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September 2020


A Contemplative Exercise for September

Saying for the month

“Do not fear all that this people fear”    (Isaiah 8.12   NRSV)

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:

“Do not fear all that this people fear”    (Isaiah 8.12   NRSV)

This saying comes to us as the word of the Lord to Isaiah personally as he has ‘the strong hand of the Lord’ upon him. Isaiah is called to prophesy disaster for the people of Israel. He is to tell the people that because they have abandoned their God and done evil in his sight they are about to be defeated and carried into exile by the Assyrians. This is disaster for the people of Israel. Many will be killed, their property destroyed or taken and they themselves will be carried off to a foreign land. The prospect is a terrifying one, and those who took heed of Isaiah’s words would have been very unsettled and afraid. Perhaps having some similar emotions to those we experience if shielding during the current pandemic.

The warning which forms our word for this month however is a personal one to Isaiah himself, as someone who has remained faithful to the Lord, not to fear the conspiracies that the people fear - an apt warning for us in our time too as conspiracy theories circulate in this time of pandemic. This injunction can also be translated and understood to be an injunction not to call for a treaty when the people call for a treaty. We are not always called to take the road of least conflict – sometimes we have to choose between what is easy and what is right.  And the right road can be the hardest road.

As Isaiah continues (vv. 13-14): ‘The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – not in a ‘cowering in a corner’ way but in a deeply respectful and reverential way – giving God and his ways the primary place in our lives.

Jesus himself quotes this scripture of himself in describing the division caused by his teaching – for those in his day who rejected him and refused to follow his way he was: ‘a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall’. To follow the Way of Jesus and to live by his light is to live a life of courage and love and grace – a life where we needn’t fear because our Good Shepherd cares for us and guides us.

In our first silence imagine yourself to be in Israel in Isaiah’s time, surrounded by fears and anxieties.  And hear the Lord speaking to you …

Do not fear all that this people fear”   

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.

“Do not fear all that this people fear”

 

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

“Do not fear all that this people fear”

So we first listened to the word of the Lord as if we were there and were among those hearing the words for the first time.  Now we seek to receive them deep within in our own hearts.  

Our call is the same as that of Isaiah – to remain faithful to God and his ways.

‘Do not fear’ is a common phrase used at the beginning of God’s revelation to people either directly or through his messengers. Hearing directly from God can be an unsettling if not scary prospect, and this is one of the things that can stop us from seeking intimacy with God in our quiet times. We can so easily see-saw between wanting to feel close to God and so feel the intimacy and security of his loving embrace, yet we are fearful of drawing close to God because we know he is all too aware of our imperfections and failures. I heard the Franciscan Richard Rohr say this week in a podcast: ‘The only perfection we can find in this life is to make peace with our imperfections.’

How many times are we robbed of our inner peace by remembrance of our failings? Such remembrance turns us inward and we feel guilt and shame. Yet Jesus came to set us free from that very guilt and shame through his loving sacrifice which brings healing and forgiveness. Such freedom enables us to live life in all its fullness (John10:10), a life full of love and grace towards others.

Therese of Lisieux is quoted as saying:  ‘Whoever can bear their imperfections with tranquility makes a spacious place for Jesus to dwell’. This is a good saying to dwell on. If we can’t offer ourselves love and forgiveness, how can we possibly offer love and forgiveness to others as Jesus commanded: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’?

We may feel that if we are stuck at home we cannot do much to help others. But we can pray, we can love, we can stay in touch and encourage. What matters is not what we do, but that we offer it in love.

Again, Therese of Lisieux is quoted as saying: ‘God does not look at the greatness of our actions, or even their difficulty, but the love with which we do them’.

In our time what is it that people in our society fear? Death, loneliness, Coronavirus, serious illness, shame …. Perhaps you could add your own items from your knowledge of your own community. Whatever those fears are, God says to us ‘Do not fear what they fear.’ Because of the life and death and resurrection of our loving Lord Jesus we do not need to fear death because we know it is merely the gateway to new everlasting life, free from the cares of this world. We do not need to fear loneliness or sickness because we know that Jesus promises to be with us always and identifies with and shares our suffering, as in our small way we share in his. We do not need to fear shame and guilt has no dominion over us because Jesus has paid the price for our freedom and forgiveness.

So let us not fear what the people in our society fear, but place our trust in the love and faithfulness of our heavenly Father who has given us his Son and the Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and encourage us.  Thanks be to God who has given us the victory and whose loving kindness knows no end.  Amen.

“Do not fear all that this people fear”

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.

“Do not fear all that this people fear”

 

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

“Do not fear all that this people fear”

We can use these words in intercession for others as we continue in some anxiety and uncertain territory following the outbreak of the coronavirus. We can bring those who we love who are fearful and anxious to God who is our Good Shepherd, who loves and cares for us.   

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

 “Do not fear all that this people fear”

 

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 MTh