receive from this scripture passage?”.
Try giving this soul nourishing practice, the Prayer of Repetition, a go when you come across a passage in scripture that really stands out, impacts you, or feels especially meaningful. You don’t need to wait any certain length of time to revisit a passage with the prayer of repetition. You could revisit a passage the very next day, a week from now, or perhaps, trusting the Spirit to remind you of a passage that was particularly meaningful at one point, and inviting you to revisit it again with this prayer.