In various mindfulness approaches there are befriending or compassion meditations. These again have their roots in Buddhist tradition of metta or loving kindness meditations. These would include compassion for oneself, a stranger and even someone we find difficult.
Of course loving-kindness and compassion play a central part in Christianity as well. As I looked at these metta meditations I was struck by their similarity to the prayer of Ananias of Damascus for Saul of Tarsus.
In the Book of Acts in the New Testament in chapter nine Saul has his famous Damascus Road experience. He is on his way to Damascus to arrest followers of The Way (Christians) when he is arrested by the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Temporarily blind Saul is led into Damascus. A man there called Ananias has a vision from God who asks him to go and pray a prayer of blessing on Saul which will restore his sight and fill him with the compassionate presence of God, the Holy Spirit.
Ananias questions the wisdom of praying for a stranger and an enemy, but God encourages him out of the way of fear into the way of love. It is clear that the prayer of Ananias has a significant impact on Saul. When Saul talks about his encounter with Jesus, which includes the prayer of Ananias when scales fell from his eyes, and he is filled with the Holy Spirit, he says he has had three important experiences.
‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (Philippians 3:12)
The word here for ‘took hold’ is literally ‘arrested.’ On the road to Damascus the love of Christ took hold of him.
When the scales fell from his eyes he ‘saw the light’. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 he says, ‘For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ This reference to light shining out of darkness goes back to Genesis 1:3 where God said ‘Let there be light.’
So Saul was taken hold of by the love of Christ, and the light of the love of God shone in his heart.
He then says in 1 Timothy 1:13-14, ‘Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.’
The compassionate mercy, grace and love of God were poured into Paul like an overwhelming river.
I felt in part these experiences were because of Ananias’ prayer of befriending and compassion. So I have put them in prayer form that we can pray first for ourselves, then a stranger, then an enemy, and finally back for ourselves. In the words of one of Jesus’ most important statements ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39).
These are the prayers:
May the love of Christ take hold of me
May the light of Christ shine in my heart
May the love of Christ flow through me like a river
May the love of Christ take hold of him/her
May the light of Christ shine in his/her heart
May the love of Christ flow through him/her like a river
We pray it for our own self, then a stranger, then an enemy and finally for our own self again. Change is laid down by a succession of fresh experiences of love. In our prayer of blessing and befriending something real happens.