Prayer as intimate relationship:

When words fall away…


Two years ago, I was asked to speak about meditation in the Christian tradition to a group of young Christians spending a weekend camping on a farm near my home town of Cheltenham.

Most of the weekend’s events were held in a large barn converted into a beautiful conference space, a stone’s throw from the massed tents. I was allocated a slot late on the Saturday afternoon in the small, medieval village church nearby.

I knew that the ancient form of silent prayer I’d be speaking about would be very unfamiliar to most there and would have been pleased with 10 people coming along to the session.

I was surprised and delighted when, just a few minutes before the session was due to start, 200 people arrived, squeezed onto the ancient pews, sat cross-legged on the floor and filled the dark oak choir stalls. The little church was packed.

At five o’clock I struck a small bell and the bright sound called everyone to silence.

We rested in the silence for a couple of minutes, and then I asked if anyone knew anything about intimate relationships.

The silence in the little church immediately deepened.

Then I asked if anyone had experienced the wonderful, heady excitement of meeting someone you think is absolutely gorgeous.

You want to know them. You want them to know you. You want to see them as much as possible and talk and talk and talk: “What’s your favourite film?” “What’s the best place you’ve travelled to?” What’s your favourite book, food, anything?”

The silence in the crowded church seemed to deepen a little further.

Then I asked if anyone had experienced a relationship that had opened and blossomed beyond this early phase, where the synergy and depth of the relationship is perhaps best known and expressed in moments of silence — moments when words fall away and you just look at your beloved and adore them, and they just look at you and adore you.

If we know this is true of our relationships with each other, why would we ever imagine that our relationship with God, that prayer, would be any different?

School of Contemplative Life
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