So Great a Cloud of Witnesses


Hebrews 11:32-40, 12:1-2


This is the thin time, when the veil between the worlds becomes translucent.  Heaven is close. Those who have gone before us gather near, an immense cloud of witnesses.  Do you feel the presence of those souls special to you who have died? They are here. They are here with all the saints from all times and places who have ever served God.  For God is the God of the living.


On my studio table sits an icon of St. Benedict that I have just finished writing.  Prayer guided my hand and heart as I worked on this image. It used to scare me to say such a thing; it felt audacious.  But lately I have come to a realization that ought to have been obvious all along. Prayer is, for me, the same attitude of listening that I sink into when I am with someone who is sharing their story with me.  I am “all ears”. This is not really my doing, though I can name deep listening as a spiritual gift.


My consciousness of myself –  my needs, fears, aspirations and so forth – takes a back seat.  There is only the next question, the next understanding, and the next question after that.  I lean in to hear the Soul as she unveils herself.


The same is true in writing an icon.  Brush strokes replace questions in a dialogue with the image, and it becomes more itself, more a window to the saint, as I go step by step, bit by bit, immersed in the deep listening that is prayer.


It is only now, sitting back and gazing at the icon the Spirit has told me is finished, that I see with a slight shock that I am encountering St. Benedict through this window of wood and paint.  The fellow from so long ago who has touched so many hearts, gazes back at me. Smiling a little he says to me, “yes, it is listening with the ear of the heart.” Prayer is listening with the ear of the heart.  Being a spiritual companion to another is listening with the ear of the heart. So is writing icons.


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” says the author of the letter to the Hebrews after recounting the history of the servants of God, “let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”


The beneficent cloud of witnesses gazes at each of us out of the love manifest in resting in God.  Who are your saints, spiritual ancestors who, directly or indirectly, have guided your path. Pay attention to them in prayer, with gratitude.  They support you, delight in you and applaud you as you run the race set before you. And today the veil between the worlds is very thin.


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