At prayer – 15 July 2019

A young nun sits quietly at prayer, her eyes downcast, and her finger marking the place in her prayer book. Still and self-contained, she is making an inner journey to God.

This painting has a triangular composition, the viewer’s eyes travelling backwards and forwards between the face and the hands. The image has great texture, the different fabrics of the clothing and the face and hands painted so well. The artist’s great achievement is to give texture to the subject’s soul, to the nun’s piety, and the depth of her contemplation.

This exceptional picture is called ‘La Religieuse’, 1859, and is by Henriette Browne, (this artist for the second week running!), the pseudonym of Sophie de Bouteiller, 1829- 1901. Sophie took a pseudonym because the life of a professional artist was thought compromising for a woman of her aristocratic background.


There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget. This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway… Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation.

Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle

Jesus said:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6

This Beloved of ours is merciful and good. Besides, he so deeply longs for our love that he keeps calling us to come closer. This voice of his is so sweet that the poor soul falls apart in the face of her own inability to instantly do whatever he asks of her. And so you can see, hearing him hurts much more than not being able to hear him… For now, his voice reaches us through words spoken by good people, through listening to spiritual talks, and reading sacred literature. God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us. Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us. No matter how halfhearted such insights may be, God rejoices whenever we learn what he is trying to teach us.

Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle