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January 2019


A Contemplative Exercise for January

 

The following is a possible framework for the Witnessing of the Word. It can be personalised, or altered: its purpose is to serve as an example of how this Saying might be used primarily in the context of a Prayer Group, but it may be used by individuals if so wished. It is not intended to be definitive.

In the context of a group: the periods of silence should be appropriate for your group - probably not less than 5 minutes, or more than 15 minutes.


Saying for the month

"All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved   Mark 13.2,8 and 13 (NEB and RSV)

To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; become aware of the sounds around you and put them aside; offer this time of prayer to God.

 

Say this introductory invitation to prayer, then keep a further minute or two of silence:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"   Matthew 11.28 

 

Introduction to the first silence - a preparation for listening with the mind:

 "All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 

 Preparation for the Messianic Age is underway in Mark Chapter 13. The Gospel writer records an extended block of teaching, where Jesus looks to the future and predicts what is in store for His followers. Jesus’ predictions take the form not just of exhortations to be vigilant because the End may come at any time, but also not to get overenthusiastic and think that the End is imminent when certain events take place.

Our saying alludes particularly to Jesus' prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple ‘All will be thrown down…’ The religious system in Israel is corrupt to the core and the disciples can expect that corruption to result in the cataclysmic events outlined in Mark chapter 13. Those events will be surpassed by the coming of the Son of Man, who will put all things right, so the disciples need to remain vigilant.

However, unlike most apocalyptic literature, chapter 13 is not concerned with signs that provide clues to the timing of future events. When the disciples ask Jesus for “the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished,”  Jesus tells them of wars and natural disasters, but then says, “but the end is not yet” and these signs are the beginning of ‘’the birth pangs of a new age’’ In other words, these are not really signs that the end is imminent but are only preliminary stages that they must endure before the end comes. He cannot indicate to them when these events will occur, because only God the Father alone knows the timing of these occurrences.

The world will be plunged into catastrophe, Jesus prophesies. He and his followers are called to live in the place where the purposes of God and the pain of this world cross paths with each other, and will find themselves caught up in the upheaval. Jesus warned that they would be hated, a prophecy which was fulfilled a generation later when Nero, in Rome viciously persecuted Christians. ‘‘ Who endures to the end will be saved..’’

This new age which Jesus is laying the foundation for, which will be lived in a fretful and violent world, calls us to be faithful and endure. This is the crux of the new Kingdom which Jesus was inaugurating. 

"All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 


A time is now kept for silence of the mind - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

The silence concludes with a short thanksgiving, and/or repeat the Saying:

 Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word.

"All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 

 

Introduction to the second silence - a preparation for listening with the heart:

 "All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 

We are in the season of Epiphany where God has given us His Kingdom message to be made known to all humanity. We are seeking a patience and faithfulness to cope in the fretfulness and anxiety of the world around us. We have just taken cognisance of the First World War with its political and economic consequences and the sweeping aside of traditional structures in society. Today’s world is becoming increasingly polarised and unstable, with various issues contributing including climate change, political extremism and conflict on a global scale. Political, economic and social change will result from Brexit. Technology and advances in communications have a huge impact on how we live our lives. The future looks unpredictable, the foundation stones that we once depended on have fallen. How can we avoid fear, anxiety and paralysis and learn to live in a world of flux?

The image of birth pangs had been used for centuries by Jews as they reflected on the way they believed God was intending to bring to birth His new creation in which justice, peace, mercy and truth would at last flourish. Our vocation is to recognise these birth pangs in our midst, so that the Kingdom message is proclaimed.

The American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr saw possibilities in adversity. He observed that some of the most profound religious movements happened during times of crisis. For example, the Protestant Reformation occurred during a time of great unrest and tension in Europe. In today’s world too, the church can be seen as going through crisis, which is a very difficult experience for church people. But our faith must not be centred on any human institution but on the will and purposes of God who never changes.

In our own lives, we have defined a patience and faithfulness when things go wrong and all is being thrown down around us. Following a family bereavement, I received a sympathy card encouraging me to take the opportunity to renew or form new relationships. Finding ‘a new way of living’ is a challenge, but it’s giving birth to a new future living without a loved one.

Nothing remains the same for very long. As Christians, we can trust in the constancy and reliability of God. We can put our faith in Him wholeheartedly, we can build patience, live faithfully and endure, knowing that He is in control. There is a freedom as we embrace this way. The eternal changelessness of God embraces the changing world with a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

"All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 

 

A time is now kept for silence of the heart - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

Conclude the silence with a short thanksgiving and/or repeat the Saying:

 Father, we thank you that your Word is alive and within us.

"All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 

 

Introduction to the time of intercession – we use our will to reflect God’s Word outwards.

 "All will be thrown down ... the birth-pangs of the new age begin ... who endures to the end will be saved 

For the purposes of intercession in our groups we might shorten the Saying and use just a part of it - for example, "the one who endures to the end will be saved 

In our time of intercession, we bring into the silence anyone for whom we wish to pray, enabling the Word to be spoken to them through us.

In creation there are birth pangs, there are natural disasters. Suffering is woven into the fabric of human experience. With the passing of time as we enter a new year our circumstances will change. For all of us at times the future may look uncertain. We believe God is in this change, stretching from now into the future. We believe the one ‘who endures to the end will be saved.’

In our prayers we may particularly like to remember those who are ill, those who are awaiting results of medical tests, those facing life-changing decisions, those who are anxious, those who are bereaved and young people. We may also like to include our political leaders at this time of uncertainty on these islands.

We ask God to help us in our faithfulness to Him and for the ability to endure regardless of circumstances, trusting that no matter what happens, God is in control. 

Say the name of a person or a group of people, and after a short pause, repeat the saying.

 

Conclude the time of intercession with words of thanksgiving: 

Father, we thank you that your Word has gone out through us to those for whom we pray.

 

Use the Fellowship Prayer or another closing prayer to conclude your time of contemplative prayer.

Loving Heavenly Father, we thank you for all your unsearchable riches which pour forth from you as light from the sun, in boundless profusion and generosity, whether received, ignored or rejected. And now we offer to you, in so far as we are able, as an emptiness to be filled with your divine fullness, ourselves, our souls and bodies; all that we are, all that we have and all that we do. Amen

 

 You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.  

 

This month's exercise was contributed by ND