In the Tuscan hill-town Cortona this June we found ourselves pausing at the shrines of saints and motor bikes. Santa Maria is loved here, and Moto Guzzi is revered. At these sun and candle-lit-shrines we found ourselves praying for others, making prayers both for the possible and prayers for the (seemingly) impossible.
This series of Morning Bell explores the idea of practising contemplative prayer as intercession on behalf of others. And it seeks to understand what may be possible when we tell someone that they are ‘in our thoughts and prayers.’ If the idea of prayer is unusual to you, it’s worth thinking of this process as exploring your yearnings for others. What do you hope for for them?
In contemplative prayer we can gradually move from the stimulation of thoughts, feelings, words and signs (as helpful as they can be) into greater self-awareness, and then opening ourselves up into the possibility of raw divine encounter. In this way we may find ourselves gradually becoming more aware of God’s loving presence in and around us.
In this place of love and acceptance, we discover that God’s presence is both deeply personal, and broad and deep beyond our imagination. Contemplative prayer is both an experience of you and God and an entering into the oneness of all. Here we realise our deep connectedness.
In entering into this experience of connection our prayer signifies and in some way make possible an ever closer union of humanity with each other and with God. The remembering of others, spoken and unspoken, becomes part of the prayer without ceasing to which we are called.
And perhaps we truly find ourselves whenever we pray for others, the act of prayer softening us, calling us into greater generosity as we discern the divine in the ones for whom we are praying.
We are of course sometimes ourselves called to become part of the answer to the prayers we pray. So we may find ourselves being prompted in some practical way to do something for those we are holding. At other times our calling will be simply to remember. To hold. And to leave to God’s care. And this will be enough. For in such remembering the nature of all being is revealed: God is love, and each one we hold is loved by God, yearned for, and held.
Occasionally (and the nature of this is a mystery) in the grace of God the unfolding of a story may be reconfigured. In what can seem like a momentary acceleration towards the omega point – the healing and unity of all things – events and time can take new and surprising directions. So we can find ourselves praying for the extraordinary, for the miraculous, for the seemingly impossible. There has always been a place for this in the tradition. But it’s interesting to recognise that most of the time the miraculous seems to be experienced as God’s presence within the tough times, rather than in some spectacular removal from those tough times.
Here’s a practice of contemplative intercession that we use in Beloved Life:
1) ask ‘who and what am I / are we being called to pray for today?’
2) make simple prayers in your own way for these people, places and situations (perhaps just saying the name)
3) let those prayers evolve into one simple prayer repeated in time with your breathing (perhaps the Jesus Prayer or a similar Prayer Word)
4) gradually let go of this simple prayer, and be open to the possibility of divine presence embracing you and embracing all for whom you have prayed…
All the photographs for this series were taken by Ian in Cortona in June 2016.
We join with you in all your prayers, and in particular we pray for the people of Amatrice and all those affected by the recent earthquake in Italy.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us…
Grace, mercy and peace to you
Ian & Gail
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Ian’s latest collection of poems Unfurling is out now in paperback and e-format on Canterbury Press, also via your local bookshop, via Kindle and all usual online sources including Book Depository with free delivery world-wide.