From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Contemplative intercession”

“Contemplative intercession”

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8.26-27 (NRSV)

The following are my three (very tentative) understandings of Paul’s words, and what I am doing in intercession.

First, in silence, consciously imagining opening my heart as wide as it can go, and holding the person or world there in the presence of God. Not asking anything specific for the person or issue, beyond God’s mercy and good will. Then, continuing to hold them in my heart without words, simply allowing God to draw me into the depths, so that somehow (I know not how) they encounter God and God’s healing through me, in the hidden places beyond consciousness.

The sixth century monk John Climacus wrote, “Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of humanity with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a reconciliation with God.” … And hence reconciliation within myself, with other people, and with the rest of natural world.

Secondly, trying to join in with that prayer of the Holy Spirit, tuning in and listening to what is the will of God. I don’t need to tell God what all the problems are, and I don’t know what is ultimately for the best. God already knows. In Encountering the Depths, Mother Mary Clare wrote, “Prayer is the gateway to the vision of God for which we were created.” Prayer is the gateway too to the vision of the world and ourselves for which we were created.

Thirdly, being open to being changed by my intercession, and as I become attuned to God’s will, being ready to be God’s ears and hands in the world, ready to co-operate and be part of the answer. Intercession can be risky!

So because I do think that contemplation and action are intertwined, this does not simply mean keeping going in the intercession. John Climacus again: “If prayer is a matter of concern to you, then show yourself to be merciful.” Or from Micah 6.8, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Sometimes, not often, this will involve great actions and sacrifices of time, energy, or money.

For me at the moment, I am learning to be more aware of mundane details as I go about my daily life and to practise kindness where I can. It includes too continuing to work towards my own healing. As Gandhi wrote “We but mirror the world… If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.