A journey. Into Prayer.

A new year, Christmas, a good Advent. Time to pray.

For the last few years survival has meant clinging to the forms of prayer I had used for the previous 25 yrs, the Breviary. This was pared down at times to something very basic, but it survived. But it was clinging to a form and the heart speaking to heart had become a rare thing. Not that it was a blind repetition, but it was dry, and a surviving rather than a living.

At times I reached points of real dissatisfaction, yearning for the real encounter, the real intimacy again. And there would be moments when the Presence of God suddenly descended, presented itself. It was nothing to do with me really, apart perhaps for desire. And it was a sweet Presence, a deep stillness that enveloped me. I love those times, those moments. At times they would last for a few days, a sense of recollection and inner stillness and those times are truly happy as God's beauty settles around me.

The sadness is I can't rest in that for very long. I become restless, moments of distraction, and most devastatingly, wilfulness... I sort of chafe at being docile and the pressure blows and I break off in the opposite direction. A sort of spiritual adolescent I guess, which is humiliating thinking about it. After so long such little spiritual growth.

In the past few weeks I have started to pray a little differently. Remembering the words of a Coptic bishop from way back in my university days, that whenever we have the urge to pray we should just stop what we are doing and pray. I have never forgotten those words, but at times the urge to pray is lost beneath such a flurry of emotional turmoil or spiritual torpidity that there is little to respond to. But other times, such as late, that bubbling brook is closer to the surface.

Now those are here more frequently, I have at times followed an impulse to put aside the breviary and to pray the Jesus Prayer. Also to take up a respectful posture, to put aside books and words and simply breathe God.

I have also started to use some reflections from the Fathers from various Orthodox and Catholic websites, finding pearls of wisdom, little morsels of spiritual insight and sustenance.

Writing this is also a prayer, or prayer-ful. Simply resting in my heart at the spot where he touches it. You can feel the gentle pressure, a certain warmth as he holds his finger tip on my heart, like a sort of massage bringing life back into its tough, leathery walls. Writing this comes from a dialogue between my mind and heart, attentive to what is happening there and writing from that living centre, from a tranquility within and without.

Its a stillness that grows steadily, like the growing brightness of a lamp or candle. It is a gift that grows in the giving and the receiving. It is as though my attentiveness is the oxygen that allows it to burn more brightly and to over flow to fill the space in which I am sat writing this.

Extending this into every moment of my day is where it gets tricky - as quick as a flash I find myself caught up in the things I have to do, the tasks on my list, and suddenly my hand dashes out and I do them out of my own strength. The dialogue ends, the Presence roughly brushed aside, and in the 'noise' of my activity - done well or badly doesn't matter - I am left alone with the noise of a dislocated world all around me.

So I need to try and draw this breathing, the dialogue into my activity, especially into my work with the icons, making the walls between 'times of prayer' and 'time to get on' thinner and thinner, drawing the incidents and happenings into the stillness, rather than letting the blast of activity extinguish the flame. In this way it becomes 'prayer without ceasing', and the place where I can write the icon prayerfully.


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