God be in my head,
And in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes,
And in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
And in my speaking;
God be in mine heart,
And in my thinking;
God be at my end,
And in my departing.
—Sarum Primer, 1514
So I had this vision.
I was praying for a sick friend, using a prayer-meditation called the St. Anne’s Chaplet. Chaplets are strings of beads in various configurations, each associated with short, memorized prayers, the Dominican Rosary being the best-known.
I am usually careful not to project my prayers “out there” to some distant God or saint “in heaven,” but to be aware of the presence of the prayed-to with me as I pray. In particular, I make an effort to pray the Hail Mary directly into my own heart, because it, like the “Virgin’s womb,” is where God is born.
But I have lapses, and often catch myself going through the exercise somewhat mechanically. This time, though, I noticed my straying attention. I redirected my attention into my heart—and immediately began to tremble violently all over. As I continued to pray, I saw myself in my mind’s eye burst into flame—harmless fire that did not consume as it burned. And I saw my sick friend, saw myself reaching out to her as the flames leaped from my arms to her, and as we embraced, we were both engulfed in Holy Fire.
When I pray the Lord’s Prayer or a Collect, I direct the prayer toward my own head, the seat of intelligence where the Word finds a home. When lifting up my own needs in prayer, I focus my attention on my hands. When meditating on the Five Wounds of Christ, I visualize the marks of the nails and spear in my own hands, feet, and side, my blood flowing freely from the holes. By aiming my prayer toward my own body in this way, I am able to experience the presence of God with me as I pray, remaining focused and engaged rather than chattering into the void as my mind wanders.
In her autobiography, St. Terésa of Avila wrote,
Christ has no body now but mine. He prays in me, works in me, looks through my eyes, speaks through my words, works through my hands, walks with my feet and loves with my heart.
In my most recollected moments, when I really have my spiritual wits about me, I remember to “invite Jesus into my eyes”—to consciously offer my eyes for Jesus’ use. I do this in crowds, at protests, at parties, in shopping malls and cafés, and among the poor and unsheltered, and the more I do it, the easier I believe it becomes to see others as God sees them. I am more kindly disposed toward anyone, the sight of whom I am offering to Jesus through my eyes.
I also do this in the woods. Jesus may never have seen temperate deciduous forest with his earthly eyes, so I invite him into my eyes and offer up to him the adventure of seeing. The Bhagavad Gita calls this “offering up the objects of sense perception in the fire of the senses” (4:26).
My powers of concentration are poor, and my attention weak, so in using my own body this way in prayer, I am really addressing God through my physical self, in the same way one can use icons as “windows into heaven” through which to see, and be seen by, the divine.