Praying with Icons Cushman

Guest Writer Susan Cushman  Praying with Icons

“I have chosen icons because they are created for the sole purpose of offering access, through the gate of the visible, to the mystery of the invisible. Icons are painted to lead us into the inner room of prayer and bring us close to the heart of God.” Henri Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons

Mother of God Directress w egg wash.jpg

For four years in a row, in the 1980s, Henri Nouwen spent time at a spiritual retreat in France. Each year, someone placed an icon in the room where he would be staying. At the end of these visits, he wrote a book about his experiences with these icons—Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons. He gazed at these four icons for hours at a time, and, after patient, prayerful stillness on his part, they began to speak to him. As a man who loved the art of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Marc Chagall, he could have chosen any of these Western treasures for his meditations. But he chose icons.
When I became an Orthodox Christian, I embraced icons as “windows to heaven” and have prayed before them for many years. As an iconographer, I have written many icons—some commissions, some as gifts, and some that I have kept in our home—and found the process to be very much like a prolonged prayer. These images of Christ, the Mother of God, and various saints and angels, draw my heart to God in a way that nothing else does. In addition to the “set” prayers I pray in the morning and evening, sometimes I pray specific prayers to saints depicted in the icons. Like this one to the Mother of God:

“Forasmuch as thou art a well-spring of tenderness, O Theotokos, make us worthy of compassion; Look upon a sinful people; Manifest thy power as ever, for hoping on thee we cry aloud unto thee: Hail! As once did Gabriel, Chief Captain of the Bodiless Powers.”   St. John of Damascus, quoted in “Icons Will Save the World,” First Things, (December 20, 2007) .

Susan Cushman

Susan Cushman has three published books and another coming out in 2018:

Author, Cherry Bomb, a novel (Dogwood Press, July 2017);

Editor, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017);

Author, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (eLectio Publishing, February 2017);

Editor, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018).

She also has essays published in four anthologies and numerous journals, magazines, and blogs. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Susan has lived in Memphis since 1988. She is a convert to Orthodox Christianity from the Presbyterian faith of her childhood.




God's Presence Mystics

God’s Presence  Mystics

But the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23


I recently met with an amazing group of people searching for God in their lives. Several questions were asked: “How do you know you are in relationship with God? How do you know God’s presence? How do you know God is speaking to you?

 I have always been skeptical of people who tell me, “This is what God told me to do.” I do not know the voice of God until after something has happened, never before.

However, I have learned that I may be doing God’s will if I feel the presence of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

 We also can learn from the experience of others who were deeply aware of the presence of God. They are called the Christian mystics.  Richard Rolle, the 14th century English mystic, describes being in relationship with God when he feels a physical warmth in his body, when he has an awareness of God’s sweetness, and when he experiences a heavenly music as he chants the psalms.  I know that indeed music touches our soul, that the sweetness and warmth Rolle feels may be from one of the fruit of the Spirit.

I have heard others say they have a gut feeling when they think they are doing God’s will.  Another common experience of the presence of God happens when we are in Nature where we feel the presence of something greater than ourselves. Others also learn more about the presence of God when they become ill or lonely or are suffering or dying.

 Experience tells me that people of the feeling (F) type in the Myers-Briggs personality indicator may be more inclined to develop this relationship experience with the Divine, but I also know that thinking (T) people can find this experience through logic and truth in research and reading.


Ursula King, Christians Mystics, Their Lives and Legacies Throughout the Ages



 Genuinely New
“Each succeeding moment is fresh, is genuinely new, is not a rerun. We tend to greet every moment as a repeat of the general forms of the past, or even to assume that we are existing in the midst of a great “still,” not a moving picture at all. There is a sense in which we do not realize that we are alive. We spend our days among the dead, recording the inscriptions on the tombstones. The spiritual teachers try to break us out of this limited consciousness into a new world that they call being Awake.”
Beatrice Bruteau, The Grand Option

 Joanna ES Campbell  Santa Fe Window

Joanna ES Campbell  Santa Fe Window

Richard Rohr as well writes often on his daily email blog about becoming this less anxious presence, being alert or awake, but not pulled down by the emotional noise that sometimes slowly creeps into our life or more often suddenly announces its presence with a loud bugle call.  Rohr suggests trying to observe ourselves from a distance as if we were someone else, trying not to let the mask we wear in the world rule our lives. Rohr believes this is what Jesus is talking about when he says we must “lose oneself to find oneself.” (Luke 9:24)

 Centering prayer, chanting, yoga, walking a labyrinth, saying a Catholic or Anglican rosary, praying with icons, and many more spiritual tools are all time-tested spiritual practices to help us come to this place of living in the present, becoming awake, where we reconnect to the God within who was there all along. It is like opening a window to let our stale claustrophobic air out and feeling a breeze come in from a new world only a thin glass plate away.

 Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009, 134-136. Thursday 9, 2017, Richard Rohr Daily online meditations