Calendar of exercises
Archives
2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

April 2021


A Contemplative Exercise for April

 

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

Return to me, for I have redeemed you”   Isaiah 44.22    (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:

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

From the long discipline of Lent leading up to Holy Week and the crucifixion, we now enter the period of Easter: a time of rejoicing that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Most of us will recognise the words of Job that we hear in the sublime music of Handel’s Messiah “I know that My redeemer liveth” (Job 19.25). Jesus is our Redeemer who gives us eternal life, just as God was redeeming His people in the Old Testament, releasing them from the folly and spiritual death of idolatry to the everlasting life of God’s presence, so they could fulfil their destiny.  We are now Easter people and also have a destiny to fulfil individually as well as collectively.

In this passage of the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites are still captive in Babylon and they are depressed and fearful at their plight, having lost everything dear to them in the fall of Jerusalem.  Isaiah now prophesies that the time is coming when the fortunes of God’s people Israel and Judah, who are in exile, will be restored. God has forgiven their sins saying to them “I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist”, just as a morning mist is dissolved in the sunshine.  They will be brought back to the land that He gave to their fathers and they shall take possession of it.  God has seen their misery and has compassion on them. He forgives them for their idolatry and failure to listen; their stubborn ways and hardened hearts have only caused them further suffering.  There will be a time of rejoicing and the Lord will turn their mourning into joy.

Their sorrows are not only a punishment by God for their constant faithlessness and disobedience, but are also by way of a cleansing process to purify their souls. This will be a necessary preparation for the unique work which Israel, His chosen people, have yet to do in the world.  The days are coming when the Lord will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the house of Judah. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). 

So, in our first silence, (the silence of the mind), let us listen to the Words of God, as they were spoken to the suffering Israelites in captivity. Imagine that we are in their shoes and how they (and we too) will be encouraged and comforted by God’s words to them:

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

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.

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

 

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

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

Now we prepare for our second silence:

There are many occasions when we have gone astray, forgetting God, and perhaps turning away from His love and grace to satisfy our fancies and our own desires. But the very moment we repent and turn back to God, He comes to us with open arms, meeting us halfway.

The unconditional love and forgiveness is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son who decides to leave home with his share of his father’s inheritance but he squanders it all in dissolute living.  Then there is a famine and the son becomes destitute and he is forced to work as a swineherd.  After a time, he is so hungry and broken in spirit, that he returns to his father full of repentance for his sinful ways. When the son is still far off his father, moved with compassion, runs to meet him and embraces him, offering him the best clothes and a sumptuous feast to celebrate his return.  

In the New Testament, God’s love is fully revealed and expressed in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh.  Everything Jesus said and did was out of unconditional love culminating in the ultimate sacrifice of laying down His life for us. 

In an article about the parable of the Good Samaritan the author Morris Maddox suggests that Christ can be seen both in the Samaritan and in the wounded traveller.

“We can see the person of Christ in the Good Samaritan, coming to us at the precise point where we are now and ministering to us in our present predicament”.  This thought can perhaps speak to all those who have been suffering during the pandemic.

 And when he has healed us, only he can set us on the right way, his way. But the person of Christ is also to be seen in the wounded traveller.  When we stop to help someone in dire need, we may find Christ in that person. That is why we constantly feel that the sick and disabled actually minister to us”. 

In the past year the world has experienced perhaps the greatest upheaval since the second World War.  In this pandemic, countless people have lost their jobs and livelihood as well as their lives. Everyone has suffered in some way. The lives of all of us have completely changed.  The miraculously fast turnaround to produce vaccines to prevent infection has given us all hope.  But we can be assured that God is present in this very challenging situation just as He was with the exiles in Babylon and is present in every situation, giving us His encouragement.  

 Perhaps we can look back on this last year, and understand through our practice of contemplative prayer, that we have found what it really means to return to God, who is ultimately discovered at the centre of our being: the One who makes His home in us. Now at Easter, and as Easter people, we rejoice that our Redeemer Jesus Christ is alive for evermore –

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

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.

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

 

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

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”

As we celebrate the Easter season we continue to give thanks for the resurrection of our Lord, our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

We bring into the light of God’s presence those for whom we wish to pray – we do not need to petition for outcomes or seek solutions, ‘blurring the edges of our prayer with our own anxieties, focusing on the symptoms or problems rather than on the Word of God who knows so much better than we do what the real problems are’ (Exploring Contemplative Prayer, Dodson and Tunnicliffe)


Among those who we bring before God in prayer might be

·        all those who have suffered so greatly as a result of the pandemic

·        all who are striving to find solutions to the many difficulties of recovery - political, economic and social

·        all engaged in medical work of care, cure and research

·        all who have ceased to worship and pray while in isolation

·        church leaders and congregations

·        those who commit criminal acts and their victims

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

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you”


We might use a shortened version of the Saying, as a Watchword - in intercession and throughout the coming days, for example

“Return to me”        ……        “I have redeemed you”

 

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