ALLOUEZ — Dr. Robert Wicks, Ph.D., quipped that he only has two specialties for presentation topics: prayer and resilience. The noted author, speaker and spiritual guide covered both during last week’s visit to the Diocese of Green Bay.
Wicks presented “Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: Exploring the Other Side of the Soul,” on Sept. 21 at Resurrection Church, prior to leading a weekend retreat on spiritual resilience at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere.
Wicks wove personal stories, inspirational quotes from theologians, Scripture and humor into his presentation. He encouraged the audience to see God in their lives in different experiences. He shared one from his days as an altar server.
“The pastor came up to me and asked me to open the church on New Year’s Eve. He said, ‘I want you to open the church before midnight. People are having a party downstairs. They want to pray at midnight.’ I said, ‘I will do it,’” explained Wicks. “I got there very early. I didn’t need to, but this was an official act. I had my cassock on; this was going to be a big deal.”
When the people moved to the church, they began to sing joyfully.
“I was totally moved in a way that I hadn’t been moved before,” said Wicks. “After they left, I thought, Why am I not experiencing that? Why am I not singing like that? What am I missing in my life?”
Another story about experiencing God was told to him by his pastor when he was living in Maryland. A new church was under construction. The workers all stopped in their places and took off their hard hats when the corpus was lifted onto the cross.
Wicks also shared a personal account of an experience at Mass where a group of deaf parish members signed Handel’s “Messiah.”
“I began to hear the meaning of Handel’s Messiah for the first time in my life, even though there was no sound,” he said. “Recognize God in your life. Maybe it’s a child’s laugh, snow falling from the sky, the sound of rain on the roof, the crashing of waves.”
Speaking more specifically about prayer, Wicks said that it is important to “offer it space.”
He added, “Prayer is not a nicety. It is an experience that reminds us of what is important. Prayer opens us up to listen in different ways.
“Prayerfulness is a decision,” he said. “We must seek God on our own, but appreciate the beautiful tradition we are given through Catholicism.”
Wicks’ latest book is “Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World.” In 2016, he was one of 45 contributors to “Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches.” Fr. Ron Rolheiser, Sr. Joyce Rupp and Fr. Richard Rohr were among the other Catholic writers involved in the project.
Wicks has connections in the diocese. His daughter and her family live in the Green Bay area and he is a longtime friend of Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau, pastor at Resurrection Parish. Among his goals for the presentation was to help those in attendance take the next step in their prayer lives. He discussed the different elements of the rule of prayer, beginning with liturgy followed by faith sharing.
“Formal prayer is next,” he explained. “Formal prayer is what we often use, a wonderful prayer like the rosary. I hope you are not too sophisticated for an ancient prayer like that, which is so marvelous.”
Reflection during the day follows. The next element in the rule of prayer is spiritual reading.
“Be broad in your reading,” he suggested. “Pick an author and go deeper into what that author is reading. You may not think that you have enough time to read. If you read five minutes a night over a year, that’s a lot of spiritual reading.”
Scripture and contemplation complete the rule of prayer elements, explained Wicks. He expanded his focus on the need for contemplation.
“Time in silence and solitude wrapped in gratitude is essential,” he said. “I can remember being on Capitol Hill speaking to members of Congress on my other specialty, resilience. I took back with me a response from one of the senators. He was asked, ‘What is one of the greatest challenges facing the American Congress today?’ His response was, ‘Not enough time to think.’ I believe it is the same with prayer. We do not have enough time to pray. We don’t put it as a priority.”
Wicks suggests finding time for prayer at tasks during the day such as when brushing your teeth, and also to find new spiritual spaces.
“It doesn’t have to be just in church,” he said. “Find an area in your house where you can go to sit and take a few minutes.”
The benefits of prayer in silence and solitude are many, he added.
“Enjoy being with God and yourself,” he said. “Sort things out, deepen yourself. You may begin to recognize the noise in your life. Prayer softens our souls.”
Wicks challenged the audience to take two minutes a day for silence and solitude.
“If you can’t take two minutes then take four,” he said. “Contemplation can be frightening. We don’t want to challenge our shame. If you are a friend of God, what are you worried about?”