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February 2020


 A Contemplative Exercise for February


Saying for the month

“Cease to do evil; learn to do good …. Your sins are forgiven” 

 Isaiah 1.16-17, and Luke 5.20 (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:

 “Cease to do evil; learn to do good …. Your sins are forgiven”

This Saying is a ‘composite’ one, composed of words from Old and New Testaments – sometimes for the purposes of contemplation it is helpful to focus on one or other its two parts. Each has a useful bearing on the other as we try and consider in a brief time the huge subjects of sin, repentance and forgiveness, especially as we embark on the season of Lent this month.

The book of Isaiah is a collection of visions and prophesies: the variation in arrangement of the material, the subjects, the themes and time scale, all contribute to debates about its authorship and historical place. However, throughout the book the emphasis is continually on God’s righteousness, with warnings of judgement on his rebellious people, while at the same time offering a message of comfort, love, care and forgiveness, in his infinite power. So these two parts of our Saying illustrate the message of the prophets, and Isaiah in particular, which is taken forward to perfection in the coming of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.

The Sayings for Stillness commentary for this month (note: this is on the website under the menu item Sayings and drop down Some Sayings to Use) touches upon the relationship between human sin and misfortune, whether sickness or some other disaster. The Bible contain teachings which both support and challenge this; we know that in our own time this association has been made by certain strands of opinion. But Jesus himself associates with sinners, calls them to repentance (Luke 5.32) and offers them forgiveness, even at the very last moment (Luke 23.43).

There is another hard question – does God forgive the unrepentant sinner? Jesus again says ‘your sins are forgiven’ to the woman in Luke 7.48  - but is she forgiven because she has shown great love, or does she love much because she has had so many sins forgiven?

We can think ourselves into circles, but here the people are given a clear path to follow: ‘cease to do evil; learn to do good’. Of course, there is a long and hard road ahead – the book is a saga of their failure and its consequences. But it also looks forward to the time of freedom, restoration and redemption: ‘your sins are forgiven’

Now in our first time of silence we put aside our thoughts and attempts at understanding complex issues; like a jar of muddied water that we have stirred up, we now stop and let our minds come to rest. The water stills, the fragments that have been swirling around gradually come to rest and sink to the bottom. The solution becomes calm and clear, and the light can shine through it, with just the odd particle catching the sunlight….

We listen to the words of our Saying, repeating them silently and slowly, in time to our regular breathing; we allow them to pierce the muddle of our minds and shine through it.

‘Cease to do evil….learn to do good....your sins….are forgiven’

‘Cease to do evil … learn to do good’      ‘Your sins … are forgiven’


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.

 “Cease to do evil; learn to do good …. Your sins are forgiven” 

 

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

 “Cease to do evil; learn to do good …. Your sins are forgiven” 

 There are two parts to this story, in which Jesus is faced with the paralysed man, which demonstrate the power that he has over the physical and the spiritual worlds.

Luke, the physician, was obviously concerned with physical healing and records many instances where Jesus brings this about. In our own lives we know that our physical well-being is often tied up with our mental and spiritual health. We sometimes find it hard to pray when we are in pain or in some way physically or mentally lacking in wholeness; and anxiety or stress can produce real and sometimes dramatic physical manifestations. More and more our society is becoming aware of the problems caused by mental health issues: often there are particular difficulties for young people, who are increasingly becoming removed from any sort of spiritual dimensions in their lives while being assaulted by issues around social media.

Last month our Saying was from Revelation 21.5: ‘Behold, I am making all things new’. Once again there are echoes of words from Isaiah, in chapter 42, verse 9: ‘Behold, the new things I now declare’. We are encouraged this month to remember that there is a new way, a way that we can embark upon at any time, not just by means of our resolutions at the beginning of a new year. We can ‘cease to do evil’ – abandon our careless ways and apathy;  we can ‘learn to do good’ – revive our determination to love and cherish those with whom we come into contact, those whom we have forgotten and neglected, the environment and the physical world in which we live. There are simple and achievable ways in which we can take up these words and run with them - Lent prods us afresh each year, just as our NY resolutions are faltering.

But even more fundamentally, we can take to heart these words of Jesus ‘Your sins are forgiven’. They are not tied to any conditions – the paralytic man, lowered through the roof by his friends who were men of faith, was freed of his sins and was then healed. It is through the healing initiative of God in the person of Jesus that we have hope: he will spend an eternity loving and healing us, and it is in the knowledge of that hope and faith in this assurance that we will be able to follow his command to leave behind evil and embrace good. In John 1.29 we read ‘ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ – it is not just a question of forgiveness for individual sins but for that of the whole world, of humankind of which we are a part, embraced and valued in all our inadequate weakness.

And finally – as we discover when we experience the ministry of healing - healing is not just a physical change, or necessarily even a physical change. It is the process by which we achieve wholeness, in all its aspects. We can begin that process now by ceasing evil and learning good, ongoing states in which we are sustained and encouraged by Jesus’ words of assurance of forgiveness.

‘Cease to do evil….learn to do good....your sins….are forgiven’

‘Cease to do evil … learn to do good’      ‘Your sins … are forgiven


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.

 “Cease to do evil; learn to do good …. Your sins are forgiven” 

 


Introduction to the time of intercession – we use our will to bring others alongside us in the group and speak the Saying to them   

 There are many people, places and groups who are in need of guidance and of forgiveness, for whom we might pray that they may have knowledge of the way of our Lord and the healing power of God’s love. For example, those who are burdened by guilt; those who have committed crimes and are in prison; those involved in street crime and dealing in drugs; ….

 “Cease to do evil; learn to do good …. Your sins are forgiven” 

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 CO