Saintly devotion as a contemplative practice.
Many of the Neo-Contemplatives I have personally met within Catholicism have a practice that revolves almost exclusively around a practice like centering prayer or Lectio Divina. While I practice Lectio, (poorly), the majority of my practice is centered on Marian devotion with a strong thrust toward my patron saint (Jude).
I'm aware that I leave myself open to charges of superstition from my contemplative Protestant brethren and probably a healthy eyebrow raise from my Catholic ones also so let me take a moment to explain.
My first point isn't very creative. The Church encourages saintly devotion, so I have every sound reason to know it is safe. The Saints are part of the Church triumphant which Christianity has held as an active role of the faith for two millennia so historically again I'm covered. Catholics should tie themselves to their patron saint, so there is a connection to the past. There is, however, a contemplative paradigm that has not been discussed much.
For me, every moment of encounter that I have experienced has been a result of surrender on my behalf. I am without a doubt the worst contemplative Christian to walk the planet earth so it reasonable to believe that I need help. That being said as bad as I am for making time for prayer I'm worse at asking for help. This is where devotion to the Saints comes in. Surrendering to assistance while settling into a contemplative act whether that be through the lighting of incense, the lighting of a candle to the Saint or just asking for intercession empties me of the belief that I somehow am doing anything. I have to trust in the divine assistance and encounter of the moment.
Several years ago when my wife was diagnosed with cancer, I was working on a theology of surrender in which the individual finds God by giving up. Maybe it's time to take that project back up. I often believe that one of the reasons American Christianity is so messed up is because the idea that we surrender to the divine is unAmerican. It's important to know that even the desire to pray itself originates in response to the Holy Spirit so when we pray we are surrendering to God. This is why I feel like saintly devotion locks us into step with the Saints. I am trusting them to speak for me, and by doing this, I am ultimately surrendering myself. I trust not just a person but an individual that is largely invisible to me. This surrendering means I am defeating my ego and I surrender myself to the love of all those that have come before.
If we look for the pathway to encounter in any manner that assumes that we can find it, then I feel like I've left the path of my ancestors. I am blazing a new and unproven trail and ultimately why would I want to leave a lovely carved out path for one that I have to create anew?
For me, I felt a strong connect with the Blessed Mother almost immediately. Nearly all of my encounters with the divine have occurred by asking for her help. I think it's time that those of use that belong to the contemplative wing of the Church recapture this ancient practice of looking to the saints and recast it in a light of our own.