December 2018

A Contemplative Exercise for December


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

Keep watch …. be ready” (NIV et al)   Matthew 24.42,44

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:

 “Keep watch …. be ready”

 In this and the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is answering questions from his disciples. These questions reflect the unease they feel following the warnings to the Pharisees in ch 23, about their hypocrisy and the judgement that will certainly follow. Even the temple will be destroyed – in fact this happened some 40 years after these words were spoken – which must have been almost impossible for the disciples to envisage. They know that Jesus is to leave them, and that he will return (ch 23.39)  but they have no understanding of when these things will happen, what signs and warnings there will be, what indications they will have that the end of the age is coming, nor how the events are related. Jesus himself does not clearly separate the two but telescopes the two ‘comings in judgement’: v29 speaks of ‘immediately’; v34 ‘this generation shall not pass away’; v36 ‘no one knows the day or the hour’. Everything seems uncertain and confusing.

Chapter 25 is devoted to parables which help clarify what Jesus wants to impress on the Disciples: the stories of the wise and foolish maidens, the talents, the sheep and the goats - all indicate how one has to act now in order to be prepared for what is to come. The hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner are with us now, demanding not only compassion, but also action. It is not sufficient just to watch, merely to be on the look-out for something that perhaps cannot even be recognised when it comes: the gospel of the kingdom (v14) is to be preached here and now. Its demands are ever present and must be addressed. We must engage with the task.

‘Keep watch’ Jesus says – be aware of what is going on around you, recognise that when buds start to break on the fig trees, the season is changing. And so prepare for that change – ‘also be ready’ for whatever comes, keeping your house in good order and your lamps topped up with oil. We need not just vision, but also action.

Sustaining this permanent state of readiness is not easy – there are so many distractions to divert attention from the task, even dangers and suffering which will be a part of keeping going on the path which Jesus is mapping out. But ‘he who endures to the end will be saved’ (v13): ‘heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away’ (v35) – there is the promise of eternal life.

Here, now, in the present, we listen to these words of Jesus …

Keep watch …. be ready”

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.

Keep watch …. be ready”


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

Keep watch …. be ready”

In our contemplative prayer we acknowledge the need for balance in our spiritual life - we use our minds, hearts and wills as we pray. The oil in our lamps needs to be topped up by prayer and worship, contemplative and corporate. Fuelling our lamps by these means enables us then to light our path, to see more clearly the way and then we shall be able to share that light with others. The light of Christ enables us to translate vision into action.

At this time of year, the clocks change, and the darkness seems to press in on us as we get nearer and nearer to the shortest day. Yet it also brings us nearer and nearer to the time when the Light of the World breaks in on the darkness – ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1.5).

We can allow that light to warm us, to enable us to relax and be open to its warmth; allow it to illuminate ourselves to ourselves, acknowledging who and what we are with honesty, accepting that we are as God made us and are valued in His sight, however imperfect we may feel. Then we will be ready to accept and rejoice in the gift of God Incarnate, Word made Flesh - God’s intervention in the world, through which we can become what he intends us to be.

Action is different for each of us - we all have different talents and there are different tasks with which to match them. Now especially, in the preparations for Christmas, we feel there is so much to be done to be ready and it is easy to be consumed by over-activity. As we look ahead and turn towards the new year, new challenges will present themselves and we must be on the look-out for them, and be ready to take them up.

But now, in this waiting time, we can seek to transform the present. In our prayer groups we give time to drawing closer to God; we seek his illuminating and guiding presence with us; and we draw others into that presence in our intercessions.

Keep watch …. be ready”

 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.

 Keep watch …. be ready”


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

 “Keep watch …. be ready”

 In our time of intercession, we bring into the silence anyone for whom we wish to pray, enabling the Word to be spoken to them through us.

We may wish to allow these words to be spoken to our families; our church families and clergy; to all for whom the coming Christmas season is a time of sadness and distress.

And we think of the millions for whom life is distorted and even destroyed by conflict, who can see very few grounds for hope in the future; all who seek to relieve that suffering in the face of numerous obstacles; those working to create opportunities to bring about peace.

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 CO