Back in 2019 after my mother’s death, I was facing some very challenging life decisions. More specifically, I was struggling mightily with my seminary teaching profession and began to wonder if I should consider returning to my previous catechetical career. It was a hard time of doubt, confusion, and insecurity, and I could feel my “default” temptation—seeking a quick and simple exit from the pain—rising up.
But, by what was unquestionably an interior movement of grace, I suddenly felt intensely drawn to pray the prayer Eli taught Samuel (1 Sam. 3), “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Over a series of days, I began to pray it again and again throughout the day, to powerful effect. Even hundreds of times. I felt the inner desolation evaporate, my center of gravity in God reemerge, and I was eventually able to confidently reaffirm a full commitment to my job.
While there are never any magic formulas, I knew there was something in this practice that broke down my “fleeing” impulse and helped me to “stay and keep watch” with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place of surrender.
In a conversation I had with a close friend around that time, after I shared with him the experience, I decided to make this “prayer of Eli” into a Novena—meaning I simply prayed it throughout the day for nine days whenever I needed greater clarity on some issue. A friend aptly called my new practice the “Eli Novena.”
What I loved about this evolving practice was that it allowed my petition to know God’s mind and will to remain open-ended, refusing to specify a desired outcome other than hearing God’s voice. My spiritual director back in the 1990s had helped me stop “front ending” expected outcomes in my petitions, which then made me feel more drawn to petitionary prayers that opened me to ask and then surrender in trust—the only fitting posture toward absolute mystery.
And then just listen.
All this to say that the other day, as I prepared to give a parish workshop, I was moved to create an Eli Novena Chaplet using the Rosary beads as my organizing method. It goes like this:
On the Cross (Suscipe of St. Ignatius): Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To thee, O Lord, I return it. All is thine, dispose of it wholly according to thy will. Give me thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
One: Our Father
Ten: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.
One: Let it be done to me according to thy word.
(Continue for all five decades)
Conclude, three times: “Abba, not my will, but thy will be done.”
It is to be prayed slowly with attention to the words, allowing them to dispose you to receive, hear, and accept. After finishing, spend a few minutes in silence, allowing God to communicate into you whatever he wishes, not expecting it to be an obvious “voice”—but being open to his grace.
I began to use it and can already feel its power.
So for what it’s worth, there it is. If you use it, I pray it may dispose you to more fully to hear, embrace, and do the will of God.