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December 2019


A Contemplative Exercise for December

Saying for the month

 “Let light shine out of darkness”  2 Corinthians 4.6   (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:

“Let light shine out of darkness”

It was in the year 50 AD that Paul came to Corinth with his message of the Risen Christ – just 20 years or so after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.  Paul stayed there for 18 months with his two colleagues Sylvanus and Timothy.

Corinth was a strategic place to choose for evangelism in the Roman world – Corinth was a Roman metropolis having been taken over from the Greeks.  It owed its importance to its position on a narrow isthmus some 4 miles wide – land traffic between the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese peninsular had to pass through it.   Ships going east to west could save dangerous voyages of some hundreds of miles if the cargoes were taken over the isthmus and there was a really good harbour both sides – small ships could even be towed over a paved slipway where there is a modem canal today.

There was a well-established administration and there was money to be made on all sides by all kinds of people in both honest and dubious ways.   There was culture and there was sport and there were religions and cultic practices observed - from all over the known world.   It was a crossroads place and every culture and race was represented there.   Philosophers, preachers, teachers and miracle workers of every kind seemed to flourish.   No doubt the Church and the faith in Jesus Christ found itself, under Paul’s leadership, in competition with other movements on every side.   It is not surprising that different groups within the Corinthian Church competed with one another.

In the spring of 52 Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, leaving the Church to its own resources.  Within two or three years it seems that Paul was receiving disturbing news from Corinth which led him to start a lively correspondence.

A sizeable and important part of the New Testament is formed from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians – 29 chapters in all – containing replies to letters, letters of self-defence, requests and vigorous personal responses to criticism.  Our problem is that we only have half the correspondence – what Paul writes and not what the Corinthians write.   We have to imagine what they had to say.   In a book by Hans Fror called You Wretched Corinthians he uses his imagination to create the other half of the correspondence.   It is a fascinating attempt.   He creates the congregation with names, jobs and characters and they write to Paul with their arguments, their quarrels, their dissatisfaction among themselves, their euphoria and their crises.

The turmoil of the Church comes over.   New leadership has sprung up.   Members of the congregation beg Paul to come and revisit them to put things right.   The gossip that is rife in the Church, the criticisms of Paul himself are like darkness – it is as if the Gospel itself were covered up and could not be seen – it is as if the presentation of the news about Jesus Christ were veiled. 

In his letter Paul pleads with the Corinthians to set the darkness behind them.   The light that they have experienced in Christ, the radiance that has been theirs through their being with God and that they have seen in the face of Jesus should be very real to them.

Paul pleads with them: Out of darkness let light shine.  Just as the creation of light by God was for the illumination of the world, so Paul sees his ministry as a means of bringing light to the world, the knowledge of the glory of God, seen in the face of Christ.  Paul is quoting from the words that God spoke at the beginning of creation with the emergence of light and darkness at God’s hands and at his word of command: Let there be light at the beginning of Genesis.

 Put yourselves among the members of the Corinthian Church – struggling to make sense of it all without the presence of Paul who had done so much to lead and to found the Church.  Listen to God speaking to you …

“Let light shine out of darkness”

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.

“Let light shine out of darkness”

 

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

“Let light shine out of darkness”

The spiritual significance of light and darkness has always been embedded in the lives and faith of Christians and in human understanding generally.   Our main source of light is from the sun which rises and sets every single day of our lives.

We usually think of light as shining into the darkness and transforming it – a beam of light penetrating a dark corner and revealing everything that there is to see.   The light comes from outside and shines into the dark place.   We can interpret ‘darkness’ in many ways – ignorance, fear, anxiety, danger, depression, suffering, evil, sinfulness and so on.   We are afraid of the darkness – when we are in the darkness, we wonder how it is we are going to see anything clearly again.

But this saying from God, doesn’t so much speak of a beam of light shining into the darkness, as the light coming from within the darkness.   Here is a deep mystery.   It is from within the darkness that the light comes.   Somehow from within the darkness which we fear so much, the voice of the living God reveals the hidden light which is already there for us.

Some of the darkness within us we know about – some we do not realise.   The Corinthians seemed to wear their darkness on their sleeves for all to see.   What we do is to allow the spirit and the life of God’s words to give light to the darkness that is within us, known or unknown.  Gradually we begin to come to terms with the hidden, murky depths of our own nature and the light that God uses to penetrate that darkness lifts us, and takes us, as we contemplate in his heart.   We are filled with illumination.

In this Advent season, we become aware of darkness – the darkness that surrounded the shepherds as they received the message from the angels – the darkness of the stable in which the holy child was born – the darkness of the world that Christ came to save.

Allow yourself to be surrounded by the light – not so much a light that floods in from outside – but rather a light that shines from within the darkness itself.   This is the true meaning of the incarnation within us   As St John writes in the prologue to his Gospel: The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it.

“Let light shine out of darkness”

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.

“Let light shine out of darkness”

 

Introduction to the time of intercession 

“Let light shine out of darkness”

We have listened to and received these words from God spoken to us as they were in scripture and into the context of our own lives. Now in the third part of our time of prayer, we seek to allow God to speak these words through us to those for whom we wish to pray and indeed for the whole world.

We hold the person or people or situation before God and allow God to speak the words to them. It is the opposite of what most of us are used to in church or in our own prayers where we address God and ask for things. Here we are allowing God to speak and to act in the lives of those we hold before him.

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 

Ever Loving God, 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, until you are all in all and we are complete. Amen.


You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.


                                                                         This month's exercise was contributed by AE