While on retreat at Glasshampton Monastery a few months ago I read The Flame of Sacred Love by Brother Ramon, who wrote it during his time as a hermit within the grounds of the monastery. It’s a book about contemplative prayer, and I got a lot from it. One thing has particularly stuck with me – a way of praying for others (intercession) which overlaps with the whole ground of contemplative prayer. It’s a way of prayer for others which uses our breathing as part of a movement which is spiritual as much as physical.
If talk of a hermit writing on contemplative prayer sounds a bit specialist and ‘not for me’ then it may help to know that Brother Ramon writes that he adapted this from the Phoenix Prison Trust, a charity which teaches yoga and meditation in prisons!
Of course, we can pray for the world, for individuals or for ourselves anywhere and at any time – and often the quick, immediate prayer is often the best. This way of prayer is for those times when we have someone or some situation particularly on our hearts, and want to spend time holding that prayer before God.
In the guidelines below, I’ll write about prayer for a person – the idea is exactly the same whether that’s your prayer, or whether you’re praying for a place, a situation, a cause, a hope… you get the idea!
This kind of prayer will probably come most easily after other prayer or meditation. If you’re not already settled into prayer, then take a moment to get comfortable and to be still. Focus your attention on your breathing, without trying to change it – just notice the air going in and out of your body, and give it your attention for a moment.
I think this is the first teaching on prayer that I’ve passed on where the diagram is more helpful than the text…
- Imagine the person for whom you’re praying is in front of you. As you breathe in, draw into yourself your concern for this person.
- For a moment hold that concern in your heart, as your breath is still. This isn’t a long time of holding your breath, but a short stillness between breathing in and out.
- As you breathe out, with your breath offer up to God your concern and prayer.
- Breathing in, know that God is sending his answer, a blessing, a strength – you won’t know what, exactly, but trust that he hears and answers prayer.
- For a moment, hold this blessing from God in your heart.
- As you breathe out, breathe that blessing towards the person you imagine in front of you.
- Come back to step 1… and keep this rhythm of prayer going for as long as feels right.
As always, prayer is more than technique; unless it’s founded in a real concern for the person for whom we pray, and equally in a loving trust in the God who hears our prayer, then it’s empty.
But if we begin with this concern and trust, and give our time and attention to our prayer, then it is an article of our faith that we are sharing with God in his work in and for the world. What I’ve found particularly helpful with this way of prayer is first that it helps me to focus my prayer for longer than usual on one person or issue; and second that the moments (2 and 5) of holding the concern and the blessing in my heart help me to be aware of my own involvement in God’s work in this situation.
That, of course, is part of the privilege of all true prayer for others, however we choose to offer it. Why not give this approach a try to see if it helps you to pray more fully?