My Journey into Prayer

by Sandra Wood

To live the Gospel is the goal of our Madonna House vocation, but it’s taken me a lifetime to really know what is involved. I’m seventy-eight years old and hopefully by the end of my life I will have discovered something.

I’ve been a member of the community for fifty-seven years, and most of my early years, I was a gardener in Madonna House Combermere. This is a very active house, and it was even more so in its early days when I came.

In those days, Madonna House was in the building stage. It was not too long since we had bought the farm, and we were building there and throughout the property.

I was gardening with Mary Davis and others. We would often have work bees in the evening, bees involving almost everyone in the house. There just wasn’t enough time during the day to get everything done that needed to be done.

What did I learn in those years? I learned about God, or so I thought. I learned about myself, or so I thought. I learned about loving other people, or so I thought. We had classes in Scripture and other religious subjects like we do today, but now I wonder: what did I learn about God, really?

I did learn a lot about gardening and nature though. Mary and I studied, and we took beekeeping courses and gardening courses; we were always learning.

My natural bent is work, and for most of the summer, I worked outdoors, beekeeping and growing medicinal herbs.

When I was here maybe ten years, I would get up early in the morning and study or read. One morning when I was doing this, Catherine who had just come downstairs from the chapel said to me, “Why don’t you go up and pray?”

I looked at her and thought, “I don’t know.” I didn’t take her up on it; I just kept reading, but I never forgot it.

At some point I was made the farm cook, and that job, too, was hard work.

One time, I said to my spiritual director, “I don’t have time to pray.”

He said, “Your work is prayer.”

I said, “All I can think about when I’m working is what I am doing. I don’t have time to think about God.”

He just looked at me and said, “That’s all right.”

About thirty-two years ago, I was made local director of St. Joseph’s House, which works with the people of Combermere and the surrounding area. It, too, was and is a very busy house, and my life continued to center on work.

Then something new came into my life. After forty-five years of a very active life, I was sent to our house in Vancouver, which is a prayer-listening house.*

At that time, we were in a different location than now, and that house was located kind of on a bluff from which you could see the Rocky Mountains.

I would get up in the morning and just sit there and look at those mountains and be mesmerized. That was really prayer for me, to sit and look at those mountains.

In MH Vancouver, I didn’t have any responsibility, and I was glad to do whatever the director told me to do. My life was really changed.

Then after a few years in Vancouver, I was transferred to MH Windsor, another prayer-listening house.

How do you learn about God? Well, by living, by trying to love your neighbour, by trying to love those you live with.

In a prayer-listening house like Vancouver or Windsor, you do the normal things you have to do in any house. You cook; you clean; you do the laundry; and when it snows, you shovel the pathway. You have to take care of your household.

The difference is that in a prayer-listening house, when people come to the door or phone wanting to talk, that is the priority. You drop whatever you are doing. You can always clean later, wash the clothes later, even eat later.

It was hard for me to get used to that. At St. Joseph’s House, too, if someone came and wanted to talk with me when I was doing the laundry, I would stop and talk with them. But in that house, there were several people, and somebody else could always finish the laundry.

But in a prayer-listening house, there are only three of us or sometimes two, but regardless of what work needs to be done, when people come, you stop doing it.

Of course, our official prayer life, our community prayer life, is very much like it is in St. Joseph’s House. We go some place for Mass every day. We have lauds or vespers, and we say the rosary.

People bring their problems to us, and of course we bring all these problems to our prayers. And as you began to work, you automatically include these people in your offering of that work to God.

It took me fifty years and living in a prayer-listening house before I heeded Catherine’s advice and started praying privately in the morning. Now every morning when I first get up, I read something from the Gospels. I made it a priority, and I read a chapter or just a verse. I began to get really interested in this man, Jesus Christ.

They say the Gospel is a living thing, and I have discovered that. Every time I come back to a particular passage, I discover something new about Jesus. Every time, a different meaning and depth comes.

I want to backtrack and tell you a little bit about something that happened at St. Joseph’s House where a picture of Our Lady was hanging above the electric stove in the kitchen. The picture wasn’t anything special, just a picture someone had done in pastel.

Some days I would get so frustrated about something, and I would say, “Mary, I really need your help. I don’t know what to do with this person or in this situation.”

Then I would forget about it and just go about doing whatever I was doing. A few weeks later, I would discover that this situation had been taken care of. I never clued in that this was Our Lady’s answer to my prayer.

This went on for a few years, and then one day I said to myself, “This is Our Lady answering my prayer and I didn’t even know it.”

That happened in Windsor, too. One of the prayers we say here every day is the prayer to Our Lady of Combermere, and one of the lines in that prayer is: “Mary, obtain for me a great personal love of Jesus Christ.” I said that prayer every day for six years.

One day here in Windsor, when I was reading the Gospel and getting to know who this Man Jesus is, I suddenly realized that my prayer to develop a loving relationship with Jesus was being answered.

Most of the times, as I said before, we are not aware that our prayers are being answered.

Here’s another thing that happened in a prayer-listening house. I had spent forty-five years working with nature, and after a while I knew what to do. I knew how to fix things; I knew how to solve problems that came up with growing things. I had wide experience.

But when I went into a prayer-listening house and people came to talk, I realized that I didn’t know what to say to them.

What am I going to say when the problem the person is talking about is so beyond anything I’ve ever lived or heard about? In those situations, I automatically find myself saying, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, help me”.

That’s when I really began to pray and put my trust and faith in Our Lord and in Our Lady. It was in a prayer-listening house that my whole focus went from “I’m this confident, self-made person,” to the awareness that I know nothing.

I’m just beginning to realize where strength comes from. I am coming to realize that I cannot do anything without talking to God, and I cannot be anything without listening to God. I can’t do anything without God.

These prayer-listening houses have really drawn me, fifty-seven years later, to the beginning of a relationship with God.

* In Madonna House, a prayer-listening house is one which has no active apostolate, whose primary work is prayer and being available to listen to people who come to talk.

From Restoration, February 2016