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August 2020


A Contemplative Exercise for August 2020


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

“The Father … will … fill you with wonder”    John 5.20 (J B Phillips)

 

To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; you might enlist your body to help with this by adopting a receptive pose and systematically relaxing your way through your muscles or you may find it helpful to become aware of the sounds around you and then 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:

“The Father … will … fill you with wonder”    

As we begin it may be helpful to explore the interaction that is reported in John’s gospel just before this conversation. See verses 1-16 for the incident and then verses 17-24 for the continuing interaction. Many hundreds were drawn by the promise of healing waters to the pool at Bethesda and Jesus has healed a man who had been lying paralysed for thirty-eight years.  If we pause a moment to realise more fully what has occurred here we might have a small glimpse that this was indeed quite spectacular and also in a pretty dramatic setting: this was a large pool with five porches filled with those hoping for healing. Awesome maybe? However, the religious police took a rather different view. Instead of being awed by the restoration of this paraplegic they focused on the law breaking that had occurred. Jesus was labelled as a Sabbath-breaker. Their reaction soon escalated into an assassination plot when they were infuriated by Jesus referring to God as his father. Might we anticipate or even expect hostility when God is at work? How disappointing though that it comes from where we might least expect it - it was certainly the reaction here from those wedded to the status quo. Our saying comes from Jesus’ response to these hostile critics, the Jewish leaders.

 "The Father … will … fill you with wonder” is found in Jesus’ answer to his critics. The defence of his authority rests upon his relationship with his father. This is such a close father-son relationship that the son has complete authority to act for the father. The power and authority to give life and to make judgement has been delegated to the son. In effect Jesus is perhaps saying, “you haven’t seen anything yet!” More, better, bigger, signs and wonders are to come. Only six chapters later we see Lazarus raised from the dead.

 When we look at the authorities’ reaction, they seem oblivious to the wonder of the situation. Healing and restoration have occurred. So many were drawn to the pool at Bethesda. They acknowledged their need for something miraculous. The man who was healed had admitted his need for healing.

During lockdown church attendance has doubled. Whilst there may be practical and access reasons that mean folk can more easily get to a virtual service, might there be something more going on? Perhaps all these are people who have had a small glimpse of possible wonders and acknowledged their need for something, for some divine intervention, for some healing or forgiveness that God can give.  

As we take our saying into our minds, “The Father … will … fill you with wonder”, I wonder (!) if we might beware of stepping in to the footsteps of the self-appointed religious police. Have we perhaps become so bound up in with what we see as overstepping or as a breach of our rules and boundaries that we’ve overlooked that God is at work? It is possible that he is ready to fill us with wonder as he works in mighty and wondrous ways. Are we open to recognising that?

We ponder, and then allow the saying to speak to us as we take the word into our minds:

“The Father … will … fill you with wonder” 

 

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.

“The Father … will … fill you with wonder”

 

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

The Father … will … fill you with wonder”

Now we take this word into our hearts, as we allow Jesus’ words to speak in us, to let it touch our emotions and let it work more deeply upon our lives.  It seems appropriate to dwell on wonder at this point since one definition of wonder encompasses ‘emotion excited by what surpasses expectation or experience or seems inexplicable’. It may be surprise mingled with admiration or curiosity or bewilderment.

 Recently Richard Rohr, in a weekend practice from Walter Truett Anderson, suggested we might engage in a playful thought experiment and view the universe as going about its mysterious business not only with quarks, black holes and supernovae but also in the details closer to home such as when brushing your teeth. Such a viewpoint, looking out for “what miracle is this” may lead to a fresh sense of wonder and discovery. By considering the universe, looking closer at the everyday and asking “what miracle is this” I found a long list of wonders both close to home and further afield. Maybe you will too?

Different translations of our saying use phrases such as “you will be amazed” or “you haven’t seen the half of it yet” to convey this sense of wonder and amazement over the greater works than have been seen so far. Maybe we have become so used to our God/Love-fuelled created universe? Might we have taken for granted Jesus/ the Holy Spirit working in us and through us so that our sense of wonder and the freshness of these wonders have become dulled?

As in Psalm 139: 13 - even just considering myself I am reminded that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Pausing to catch the wonder and delight, to be filled with wonder, as in our saying, might perhaps draw us in to a similar closeness of relationship with our divine Father as Jesus enjoyed? From Julian of Norwich we read that

“Truth sees God: wisdom gazes on God. And these produce a third, a holy wondering delight in God, which is love.”

This wondering closeness might bring us into valuing and ascribing worth to God especially as Thomas Carlyle sees that

 “Worship is transcendent wonder; wonder for which there is no limit or measure.”

Maybe this will encourage us to linger longer in God’s presence? To seek to be filled with wonder and a fresh sense of grateful amazement? 

We rest in God and take the saying in to our hearts:

The Father … will … fill you with wonder” 

 

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

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

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

The Father … will … fill you with wonder” 

 

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

The Father … will … fill you with wonder” 

With this word in mind we can now bring the meaning alive not only for ourselves, but also most importantly for the lives of others, in our intercessions.

Just after our saying we find that Jesus indicates that “just like the Father has power to raise the dead, the Son will raise the dead and give life to whomever he wants”. One aspect of this may be that he will give life for the spiritually dead and also that eternal life comes by encounter with Jesus, the one to whom the scripture point? These thoughts, and a longing that folk may acknowledge their need of God’s touch, may envelope our prayer.

We allow our saying to speak through us and bring fresh wonder and amazement of God at work, for example to:

·        Those encouraging us towards a better care for and wonder at the riches our world

·        Our families and those close to us

·        Those whom we long for God to draw into a closer, living relationship with Him

·        Our local and national church leaders, for themselves and to share this sense of wonder

·        Children and their parents.

 

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

‘Alison and your family       ……       The Father … will … fill you with wonder” 

 

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, until you are all in all and we are complete. Amen

 

                                                           This month's exercise was contributed by DK