Contemplative prayer group offers community and solace

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Carmel—Silence is hard to come by in today’s noisy world, but not for those who attend a tri-weekly, contemplative prayer group at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in Carmel.  Silence drives the experience of encountering Jesus.

Barb Gryna, who created and leads the prayer group, says the format draws together a small group seeking peace and conversation with God. The group’s genesis provided a way for Gryna to deal with her anxiety and depression and support others suffering with it. Gryna say one need not have depression or anxiety to attend, the group welcomes anyone who seeks to deepen his or her relationship with God.

Father Eric Hahn and Sister Coletta Wrassman introduced Gryna to contemplative prayer during a retreat years ago at Cordia Fonte House of Prayer, owned by the Franciscans at 46th street and Binford Ave in Indianapolis. Gryna wanted to share the prayer format with others at her home parish. After getting the pastors and Adult Faith Formation’s blessing to do so, Gryna launched the prayer group nine years ago.

Three opportunities exist to gather for silence: Monday afternoon, Wednesday evening and Friday mornings. The varied times and days gives people who either work full-time, or who are a Stay-At-Home Mom (SAHM), an opportunity to participate in the prayer group at least once weekly.

The meetings offer a brief social component at the beginning where the participants talk about where they saw or encountered Christ in the previous week or days said Gryna. Attendees use Lexio Divina, a prayer practice of meditating on one line of scripture, or a single word, to enter into a conversation with God or merely sit in the presence of the Lord. The prayer time includes a read aloud reflection from a book called “Door To Silence” by Father John Main, OSB founder of the World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org) .

Then the lights go dim and the group sits in silence at the table with a single candle flickering. “We will have silence for about 20-30 minutes, but not longer than 30-minutes,” says Gryna. By focusing on the word Marathana, a Hebrew word meaning “Come Lord Jesus,” Gryna believes she is with Jesus.  “I repeat this word over and over in my mind. It’s about letting go, and letting God. Holding on to an anchor of His presence,” said Gryna.

“During contemplative prayer, one really focuses on Jesus, and a prayer word that connects us to Him,” she added. “The prayer word provides a narrow path out of the jungle of the mind. It is a demonstration of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For people who deal with anxiety and depression, a thinking disease, it’s a relief to pray like this,” she adds.

“It’s about simplicity. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. In quieting ourselves it allows for less of me and more of God,” said Gryna. “We should try to always be aware of God’s presence in our daily life. When we try to get quiet, sometimes our mind gets loud. We think of all the things that happened to us that day, or what’s to come. My mind will race over my to do list. Some people don’t want to be silent because when they are they have to face themselves, and that can be a scary thought.

“Having depression and anxiety myself, if I could have fixed myself, I would have,” said Gryna. “Contemplative prayer opened me up to God. I allowed God to go into those hard to reach places and heal me. He let me know how much I’m loved and really never alone.”

Most who attend the group come on a weekly basis, but Gryna is there to lead the group every time. “Sometimes it will just be me and another person, and that’s okay. The group gives me a certain kind of accountability to prevent myself from isolation. Many who have depression will go into isolation and that can be very dangerous, she said.

Contemplative prayer also offers participants perspective and solace. Jim Buzelli said he learned there were more important things to be concerned about than “first world problems” from attending the prayer group. “It’s about opening a door to God and being there with Him.”  Eileen Champaign said it gives a person strength and perspective when troubles arise and God’s peace comes. “If I’m in God’s will, I can see more clearly.”

Sherry Kaminskas said when she joined the prayer group she had no idea there would be 20 minutes of total silence. Kaminskas said she didn’t think she could do it. But she did and keeps coming back.

Teresa Noice, who has been attending the prayer group for over five years, describers her experience as spiritually enriching. “The people I meet with are so valuable to learn from. There is a calmness I receive from contemplation and I take it back with me to a crazy home, and the worries of daily life.”

Lori O’Dell said, when she first came she didn’t know what to expect. Laughingly, she said she thought people would be sitting on the floor with a yoga mat, but that was not the case. Afterwards, O’Dell said when she told people she attended a prayer group for depression and anxiety, they were surprised to learn it was free of charge.  “I couldn’t think my way out of depression,” said O’Dell. “Scientifically we know the benefits of mediation, but it’s difficult to measure or put into words the fruit, the spiritual benefits, the stillness, silence or simplicity contemplation in God’s presence brings.”

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