Essay # 5
Supplication – Compassion that Leaves us Speechless
By Bob Eldan
When I speak of contemplative prayer as prayer without words I do not mean to imply that prayer using words is out of order. It is just different. Prayers of petition or supplication are very common. We storm heaven pleading for those we love who may be sick or otherwise in physical or mental trouble. In trust and faith we ask God for help. Sadly, we all know that sometimes what we ask is not granted. After all, it is not as if God has something in mind, and we need to change his mind; and we sometimes succeed in this and sometimes we fail. Or, it is not as if God is ignorant of the situation, and we need to inform him of what is going on. Perhaps we verbalize our prayers in order to bring ourselves, not God, into greater compassion for the needy, into a realization of our entanglement with each other, even with each other’s pain.
The essence of contemplative prayer of supplication is not the words we say but the compassion we experience. If our compassion is deep, we are having contemplative prayer even while we are using words. The word compassion has the root meaning of suffering (passion) with (com). In contemplative prayer we do not just feel sorry for another person or pity them. We have the mystical experience of suffering with them. This stems from what we mean by the Christian belief in the Communion of Saints. When we are truly bonded with the needs of others, truly in union with them, we have an inner understanding of what they are going through. The angst we then feel leaves us speechless. We are then in prayer without words. We are in union with the person we are concerned about, and we are in union with God who is likewise concerned.
Here is a suggestion for helping us move into this speechless prayer. If we are depressed, call to mind that others at that moment are also depressed. Just be one with them in spirit, as God is one with them. We are not alone. If we are sick, call to mind that others at that moment are sick. Just be one with them in spirit, as God is one with them. We are not alone. If we are worried, call to mind that others at that moment are worried. Just be one with them in spirit, as God is one with them. We are not alone. We do not need to know these people personally, but that in no way lessens our connection with them.
Here’s another suggestion. I call it walking prayer. It can also be driving prayer, or waiting in line prayer. When we walk through our neighborhoods, as we pass each house, imagine the people in each house in God’s embrace. We do not have to be aware of their individual needs or what they are suffering; but be assured that each person has needs. We all do. Just know that God is holding them. At the same time we are mystically holding them. We are one with them. We can try this kind of prayer while driving as we see people in other cars or on the street. We can also do it while waiting in line at the store. We can do it any place. Here again, we do not have to personally know these people or their suffering. With practice we can do this without even thinking about it. Contemplative prayer or compassion is not about what is in our minds. It is in our hearts, in our spirit. In a sense, our hearts bleed for the other. Our one spirit is united. We are not all that different. We are never alone. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very same Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) Again Paul says “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:18)