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Deepening prayer with an icon
St John of the Cross icon, writing a scroll

Sometimes it's hard to pray


We may have too much on our minds; we are suffering; we feel we are not praying with depth or true feeling.  At these times I often go for a walk, or I paint or knit! Or just do nothing but gaze at the clouds and the birds.


We tend to be hard on ourselves and the internal pious self might attempt to make us feel like we are hopeless cases.  Well, as a Franciscan, I am very much at home with being a hopeless case. I have learned to make friends with my stupidity and it is so good being on the bottom as the only place I can look is up - and do I see Christ? No! Because He is right beside me in my miry mess.

Working with an icon can help lift us up out of these doldrums, or times of confusion or spiritual dryness.

As children we loved to trace and iconographers often trace images onto their icon boards. This tracing process is very contemplative - so long as you are in  no hurry to get it finished! The lines are from traditional patterns passed down through the ages.  Just making the lines seems to suffuse the person tracing with something other-worldly.

After working on one of these images, if I then go out for a walk, I see the lines in nature or in people's faces.  How marvellous to see the image of Christ in another person.  From these experiences I know the work is of great benefit to the soul.  If it brings peace to the heart, to the inner person, then it is worth trying.  And, you do not have to be an artist.  Just follow the lines.  What could be simpler?

Christ Pantocrator tracing download.

Instructions for meditation

Below is a downloadable pdf of a pattern of an icon of Christ. 

1   Download and print.

2   With a soft 3B pencil rub the back of the  pattern all over evenly. Alternatively get some red carbon paper from Amazon or an office supplier.  It's marvellous and you get a very pleasing red coloured image.

3  Secure the pattern onto a piece of plain paper (place carbon paper-shiny side down under pattern, if you have used that) at the top edge only with some masking tape.

4  Have a sharp pencil or preferably a biro ready.


5  Be sure there are no distractions like the TV, radio or possibility of the phone ringing or someone talking to you. Allocate the time to be completely immersed in the task at hand in silence.

6  The meditation is an exercise in contemplation and not art.  Light a candle and offer up a little prayer or just be still.  Ask God to help you and let your thoughts drift past like little clouds.

7 Begin your tracing, paying close attention to each line as you do it.  Try not to rush.  Enjoy each line as a unique part in itself.

8  You can flip up the pattern to see if you have missed anything, as it is secured at the top it should go back to the same place.

9  When you have finished thank God for whatever has come to you.

10  Place your finished tracing in a folder along with the pattern.  Perhaps you may want to make some notes on the thoughts and feelings you had whilst doing the tracing, or even about anything you notice afterwards.

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