Contemplative ‘Mindmapping’

Paper for prayer
Praying with pen and paper

(I wrote this a few years back for the Loyola Hall website. It’s a way of praying I still use myself from time to time.)

This is a kind of prayer you do with your eyes open and a pen and paper in front of you. It’s well suited as a short exercise of 10 or 15 minutes and is particularly good at getting something stirring when otherwise you are feeling stuck or dull.

Since it takes only a little while (and you can keep your eyes open) I recommend giving it a try for real now rather than just reading about it. Don’t read all the way ahead but follow each instruction as it comes.

In preparation, find a nice sheet of paper — A4 or letter-sized is fine for now but feel free to experiment later — also maybe something to lean it on and a pen or pencil you can jot with. I prefer to have the paper arranged ‘landscape’ rather than ‘portrait’ but that’s up to you.

Got all you need? To begin, turn your inner senses toward God and ask briefly, in whatever way feels helpful, that this exercise will help you be aware of God’s presence.

The first step is to look at your blank piece of paper and right in the centre of it write the word ‘GOD’ clearly and legibly. Another time you could choose any other word that happens to feel like a good starting point given what’s going on in your life but ‘GOD’ is a good start for now. When you have written your word … read on.

Now take a long look at the whole piece of paper with the single word in the middle – just look at it unhurriedly, undemandingly, openly, contemplatively — and wait for another word to come to you. Don’t strain or filter or analyse or worry — just look and wait for a word — it might take seconds or minutes. Do that now then come back to these instructions.

When a word does turn up write it on the paper wherever feels right. It might be next to ‘GOD’ or above or below, close or distant…

Done? Now take another contemplative look at your sheet of paper which now has two words on it. Just look and wait for a third word to come along — not trying to make connections, not trying not to, not trying at all. Do that now…

When your third word arrives put it down on paper too, wherever it seems to want to go.

Done? You get the pattern: look, wait, write; look, wait, write… Keep doing that until 10 minutes have passed, or the page feels complete, or you feel ready to move on. By then you might have collected a handful of words or dozens — it’s up to you. Come back to these instructions when you reach that point…

OK. Now take one last look at your paper laid out with a pattern of words — another low-key, contemplative look. Then ask yourself this question: ‘If God were saying something to me through this sheet of paper what might it be?’ Ask yourself that question and wait contemplatively for an answer. When it comes, write it down on your paper too in the form of a simple sentence addressed to you by God — nothing third-person or abstract…

Now notice your feelings at seeing (and hearing) these words spoken to you. Notice how you might respond, what you might say back to God, what you feel moved to do… If it feels right make that response, or say what you want to say, or do what you want to do.

At this point you might consider the exercise finished … or it might become the starting place for further prayer — either right away or at some later time; maybe continuing the dialogue, maybe sitting in silence with the God who has addressed you.

I hope you tried this simple way of praying with pen and paper and found it useful.

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