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Probably most of us have at some time used a candle as a focus for prayer. When we do so, we are, consciously or not, drawing on all the wealth of symbolism that is associated with light in our Christian tradition.
Similarly, for many people a hazelnut will bring to mind a passage from the Revelations of Julian of Norwich: "And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered 'What is this?' And the answer came 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled that it continued to exist and did not disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, 'It exists, both now and for ever because God loves it In this little thing I saw three truths. the first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; the third is that God sustains it."
It is worth noting that Julian does not say "a hazelnut" but rather "a little thing the size of a hazelnut": nonetheless, the hazelnut is now the symbol. It is possible to use any object as a focus for prayer whether or not it has an obvious 'religious' significance. As we observe and contemplate it, allowing God to speak to us through it, it too becomes a symbol for us.........
A prayer exercise. Choose a natural object: something which does not owe anything to human agency; such as a stone, a shell, a leaf, a piece of wood, a feather........ Take time to explore it. Hold it in your hand with your eyes closed. Feel it's weight, it's shape, it's texture, it's temperature, it's variations.................. Imagine something of it's story, something of it's history; some of the experiences that it has been through, some of the sights it has witnessed. Now look at it carefully. Why do you think you chose it? What can you identify with? What message does your object hold for you? Take plenty of time. When you are ready, put it down. Give thanks for its existence, and the insights . God has given you through it, which are uniquely yours.
"Christ exists in all things that are" (Gregory of Nazianzus.)