by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven
Like many Catholics, Church of the Nativity, Leawood, parishioner Mike O’Neil wasn’t satisfied with his prayer life.
“I try to pray every day,” said O’Neil. “I don’t always succeed, but I try. It helps me stay on the right path and reminds me of my challenges. There’s a lot going on that’s stressful in this world.”
O’Neil has dealt with more stress than most. The 58-year-old convert has experienced divorce, depression and job loss in the past 24 months. To help him cope, he attended a two-day spiritual retreat last March with some friends from Nativity.
The retreat stirred something deep inside O’Neil and, a month later, he put pen to paper and composed his own prayer. The result is a frank conversation with God that expresses O’Neil’s struggles.
“I wrote the prayer for me, for something to do once a day,” said O’Neil. “The goal was to put down how I wanted to talk to God. My life has had a lot of challenges. God’s got a plan. I just don’t know what it is.”
O’Neil keeps a copy of the prayer in his car, on the wall next to his desk and taped inside his medicine cabinet so it’s available when he needs it.
In this Year of Faith, as we strive to understand and demonstrate what we believe, creative writing can help develop our faith in new ways.
“First, it engages the imagination,” said Msgr. Charles McGlinn, pastor of Curé of Ars Parish, Leawood. “Often in our society, we don’t use our imagination. We’re pretty right-brained. We don’t allow ourselves to express the imagination of our soul.”
Msgr. McGlinn has been writing poetry for the past 25 years to help with his homilies. He said writing brings new insights into our relationship with God.
“It evokes emotion that has not been touched before,” he said. “When we write things down, we plumb the depths better than we would have otherwise.”
It’s not for everyone, but those who try it may be surprised at the results. Mike Gates was.
Gates, 41, wrote four poems after attending the spiritual retreat with O’Neil.
“Words came to me through the Holy Spirit,” said Gates. “When I was inspired to write these, people read them and said they were ‘me.’ They were authentic.”
While the spiritual retreat spurred him to explore his faith in new ways, Gates is stepping things up now that the Year of Faith is underway.
“That’s precisely what Pope Benedict has stated in this 50-year anniversary [of Vatican II],” said Gates. “Jesus is always knocking at our door. We just need to invite him into our lives.”
Gates has committed to reading the Bible and praying the rosary daily, attending adoration and taking a School of Faith course. He has also compiled a reading list with suggestions from trusted spiritual advisers.
He hopes each step he takes will bring him closer to Jesus.
“I was barely scratching the surface on my faith,” he said. “I’m a work-in-progress. You can’t get a deep relationship with God just from going to Mass once a week. It requires continual growth and love of Our Lord.”
That growth sometimes requires us to reach beyond ourselves. Msgr. McGlinn said people who share their writing have an opportunity to touch others.
O’Neil shared his prayer with his retreat buddies, and they spread it around. Mike Gates read it at a Nativity pastoral council meeting.
“It captured our hearts,” said Gates.
Aside from a few unpublished essays with spiritual themes, O’Neil hasn’t written much, and he hasn’t written any more prayers . . . yet.
For anyone who wants to try creative writing as a means to deepening his or her faith, there is no road map.
“Just jump in,” said Msgr. McGlinn. “I had no training, but it met a need in my professional life.”
O’Neil suggests focusing less on what you want and more on what God wants, like he did with his prayer.
“I wanted to get past asking for things, like, ‘God, help me find a job,’ or ‘God, help me,’” said O’Neil.
By Mike O’Neil
Thank you, Heavenly Father,
for this chance to serve you for another day!
Loving Father, I know that alone,
I am weak and insufficient to the task of serving you.
Strengthen me, Lord, that I may become a better servant for you.
Help me to put the needs of others ahead of my personal desires,
and to place your plan for my life ahead of my own.
Open my eyes, God, to all of those around me who are struggling.
Grant me the tools and the talents to comfort, to guide and to help others.
Through my prayers and through my personal actions,
help me to make a difference in the world.
Blessed Jesus, help me to recognize Satan when he enters my life.
Give me the wisdom to know the difference between good and evil, and
the strength and the willpower to resist its attractions and promises.
Jesus, help me to become a better man.
Thank you, God, for all of the gifts you have given me.
My family, my friends, my health and my talents are all gifts from you.
You have blessed me so very much; thank you!
But I know, God, that your gifts to me are not just the “pleasant gifts.”
All of life’s struggles and challenges, disappointments and pain,
these too are gifts from you.
Too often, Lord, these gifts seem more than I can handle.
Remind me constantly, Lord,
that you have given me these gifts for a purpose.
I need not know your purpose, nor understand your plan.
I need only know that this is your will.
Grant me the strength, God, to offer up my challenges with thanksgiving.
Grant me the courage to face each challenge, and to not run away.
Grant me the faith to gladly accept each as MY cross to bear.
With your help, God, let me serve you every day! Amen!
By Mike Gates
One-hundred percent of life
can be measured by your Attitude,
Which Trinity you worship,
and living the Beatitudes.
Pay attention and beware
of me, myself and I,
Only God gives us true Joy
remember to show him gratitude.
All the people in our lives
he made them for a reason.
Have Faith, Hope and Love
in each and every season.
By Msgr. Charles McGlinn
Advent’s peasant Queen,
Point the way to faith today,
To hidden Christ, unseen.
He was born in poverty,
You are also poor.
He calls us all to value more
Than riches, heaven’s store.
He was hidden in your womb,
In your time of patient faith,
Waiting, longing, filled with love.
In love, our hopes are based.
Jesus, come into our hearts
As into Mary’s womb.
You came with life and love and joy.
Jesus, please come soon.
Help us to reform our lives.
May your will be done.
Create in us true harmony,
Jesus, Lord, please come.
Advent’s peasant Queen,
Point the way to love today,
To hidden Christ, unseen.
Learn more about spiritual writing
The following books are resources to help you explore your faith through creative writing.
• “Simply SoulStirring: Writing as a Meditative Practice,” by Francis Dorff, O. Praem.
• “Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen,” by Rachel G. Hackenberg.
• “The Wisdom of Memoir: Reading and Writing Life’s Sacred Texts,” by Peter Gilmour.