A Novena of Weeks of Seeking : The First 9 Weeks of Awaken My Heart

I have followed Emily Wilson for at two or three years. So when I saw she had yet another book out I was intrigued. On January 10, 2021 I began doing The Awaken My Heart:52 Weeks of Giving Thanks and Loving Abundantly a Yearly Devotional for Women. Here I will give a periodic reflection (every 4 weeks or so) of how this has helps me grow as a daughter of God, a woman, and a Catholic Christian and what I have learned from it. I may also say a few things about how it is written giving a more academic review of it. The book opens with an introduction describing the culture today and its multiplicity of distractions from the blessings God is handing out in our lives. It tells us the purpose of this devotional is a "journey together through an entire year as we learn how to live life presents to the bountiful gifts God provides" (XV). She tells the reader that each week "we will focus on an area where your heart may need awakening" and "each reflection is to draw you deeper into the heart of God by learning to love Jesus, others, and yourself more fully" (XVI). I chose to start each week on a Sunday as Wilson suggests in the introduction.Now on to the first nine weeks of this devotional. The first nine weeks include refections the following topics: Receive His Peace, Seek Him, Let Him Soften Your Heart, Uproot Jealousy, Pray the Litany of Healing of Body Image (a prayer Emily wrote herself), Be Childlike, and Find Your Own Calcutta. Some weeks have a verse to go with them, reflection, reflection questions or suggestions ("Soul Exercises"), and a prayer for the week ("Your Heart's Prayer This Week").


Week One and General Outline of Weekly Schedule

In the first week, the reflection focuses on peace and the peace that God gives. She talks about her C-section with her first child, Zion. She describes how in the chaos of the doctors preparing for the C-section and the C-section itself she felt an interior peace that did not match the situation. In that moment she says "God was Showing me that even in the middle of mayhem, when you cling to Christ, you can find a well spring of peace that does not make any 'sense'" (2). After the reflection, "soul exercises" are offered as well as the "Your Heart's prayer This week" section. The two "soul exercises" for week one were two questions:

  1. Where do you need Christ to Bring Peace into your life right now?, and

  2. Philippians 2:7 speaks of the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding–the kind of peace that does not make sense to our human senses. Has there been a time in your life when you felt unexplainable peace, even in the midst of great struggle? Reflect on this time and let it teach you about the peace Christ always wants to give you.

Here is the "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" for the week one:

Jesus, you are the Prince of Peace. Thank you for providing the peace that only you can give in every circumstance of my life. Thank you for being my refuge in the chaos of life, in the uncertainties of my journey, and on my brightest days. Help me to res, always, in the serenity of your heart and your presence. Jesus, be my peace for the rest of my days. Amen.

My general schedule (and intended schedule) for this devotional was Sunday would start the week with reading the reflection, "Soul Exercises", and "Your Heart's Prayer". I would journal using the "Soul Exercises" on as many days as there were exercises. Wednesdays I would reread the reflection for the week. Then on Thursdays I would do something creative with the "Your Heart's Prayer This Week". I would end the week with reading the reflection and subsequent sections one last time. This general outline has more or less been followed throughout the course of the first nine weeks of the devotional.

I'll go over the second reflection question. There was a point freshman year of College where I had a dream while I slept at the end of the dream I audibly heard a voice call my name. Then I woke up. Now, when I wake from dreams I usually anxious or indifferent. This time however, I felt a sort of deep peace. This was weird considering this was probably only weeks before I would see everything metaphorically fall apart. I ended up dancing around the dorm room. Now, my roommate wasn't there at the time and even though the window was open I felt no shame I was truly bathed in the light of Christ. I guess this is providential as two years later just this past January when I started this devotional I was starting to go through a big transition which came out as a response to question one.

In Late November 2020, I decided definitively that I would leave Ball State and transfer to another university. One reason was I felt a deep desire to study Catholic Theology. Second, I felt that I like an outcast in the English department and that I was constantly being told that I must change my worldview to be a good person. This was hard since I truly believe that I can only be the best person I can be through growing in my Catholic faith and by living it out as best as I can. So I really needed peace that I was making the right decision. This peace wasn't fully realized until over two months later when I visited Franciscan University of Steubenville (more on this in my May 1st post t and in Week 10 of this journey, May 3,2021). I realized now that this was the first step into softening my heart more than I knew. This melting of a half-frozen heart continued in week two.

Verse of the Week: This begins in Week three

Song of the Week: Just Be Held by Casting Crowns (follow the Awaken My Heart Playlist on Spotify) This song is part of my Awaken My Heart playlist on Spotify which will be explained in my post covering weeks 10-12. Until then enjoy me placing the song at the end of these weekly reflections.

Week Two: Seek Him

Week Two Had no verse of the week, but it was about seeking the Lord. This week the reflection focused around the Story of the Prodigal Son. Yet, it did not look at the son that came back rather it highlighted the son that stayed (the older one). Emily's reflection touched on how many times we are like the older son in this story and we follow God because he give us something not because of who he is. The end of the reflection encouraged the reader "Let us seek the Lord because we love him—not because of what he does or what he gives, but because of who he is" (7). This felt enlightening considering the prodigal son story from the perspective of the other son. In a way, the other son is also prodigal though he never asked for his inheritance. He rejected the gift of his father out of resentment of perceived wrongs or of not getting what "he deserved".

This Week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. Have you ever tried to draw close to God in hopes that he would you a desire of your heart? What was that desire? Did it become an idol in your life, or is it currently an idol in your life? Pray with the Lord about this desire, asking him to help you surrender it to him.

  2. Have you ever been frustrated because those around you who do no follow God seem to be rewarded more in life than you? Have an honest conversation with God about that , and be open to listening to what he has to say.

The "Your Heart's Prayer this Week" was:

Jesus, I want seek you above all else. Help me relinquish my desire for reward, recognition, or a prize for my faithfulness. Grant me a desire to know you more to love you more, to run toward you with open arms not looking over my shoulder, but looking at you my greatest love. Thank you for all that you are. You are more than enough for me. Awaken my heart to a greater desire for you. Amen.

In answering the first question, I recognized that I made an idol out of my vocation. This was especially my freshman year. This obsession led to a broken heart. Later on in this journey, I would realize the root of this obsession with vocation (particularly with having a boyfriend). I realized that I needed to surrender my vocation to the Lord since his plan for me will make me infinitely happier than the one I have for myself.

To the second one, I reflected on my thoughts on particularly political leaders who profess Catholicism as their religion. I understand from perspective it may not seem that they are Catholic, but that I need to accept to an extent that's what they say they are. I myself do not always live up to the ideal of the faithful Catholic Christian so I should not expect them to be perfect either. Though, as they are also public figures they should be held to a somewhat higher standard for their chances to cause scandal are higher. This is perhaps or really is the reason why I disagree with Archbishop Wilton Gregory's decision to allow priest in D.C. to give President Biden communion. I do not see this a political move, but a pastoral one to call Biden to repentance in his advocation for the expansion of abortion and abortion rights. Now, I know not even all Catholics will agree with this opinion and some will see it as a political move for any Bishop who would not allow Biden to receive communion in their diocese and I would definitely talk to them about it and see if we can come to some kind of understanding. I also have to trust that God is in fact leading Archbishop Gregory even if it doesn't seem like it.

Song of the Week: Lord, I Need You Matt Maher

Week Three: Let Him Soften Your Heart

Verse of the Week:

But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, prayer for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27-28

summary of Reflection This week Emily addresses praying for our enemies. She starts the reflection this week's reflection with a question: "What does it mean to have an enemy". She then describes what she defines as an enemy. She goes into what Jesus teaches about enemies. She then talks about a situation where she had a falling out with a friend. This friend had betrayed her but a few months after she began to intentionally pray for this person. She admitted at first it was hard but as she kept doing it it softened her heart. She gave you two suggestions for this week:

  • Write down all your feelings about a situation in which someone hurt you, and conclude with a prayer. for that person

  • Ask God to give you the strength to pray for the person who hurt you, or to teach you how to live out Luke 6:27-28 in your life

She allows you to choose whether you do one or both of these this week. She also acknowledges that as a reader you may need to dive deep into one situation or pray for multiple people through out the week.

This week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. What situations and people come to mind when Jesus talks about praying for our enemies? Who is asking you to pray for this week and beyond?

  2. Have you ever prayed for someone who hurt you deeply? If yes, what kind of freedom or consolation diid you find in doing so?

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Jesus, it is not easy to follow your command to love my enemies, to do good to those who have hurt me deeply. I cannot do it on my own! Grant me the grace to take the first small step of calling to mind those you want me to pray for, and lift them up to you. Help me let go of any resentment or grudges I am consciously or unconsciously holding on to, so that, ultimately, I can find the peace you long for me to live in. This week, I choose to love my enemies with courage—help me do just that.

Amen

I prayed about several different situations. One in particular that stands out because it would come up in a later week as well was an ongoing action of my peers in elementary school. Many other students in my grade would run away from me when I touched them would run and touch others and say that other person now had "the Mary-touch". This taught me so quite erroneous things. One such thing that my touch was dirty and disgusting. It also taught me that I was unworthy of friendship. It perhaps was the beginning of my constant seeking of how to fit in with those who were popular. I started watching them and trying to define myself by what they thought of me.

Song of the Week: More of You Colton Dixon

Week Four: Uproot Jealousy

Verse of the Week: None

This week Emily reflected on the vice of Jealousy. She begins talking about how she envied Anthony Bourdain's life as portrayed on the show Parts Unknown. The particular incident she shares is from just weeks before Bourdain's suicide in 2018. She mentions how jealousy is sneaky.She acknowledged that many times when "God doesn't grant our prayers or wishes we can assume that god is withholding something from us. We place a measuring stick up to God's love for us based purely on what gifts we have been given or prayers have been answered.

This week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. Upon honest reflection, would you consider yourself a jealous person? Have you had seasons where you struggle with this sin more than others? Why?

  2. What qualities or circumstances are you most envious of when you look around? How can you change your outlook to see the beauty around you and to give thanks to God for everything he is doing in your life?

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Jesus, I do not wish to live my life as a jealous person. I ask you, on this journey, to root out the sin of jealousy from my heart and from my life. Remove the scales from my eyes to see the beauty of the life you have given me, the gifts you have bestowed upon me, and your heart's love for me. Help me to keep my gaze fixed forward, walking in faith as a woman who celebrates and does not tear down, a woman always found singing the praises of God in gratitude and joy. Amen.

I had to be brutally honest with myself this week. I had to recognize that I am often jealous of others and that this is a sin I often struggle with. I envy those many times who seem confident and self-assured. I tend to doubt myself and compare myself to those who seem to not do so because I feel I should be able to trust myself more. Really it's because I am trying to depend on myself and not on God. It's also because I set up expectations for things and then when they fall apart I think why was I so stupid. One place this happened was in my journey to get a license to drive. I envy the freedom I see that those who have licenses enjoy. I am limited in a way by not having one. I must rely on others to get me places or hope that I have store and businesses in walking distance. I may eventually get a license but I may end up as one who always have to rely on others or on my own two feet. This is hard when it seems a license appears to be a sort of prerequisite to adulthood as it is a sign of freedom and independence. I feel that not having one makes me a child despite being in my early twenties. Of course not everyone gets a license but since so many of my peers talk about when they got their licenses or having cars it gets hard to accept that I am an adult without having a drivers license.

Song of the Week: This Is Me from the Greatest Showman

Week Five: Pray the Litany for Healing of Body Image

Verse of the Week: None

This week the reflection consisted primarily of a prayer Emily wrote for the healing of body image. This is the prayer she asks you to say this litany (call and response prayer) this week and examine your journey with body image. I have included pictures of the litany.






This week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. What lines of the litany speak to your heart? Take an inventory of your struggles with Body Image. What have your pas challenge been, and what do you wrestle with today?

  2. As you pray the litany this week, imagine Jesus, in his goodness and tenderness, standing before you holding your hands. Place yourself in the scene with him, and be open to his love and his responses as you pray.

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Pray at least one section of the Litany of the Healing of Body Image every day, building upt to the whole prayer. Or, if you feel that a certain section touches on an area of your life that needs healing and restoration, pray that section every day. However you approach the litany this week, pray this line as often as possible: Jesus, thank you for creating me in your image and likeness.

I honestly took away from this week that I have a lot to work on in terms of body image. I tend to put a lot of weight on my appearance. I am always looking for a flaw. I am always insecure when I notice a new blemish or zit. I am always terrified that my eyebrows will become a unibrow. I have started become more comfortable with the unruly brows. Though I still do like plucking them from time to time to try to shape them. I also sometimes when I start getting into an exercise routine chastise myself when I miss a day. The exercise quickly becomes an idol. This is obviously not the purpose of exercise which is to honor the body that God has given me to take care of.

Song of the Week: Unfinished Mandisa

Week Six: Become Childlike

Verse of the Week:

Jesus said ,"Let the Little Children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Matthew 19:14

This week Emily reflects on having a childlike attitude in life. She shares how once she and her husband were out and a young boy was causing a commotion and the father apologized to Emily and her husband for the interruption of the child. Emily states that she wanted to tell the father (after he apologized for the third time), "Sir, there is no need to apologize.If there is anything this world needs, it is the vibrancy your son brings to it...the unhindered joy that causes him to hop around, singing silly songs and using his imagination with glee. We all need it. Let him be joyful, and not be concerned with what anybody think of it —because anyone who is annoyed by it needs to take a page out of your son's book of joy" (emphasis is Emily's). She also talks about a young girl named Phoebe who came up to her and said "'Hi I'm Phoebe. Do you want to be my friend?". Phoebe did not wait for Emily and just pulled Emily and said "'Come with me'". These two examples show the childlike joy and openness to others that we lose overtime and this week is about gaining that back .

This week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. Recall a Memory from when you were small girl who felt truly wild and free in the unique way children do. If you can't remember right way, invite the Holy spirit to show you. Breath deeply and try to relive in your heart that moment from your childhood. What feeling bubble up?

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Jesus, I have lost so much of the joy and freedom I had when I was a little girl. Please awaken that joy in my heart and in my soul. Help me to obey your command to become like a child so that my faith can increase tenfold. Help me to focus on the spirit and joy of the children in my life this week. May I learn from their example of exuberance and love for you.

Amen.

The memory that came about was probably when I was seven or eight ,the last real years of dress up, I was wearing a dress up wedding gown and my mom's wedding veil. I was probably wearing dress up heals as well. I was likely reenacting the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella (I watched the 1997 adaptation hundreds of times as a child). So this probably meant I was imagining a price at the end of the invisible aisle. . Thsi perhaps a desire for marriage from a young age as well as a desire to be a princess (unrealistic generally but most young girls dream of being one). This week helped me realize that my imagination was a gift God gave me because he want me to write (another gift and talent he has granted me). This imagination is the root of why I want to be an author such as Tolkein or Lewis or the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen.

Song of the Week: Cinderella Steven Curtis Chapman

Week Seven: Find Your Own Calcutta

Verse of the Week: None

In this week's reflection, Emily begins by sharing the story of Katie Davis a woman who ended up starting a school in Uganda. She also reflects on the life of St. Mother Theresa who founded the Missionaries of Charity and served the poor and disadvantaged in Calcutta, India (the the reason Calcutta feature in the title). She reflected that each and every woman has her own Calcutta that is not Katie's nor Mother Theresa's. She talked about her Calcutta is "the hearts of women all over the world—women who fee unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten and alone"(35). She calls the woman reading this book to find her Calcutta during this week.


This week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. Have you struggled with the feeling that you're not "doing enough" as a woman of faith? Look back on your spiritual journey and identify where you learned to compare God's call in your life to his call in the lives of others.

  2. What is your Calcutta? Who is your life feels unwanted, forgotten, or alone?

  3. Take some time to write about where your Calcutta has been in the past. Refelct on the ways God asked you to serve during that time, how faithfully your responded ot that invitation, and how he may be asking you to serve now.

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Jesus, I get discouraged when I feel as if I don't " do enough." Awaken my heart to my Calcutta, where you are calling me to serve the lost, the lonely, the poor, and the needy right before me. Give me the courage to love them as you do and the grace to serve exactly where you are calling me to serve, whether that is in a disadvantaged country or simply at home. Amen.

I had to admit to myself this week that I am often say to myself that I am not "doing enough". Whether it was never going on Mission Trips throughout the years or feeling like I am not doing enough for the pro-life movement, yet perhaps in this moment of my life God is not asking me to go on a mission trip or be involved in the pro-life movement in a leadership or heavily involved activist. One day I realized a fellow classmate was my Calcutta for the time I was to spend with this classmate. I was called to be Christ to this person. I realized that moments in my past were Calcuttas that I wasn't aware of . One that first came to me was that my senior year of high school I was the sole photographer for my high school newspaper. To most of the students of my high school as "the girl with the camera", yet that was my Calcutta because the year prior all the newspaper's photographers had graduated. In college every roommate I have had has been a Calcutta. With though out of fear I had a hard time living out that call. But that even though I could have done more to call them to Christ, perhaps there was something that Lord wanted to show them through me despite my lack of invitation to relationship with me and with him.

Song of the Week: Write Your Story Francesca Battistelli

Week Eight: Proclaim the Greatness of the Lord

Verse of the Week: None

Emily reflects this week on giving thanks to the Lord. She draws us in to consider the gratitude. She highlights Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1. She reminds us that Mary thanked the Lord for her blessing. She notes highlights that the world often tells us that you need more. There is a focus that we can get caught up what we don't have (similar to 4). She reminds us that "the Christian life isn't abbout getting everything we want or about skating through life with no troubles. It is about looking for God in the midst of it all to say 'I am grateful', instead of 'I want'" (41). In the closing of this week's reflection Emily invites readers to "begin or revisit a gratitude list" and to "list off all the beauty of your life on paper and see a physical representation of all that God is, and praise him for it" (42).

This week the "Soul Exercises" were:

  1. Is there an area in your life where you are buying into the cultural lie that you always need more? What is causing you to believe is?

  2. Start that list: "I am grateful for..." One line at a time, give thank to God for it all.

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Jesus, you have done great things for me. Forgive me of all the times I've been bitterly ungrateful. Awaken my heart to celebrate all that you have done, all that your are doing, an all that you will do. Help me live a life that reflects my gratitude for who you are and who you will always be. I lift my hands to you today and with my heart to say, "Thank you." Amen.

I realized that many of my struggles with rejection or even just growing apart from friends.

Song of the Week: Let Them See You Colton Dixon

Week Nine: Be Not Afraid

Verse of the Week: None

This week Emily reflected on fear. She highlighted the story of the storm on the sea. She zeroed in on Jesus‘ question to the apostles: “Why are you afraid?” She says, I imagine Jesus standing with me in a boat, naming my biggest fears in his presence. I imagine him taking me by the hands, liking me in the eyes, and saying, ’Why are you afraid?’” She encourages readers to identify their fears and ask why fear what they do. She then gives a list of possible fears one may have. She encourages readers “to enter into an unpacking, a digging, a tender unfolding of your heart this week with the Lord.”

This Week’s “Soul Exercises” were:

1. Take some time to enter into imaginative prayer with this scene this week.

  • Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing in the boat with Christ. Imagine him asking you, “Why are you afraid?“ Take your time to answer, and tell him your fears.

  • Breathe deeply and pay attention to how Christ responds to the outpouring of your heart to him. How does he look? What does he say? Notice what his presence in the midst of your fears does to your heart.

  • Speak these verses from Psalm 107 aloud a few times as you breathe in and out: “in their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril; he gushed the storm to silence, the waves of the sea were stilled.“ (Ps 107:28-29), Spend some time in silence.

  • Offer your fears to Christ and ask him to turn them into greater faith and trust in him.

2. As you imagine yourself standing with Jesus in the boa, what comes up in your heart? Does his presence in the midst of your fear change anything? Stand with him there, in your imaginative prayer, for as long as you need to. As you work through your fears with him this week, visit this scene with him as many times as your heart needs to.

The "Your Heart's Prayer This Week" was:

Jesus, I trust and believe that you did not create me for a life of fear. Help me to be a woman who chooses faith over fear in every facet of my life. Help me to let go of every one of my fears, knowing that I stand before you, even in the midst of the storm, all will be well. I have nothing to fear because you are at my side, and you ask that I ask that you turn them into faith and trust. Amen.

Looking back at my journal for this week I did not actually write down any of the fears that came up during my imaginative prayer. Though honestly some of the fears that likely came up were that I had chosen to transfer because I was running away from a part of the fight for God's Kingdom, my fear of rejection, my fear that some of my sins are unforgivable, and my fear that I will never get a drivers license. Though I do remember feeling a great sense of peace when I gave my fears over to Jesus. It truly lifted a weight off of me. I also just remember him saying to me that he is always with me even in the midst of these fears. I will admit I probably should have wrote them down. But perhaps not writing them down is a sign of my trusting God with them.

Song of the Week: Not the Leavin' Kind Rascal Flatts


Pictorial Prayers