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February 2021


A Contemplative Exercise for February

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 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”   Revelation 22.13 (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:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”

The Revelation of St John the Divine is not just a book to be read.   It is prophecy, poetry and as such hard to understand.   In a way you need to use all your five senses as you tackle it –

·        smell the sulphur,

·        hear the sound of the trumpets, the cries of pain and joy, the hymns of praise with a thousand voices,

·        touch the walls of the city and the pavements of pure gold, clear as glass,

·        taste the scrolls, sweet as honey,

·        feel the shake of the thunder and the rumble of the earthquakes.

To get the most out of the book, wait until you are alone and then read it through out loud !  It will take you about 90 minutes – make it as dramatic as you can, shouting where that is appropriate, whispering where that would be better, sometimes racing on, sometimes slowing down.   It is a book for suffering Christians, to hold them together and to communicate with them in code.

The visions which John received and recorded do not have the narrative quality which makes the Gospels accessible – or the theological reasoning of St Paul which makes us struggle for Christian truth – but rather a poetry of great power which needs to be allowed to make an impact on our minds and imaginations.

Revelation will continue to puzzle us – and indeed the greatest biblical scholars.  It is none the less extraordinarily rich in its content and brings the scriptures end here.

We might expect the Bible to come to an end, to a conclusion.  In fact, it is the opposite – what we have is in itself a beginning, a renewal of the beginning, and a fulfilment that has no end.   On the one hand we have a completion which is perfect and everlasting.   God is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end – he is alive from eternity to eternity.

Yet, on the other hand, especially the last 2 chapters of Revelation reveal the consummation or the whole of creation, the end for which the created order was intended and designed.

To put it another way, there is a sense in which the end was enclosed in the beginning, like a promise, and the beginning is there in the end at its completion.   What God begins, he also completes.

The Bible opens with the statement that at the beginning God created heaven and earth – and it ends with the disclosure to John of a new heaven and a new earth.

But there is something else of great importance.  The Risen Christ promises to give to those who are thirsty, and to give freely, of the fountain of the water of life.   To drink from this source is to drink from the inexhaustible river of God – to become part of him.

I imagine myself into the hearts and minds of a persecuted people.   Christians who face the despair of persecution, the fear of death maybe, the expectation that their faith which means so much may disappear altogether – they are confronted by John in Revelation with a hope beyond their wildest imaginings and a glory which would have given them so much hope.

The Risen Christ said: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

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.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

 

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

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

The Risen Christ identifies himself.   He introduces himself.   He discloses himself to you.   Do not be afraid the Risen Christ says to us   He doesn’t want to frighten us – or for us to be frightened: I am the beginning and the ending, Alpha and Omega, the Almighty.   Words like this come again and again in Revelation.  Turn back to the first chapter.  The beginning is not a kind of start line, but the source of everything for us – and the end is not the finishing tape through which you have to pass, but the destiny of all that we are.

Those who are scientists puzzle over the origin of the universe and of matter – it is a question that has been hotly debated.  But every speculation, every theory has to conclude with a question mark.  The answer is that no one knows.  There is no question mark following what God has to say to John – I am the beginning and the ending … the Almighty.   He is the first mover, the first designer, the author and maker of all that ever has been or could be in the future.

But he is not only the beginning – he is also the ending, the last.   He is simply ‘out’ of all time – for him time is simultaneous, if you like to put it that way.  We are in time and are given the opportunity to grow and develop and mature in our lives.   We can offer ourselves and our lives afresh each day to the God who is the beginning and the ending in our contemplative prayer and adoration.  Then we can even be caught up into the divine presence – we can turn to 2 Corinthians 12.1-4 where Paul is, presumably, describing his own experience of contemplative prayer – he writes: I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven – caught up into Paradise.

It is in his prayer that John and Paul have an encounter with the risen Lord.   We can imagine ourselves fallen to the ground – as did Paul, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter and so many others.  Then we can rise up unafraid to meet the light and the glory of the risen Christ who is alive for evermore.

We can rise tentatively at first, but then be ready to face tomorrow whatever tomorrow may bring, back into life again knowing that he is right beside us, that the Holy Spirit is leading us and that the Risen Christ is saying to us I am the beginning and the ending … the Almighty and: Do not be afraid.

These days are tough for Christians, I believe.  Atheistic philosophers are putting forward to the world a universe of meaninglessness.   We know and believe that ultimate meaning and purpose for our lives and for the world is to be found in God himself.  God’s love flows out in creation at the beginning of everything – and flows back to him again as the whole of creation is gathered to him again.

As we listen deeply to these glorious words, we enter into the heart of God himself.  Like John in his visions, we sense that we find there everything from beginning to end, from start to finish, from source to destiny – both for our own lives and for that of the world.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the Almighty

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

 

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.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

 

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

We open ourselves to his/her presence in listening prayer and we reflect our prayers out to those for whom we intercede and for our troubled world.

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

We bring before God all those who are on our hearts at this time: we say their name and then repeat the Saying so that the Word is spoken to them.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega”  

 

Conclude the time of intercession with words of thanksgiving to God for the gift of his Word

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

 

 You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.  

 

 This month’s exercise was contributed by AE