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October 2020


A Contemplative Exercise for October

 

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

Make Me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”

Exodus 25:8-9 (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:

Make Me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”

Sanctuary in Hebrew is ‘godesh’: a ‘sacred place not for common use’ or ‘something set aside for sacred use’.   Sanctuary is a holy place which like the ground at the burning bush is made holy by God’s presence.  We sometimes speak of being on ‘holy ground’, in spiritual direction or other sacred moments.

At this time Israel had no place of worship, no structure dedicated to God, so God now brings this state of things to an end by requiring them to make him a sanctuary.  In Egypt they had seen structures of vast size and extraordinary magnificence erected in every city for the worship of the Egyptian gods.  They are now to have their own structure, their ‘holy place’, their ‘house of God’.  As, however, they are still in a nomadic condition, without fixed abode, continually shifting their quarters, a building, in the ordinary sense of the word, would have been unsuitable. God therefore devised for them a structure in harmony with their condition a “tent-temple” – modelled on the ordinary form of the better Oriental tents, but of the best materials and of an unusual size – yet still portable.  

God’s instructions to the Israelites are that they are to build a sanctuary according to the design that he shows Moses. The presence of the Lord in Israel’s midst will be borne out in the arrangement of the camp around the tabernacle.  He gives very explicit and detailed instructions as to how and with what they must build this sanctuary. The ark must be overlaid with pure gold, inside and out.  If you have visited the Temple in Jerusalem you will have an idea of how intricate and ornate this work would be, though of course on a far smaller scale as it was to be portable.

The work to build this sanctuary was to take place in the desert so one can imagine how long it must have taken for the specialised workers to get all the material and get it all carried into the desert and then start work on this mission. God was showing them that they were to make a sanctuary that was moveable, so as they travelled through the desert, they were assured of God’s presence at all times. 

For many hundreds of years, Christians have worshipped God in church buildings which have also been built with great detail and care, their architecture often magnificent and greatly admired down the years.  However, in more recent times, many Christians have come to realise that God can be worshipped, either alone or with others, not just in a church building but in any place which can become a sanctuary, it can be an ancient chapel, or a special place in our homes that we reserve for prayer, or a place we have discovered outside, which becomes our sanctuary or sacred place.

But more importantly, it becomes clear to us, not only when we read certain passages in the New Testament, but also when we experience for ourselves in our contemplative prayer times, that God does not simply dwell outside us but that His Spirit lives both in our midst, and lives in us. Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:16, 17) writes “Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you……for God’s temple is holy and you are that temple”.  In St John’s gospel (Chapter 14) Jesus says to His disciples at the last supper “Because I live you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. …..  If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him”. These are just a few examples.  In other words, we do not necessarily need a building or sacred place to worship God but we are that building, that sacred place, where His Spirit dwells; God makes His home in us.   

So now we prepare for our first silence. Perhaps, we can imagine ourselves in the desert, along with Moses and the Israelites, the very first time God says these words.  We can imagine the vastness and sense the silence of the desert, feeling the sand in our shoes and the heat of the sun on our backs.  God says to His people both then and now to us in modern times

Make Me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”

or if we wish to use a briefer version for repeating in the silence,

Make Me a Sanctuary”


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.

Make Me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”

 

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

It is an awesome and humbling thought that we are a temple of the Living God.  As we pray contemplatively in the silence and stillness of our hearts, we come to realise by the power of God’s Spirit that we are united in God with one another and all humanity. The sanctuary within us that we are building is not just for ourselves and our own private use, but is also a place that is inhabited by others and where we bring others into God’s merciful and unconditional love, in intercession and service.

Thomas Merton talks about this experience of finding our God-space as an entry into unity with everyone.   He writes “the more I become identified with God, the more I will become identified with all the others who are identified with Him. …. The more we are one with God, the more we are united with one another…”

As our contemplative prayer deepens, our sense of God’s call to us to be a holy people is clear, and as we carry out our task to love and serve others in simplicity and humility, we are aligning our wills to God’s will and the sanctuary within us is being built according to God’s design. As we acknowledge our sufferings, failures, and weaknesses, our sanctuary in time becomes refined and burnished with pure gold. It is a lifetime’s work. 

Saint Paul states “You are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  In Him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God, by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:10). By following Christ and following the example of His life and ministry, we become that loving space where God dwells. 

During the Pandemic, so many people, old and young, have felt a deep sense of loneliness, anxiety, and isolation.  It has been an enormously challenging time for most people, many losing their jobs, or not being able to see their family, or those who have become ill and perhaps have died in hospital.  It is a time when normality has been snatched away from us and we do not know what the future holds.

Notwithstanding it has also been a great opportunity to increase our times of stillness and prayer, and to love and serve our neighbours in any small way we can.

 Roger Shutz, prior of the Taize Community understood very well the fear that could overwhelm people.  He writes:

‘You are never alone. Let yourself be plumbed to the depths, and you will realise that everyone is created for a presence.  There in your heart of hearts, in that place where no two people are alike, Christ is waiting for you, and there the unexpected happens”. 

We now prepare for our second silence.   We let these Words of God sink into the depths of our souls, into the centre of our being where Christ dwells.

“Make me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”.

“Make me a Sanctuary…”

 

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.

Make Me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”

 

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

 We now use the Saying in intercession for others – bringing into God’s presence people for whom we wish to pray.

We may want to remember

… those who are seeking faith; who are finding prayer and worship difficult at a time when church services are non-existent or feel strange; the wider Church and those responsible for ministry.

… people with responsibility for government and guidance at this time; those researching vaccination and treatments for the Covid virus; leaders of the nations of the world

… individuals who are suffering from illness, especially anxiety and depression

Make Me a Sanctuary … according to the design I shall show you”

Make Me a Sanctuary…”

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 MN