I was praying for a sick friend the other day, using a prayer-meditation called the St. Anne Chaplet. (Chaplets are strings of beads in various configurations, each associated with short, memorized prayers; I love them, and they are my preferred sitting practice. Buddhists and Yogis, think japa; Muslims, think dhikr. These are not exact equivalents, but they are analogous.)
I am usually careful not to project my prayers “out there” to some distant God or saint “in heaven,” but to be aware of the presence of the prayed-to with me as I pray. In particular, I make an effort to pray the Hail, Mary directly into my own heart, because it, like the “Virgin’s womb,” is where God is born.
But I have lapses, and often catch myself going through the exercise somewhat mechanically. This time, though, I noticed my straying attention, and redirected my prayer into my heart—and immediately began to tremble violently all over. As I continued to pray, I saw myself in my mind’s eye burst into flame—harmless fire that did not consume whereon it burned. And I saw my sick friend, saw myself reaching out to her as the flames leaped from my arms to her, and as we embraced we were both engulfed in Holy Fire. I finished the meditation, sat in rapt silence a while, and went to bed.
Edit: I mention all this because, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not a pure person. I am impatient, bad tempered, conflicted, sensual to the point of concupiscence, and I have so little faith that I would be hard pressed to defend against an accusation of functional atheism. But the unseen is so close to all of us—“closer to you than your jugular vein”(Qur’an 50:16)—and we never know how near at hand the grace of God is.
Within thy circling power I stand;
On every side I find thy hand;
Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,
I am surrounded still with God —Isaac Watts