Spiritual Practice: Reading Icons

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Review: Last time we talked about The Welcoming Prayer. It has been really good for me to practice this discipline. Since I’m not eating sugar or drinking wine, sitting with and welcoming my difficult feelings has been a daily activity. How has it gone for you?

This is an ongoing series on trying different contemplative prayer practices leading up to the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale Of Spiritual Awakening.

Today I want to talk about Reading Icons. I think about this as, “praying icons,” but the ancient practice says that icons are not painted, they are “written,” and therefore meant to be “read.”

People that write icons go through years of training and it is a very spiritual process for them. Icons tell a story, but they contain deep truth about God. They were a way for non-literate people to learn about God, and for us now they can be a window or doorway into the presence of God.

First, you have to understand why they look, how they look. When I first saw icons, I thought they were just ugly paintings. Then someone explained to me that icons are written with an inverse perspective. We are used to a perspective with the vanishing point in the distance, things get smaller to show depth in a painting. Icons are the opposite. The vanishing point is set out, behind us, drawing us into the painting, inviting us in.

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Consider this famous icon: Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity. It is two things: The story of Abram entertaining angels at the Oak of Mamre, and it is the Trinity, father, son, and spirit, inviting us to sit with them at a table.

There are deep and intricate explanations of this icon on the internet. For brevity’s sake, I will share only a few of them here. The Father is on the left, wearing heavenly colors, a staff authority is in his hand, and the other hand is blessing his son. The Son is in the middle, wearing earthy and heavenly colors, a staff of authority is in his hand, and he is blessing the chalice. The spirit is wearing the colors of water and heaven and he also holds the staff of authority. His hand invites us to sit at the table with them. See the opening at the table where we are invited into this holy communion? Notice how their heads incline toward one another?

I invite you to sit and read this icon. Put yourself at this table and let yourself feel what it is like to sit with each member of the Trinity. You might have one reaction to the Father and a completely different one to the Son, or to the Spirit. You are welcomed in. How does it feel to be there? Let me know if you try it and how you relate to the different persons of the Trinity.  If you enjoy the experience of reading an Icon, this book really helped to guide me through reading others.

The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green 

Photo Credit Partial Icon, Full Icon

Spiritual Practices: The Welcoming Prayer

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Last month I introduced you to the practice of having a Spiritual Director. I love having one and if you are wanting to go deeper with God,  I hope you will consider finding one for yourself.  If you’re wondering why we are doing these bi-monthly practices, see the note below. *

Today I want to talk about the Welcoming Prayer. I’m going to be trying this one during Lent. It is the process of welcoming deep feelings that get triggered throughout our day.

I don’t like deep negative feelings. With my reaction, I want to eat sugar or drink wine. Since about a month ago, I gave up both of these in favor of a healthier body, and my feelings are now more front and center. I’m hoping the Welcoming Prayer will take me to a deeper, healthier place.

I’ve borrowed information, with permission, from my favorite website, The Gravity Center, to help explain the Welcoming Prayer. It’s a fairly simple but powerful practice. Here is part of their description:

“The Welcoming Prayer is a method of actively letting go of thoughts and feelings that support the false-self system.

Developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of the founders of Contemplative Outreach, the Welcoming Prayer invites God to dismantle the emotional programs of the false-self system and to heal the emotional wounds we’ve stored in the body.

The method of the Welcoming Prayer includes noticing the feelings, emotions, thoughts, and sensations in your body, welcoming them, and then letting them go.”

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Instructions

When you have an overly emotional experience in daily life, take a moment to be still and silent and follow these steps.

  1. Focus, to feel and sink into the feelings, emotions, thoughts, sensations, and commentaries in your body.
  2. Welcome God in the feelings, emotions, thoughts, commentaries or sensations in your body by saying, “Welcome.”
  3. Let go by repeating the following sentences:
  • “I let go of the desire for security, affection, control.”
  • “I let go of the desire to change this feeling/sensation

So, that’s it, easy peasy right? We’ll see in about two weeks how easy it is. I just tried it and may still have tears blurring my vision. Thanks for joining me on this quest to try and develop helpful spiritual practices into my life. Let me know what you are trying and if it is helpful. Jacci

*I’m writing these bi-weekly blogs to get ready for the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s available for pre-order now on all eBook distributors and although it’s fiction, it has a lot of wonderful resources for expanding your contemplative practices.

Photo Credit: Empty Hands, Hands with plant