Last week I had the privilege of an afternoon spent looking at excerpts of St Dominic and his 9 ways of prayer. This venerable document was actually written by an anonymous author between 1260 and 1288 probably at Bologna. It provides us with an understanding of how both physical and mental prayer combined, acted as a visible tangible conduit, between St Dominic and God “in which the soul makes use of the members of the body to raise itself more devoutly to God. In this way the soul, in moving the body, is moved by it” and thus we see how Dominic, sometimes in ecstasy, both expressed and received in his intimate and intense love of God.
The manuscripts have miniature drawings, detailing the postures which St Dominic used in his prayer, and it was from observing these descriptions and drawings that we were encouraged to physically experience some new ways of praying and connecting with God.
It goes without saying that at points I felt incredibly self-conscious, as the beautiful and holy space that we had the free range use of, was also accommodating others. This would not have been a problem in silence, but some of the prayers were fervently vocal, and some of the postures are bold and dramatic. However in the new prayer postures that I chose to experience, I discovered a deepness and a powerful intensity that I do not always physically feel in the same way, when in the modest hands together, head bowed position that I frequently and comfortably use in my church setting.
Interestingly one of my personal deepest prayer moments of my day (being a busy mother of five) is when I am having my morning shower. This time solely belongs to me, and is preciously uninterrupted time, when my conscience connection with God is at its most charged and most intense. Daily, (without realising how or when I first began to do this) I sit cross-legged below the powerful stream of water, with my head sometimes bent forward, and sometimes face pointing into the water, eyes always shut, hands raised palms upwards, about head level. Sometimes I share everything in hushed dialogue and other times I just offer up the fullness and weight of my feelings and emotions without words , this is surprisingly even more full and complete, and this has become my daily ritual, which I have no intention of missing.
Having discovered St Dominic I am amused, as this posture felt incredibly similar (all-be-it a combination of) some of the postures which St Dominic used. The first, the fifth and the ninth ways of prayer were the ones I tried.
One of the ones I most wanted to experience was the lying prostrate posture, as this is the one seemingly reserved for priestly and diaconate ordinations. There is something about humbling ones self as low as one possibly can, so that every part of the body is offered up in contact with the humus, the clay. That alone makes this posture seem so powerful, the only way up is to transcend. I never managed it this time as the chapel was being used by others, and I felt uncomfortably too self conscious to be lost in prayer. Next time maybe! Or maybe I will stick with being, in fully intimate communion with Him, charged and cleansed and naked in the shower. In deepest prayer, Just God and me :O)x
The Second Way of Prayer
“SAINT DOMINIC used to pray by throwing himself outstretched upon the ground, lying on his face. He would feel great remorse in his heart and call to mind those words of the Gospel, saying sometimes in a voice loud enough to be heard: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” [Luke 18:13] With devotion and reverence he repeated that verse of David: “I am he that has sinned, I have done wickedly.” [II Kings 24:17]. Then he would weep and groan vehemently and say: “I am not worthy to see the heights of heaven because of the greatness of my iniquity, for I have aroused thy anger and done what is evil in thy sight”. From the psalm: “Deus auribus nostris audivimus” he said fervently and devoutly: “For our soul is cast down to the dust, our belly is flat on the earth!” [Ps. 43:25]. To this he would add: “My soul is prostrate in the dust; quicken thou me according to thy word” [Ps. 118:25].
Wishing to teach the brethren to pray reverently, he would sometimes say to them: When those devout Magi entered the dwelling they found the child with Mary, his mother, and falling down they worshipped him. There is no doubt that we too have found the God-Man with Mary, his handmaid. “Come, let us adore and fall down in prostration before God, and let us weep before God, and let us weep before the Lord that made us” [Ps. 94:61. He would also exhort the young men, and say to them: If you cannot weep for your own sins because you have none, remember that there are many sinners who can be disposed for mercy and charity. It was for these that the prophets lamented; and when Jesus saw them, he wept bitterly. The holy David also wept as he said: “I beheld the transgressors and began to grieve” [Ps. 118:158].”
The First Way of Prayer
“SAINT DOMINIC’S first way of prayer was to humble himself before the altar as if Christ, signified by the altar, were truly and personally present and not in symbol alone. He would say with Judith: “O Lord, God, the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee [Judith 9:16]. “It was through humility that the Canaanite woman and the prodigal son obtained what they desired; as for me, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” [Matt. 8:8] for “I have been humbled before you exceedingly, O Lord [Ps. 118:107].”
In this way our holy father, standing erect, bowed his head and humbly considering Christ, his Head, compared his lowliness with the excellence of Christ. He then gave himself completely in showing his veneration. The brethren were taught to do this whenever they passed before the humiliation of the Crucified One in order that Christ, so greatly humbled for us, might see us humbled before his majesty. And he commanded the friars to humble themselves in this way before the entire Trinity whenever they chanted solemnly: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” In this manner of profoundly inclining his head, as shown in the drawing, Saint Dominic began his prayer.”
The Fifth Way of Prayer
WHEN HE WAS in the convent, our holy father Dominic would sometimes remain before the altar, standing erect without supporting himself or leaning upon anything. Often his hands would be extended before his breast in the manner of an open book; he would stand with great reverence and devotion as if reading in the very presence of God. Deep in prayer, he appeared to be meditating upon the words of God, and he seemed to repeat them to himself in a sweet voice. He regularly prayed in this way for it was Our Lord’s manner as Saint Luke tells us: “. . . according to his custom he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to read” [Luke 4:16]. The psalmist also tells us that “Phinees stood up and prayed, and the slaughter ceased” [Ps. 105:30].
He would sometimes join his hands, clasping them firmly together before eyes filled with tears and restrain himself. At other times he would raise his hands to his shoulders as the priest does at Mass. He appeared then to be listening carefully as if to hear something spoken from the altar. If one had seen his great devotion as he stood erect and prayed, he would certainly have thought that he was observing a prophet, first speaking with an angel or with God himself, then listening, then silently thinking of those things which had been revealed to him.
On a journey he would secretly steal away at the time for prayer and, standing, would immediately raise his mind to heaven. One would then have heard him speaking sweetly and with supreme delight some loving words from his heart and from the riches of Holy Scripture which he seemed to draw from the fountains of the Savior. The friars were very much moved by the sight of their father and master praying in this manner. Thus, having become more fervent, they were instructed in the way of reverent and constant prayer: “Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters, as the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress . . .” [Ps. 122:2].”
“The Ninth Way of Prayer
OUR FATHER, Saint Dominic, observed this mode of prayer while traveling from one country to another, especially when he passed through some deserted region. He then delighted in giving himself completely to meditation, disposing for contemplation, and he would say to his companion on the journey: It is written in Osee “I will lead her (my spouse) into the wilderness and I will speak to her ear” (Osee 2:14). Parting from his companion, he would go on ahead or, more frequently, follow at some distance. Thus withdrawn, he would walk and pray; in his meditation he was inflamed and the fire of charity was enkindled. While he prayed it appeared as if he were brushing dust or bothersome flies from his face when he repeatedly fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross.
The brethren thought that it was while praying in this way that the saint obtained his extensive penetration of Sacred Scripture and profound understanding of the divine words, the power to preach so fervently and courageously, and that intimate acquaintance with the Holy Spirit by which he came to know the hidden things of God.”