Turning Points on my Prayer Journey 1943 – 2017 (PE nr. 1078)

I was born in 1938, the oldest of 10 children, 9 boys and 1 girl. At that time, my father was a Protestant and my mother a non-believer. However, 3 years later both were led in separate ways to join the Catholic Church. In 1943, two of my brothers and I, who as babies had received Baptism in the Lutheran Church, were taken by our parents to the Catholic Parish to receive a conditional second Baptism (in case the Lutheran one had not been valid). To this day, I can remember the excitement that I had felt about that Baptism. Within the same year, I was entrusted to an Ursuline Sister to prepare me for First Holy Communion – still only 5 years old. I also remember the Mass and the deep conviction: “Jesus has come into my heart.”

It was in that same year that my journey of faith and prayer began. Only one year later, the Allied bombardments had reached our area in Germany. While in the air-raid shelter of our house together with three other families, I recall our faith-filled Rosary Prayer – Catholics and non-Catholics joining in: “Holy Mary…..pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” – which seemed imminent, especially as a large bomb exploded in our courtyard, but our house kept standing and nobody was hurt. I learned unforgettably that Prayer protects your life. When the war was over, our fervent parents continued to take us to Mass and to have a daily evening prayer service with lit candles, and one or two hymns accompanied by my father on the piano and a concluding blessing with Holy Water for each one of us.

To this day, I am amazed how, through various encounters that were obviously guided by the hand of the Lord, I was led, in 1958, to join the White Fathers in Trier. On the second or third day after my arrival, all of us newcomers received copies of two different meditation books. It filled me with joy at how the authors were able to open up the Gospels in their one-page meditation proposals and I eagerly absorbed what they had to offer. Meditation, done in common throughout our formation years was always a meaningful exercise for me.

In 1967, after my studies of Dogma and Spirituality in Rome, I was appointed to St. Victor’s Seminary in Tamale, Ghana. There staff and students were united in the chapel in our daily half-hour meditation before Mass. While still teaching at St. Victor’s, I got to know two Medical Mission Sisters. At one of our encounters in May 1973 they asked me whether they could pray with me and when I agreed – not knowing what the consequences might be – they prayed in a simple way that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit came giving me an experience that up to today has marked my life.

One of the fruits of having been touched by the Spirit was that from then on, a daily one hour “Quiet Time” became part and parcel of my life. I would always have a spiritual book at hand and would read a page or two, then meditate on it and conclude with intercessions for various people and issues. I followed the same discipline for the next 33 years up to 2007. It was then that I came to another turning point.

The meditation I had been so used to began to leave me cold and dry. It brought me no new insights, no motivating fervour. By the grace of God, it was at that time that Jim Greene came on a pastoral visit from the Generalate to the Uganda Province. When I shared with him my problem, he suggested that I stop meditating and start contemplating. Well, that was news to me. When Jim had left, I mentioned my new prayer search to Roger LaBonte and he confided to me that he was following a similar path and that he would be able to make available to me some helpful resources, among them the books by Cynthia Bourgeault and Thomas Keating. In fact, I read many other books, but found these the most helpful.

I find myself still on this road today. I must confess the enthusiasm of the beginning has gone. It is faithfulness, often in dryness and with many distractions, that keeps me going. Above all, I am living with the growing faith-conviction: the Presence, the Indwelling is there whether I feel it or not: “You in me, I in You” (Jn. 15, 5). St. Paul expresses the same truth in his wonderful prayer, May the Father grant you “to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner self and that Christ may dwell in your heart(s) through faith” (Eph. 3, 16). Indeed, it is naked faith that continues to support me.

On the practical level, I still begin my hour of prayer with a few minutes of spiritual reading just to focus myself. Then I spend 30 minutes in as much stillness as I can find on that day. After that, I do some journaling before turning to intercession, first for countries, especially the African countries where I have served and those in various forms of crises and then praying for people like my family, friends, benefactors, sick people and those whom I accompany on their own spiritual journey.

Prayer is a life; it has its different phases with the Spirit always at work to guide us. May this small personal testimony encourage you, the Reader, to keep searching and listening to the Spirit so that you may be able to make the necessary changes when the time for them has come. Above all, let us never stop to be men of prayer.

Ernst Sievers, M.Afr.
(Petit Echo n° 1078)

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