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January 2021


A Contemplative Exercise for January

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 

“Pay attention … and listen”   Exodus 23.20,21  (NIV)

The wider context of these words is

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you…..Pay attention to him and listen to what he says”

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:

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you…..Pay attention to him and listen to what he says”

These words were spoken by God to Moses on Mount Sinai where the Book of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments were given. This is one of the key moments in Jewish history. The Jewish people had been led out of Egypt and captivity to this holy mountain and now God was speaking to them through Moses in the giving of the Law; the Ten Commandments being the centre piece, to which we adhere in our Christian tradition. It is a Covenant between God and his people, a promise that God has entered into and will always keep.

The Jewish laws were given over several chapters of this portion of Exodus and it has reached the point at which Festivals and holidays are being set out. The Covenant has been established, the Laws have been given and now the people are going to be on the move again in their journey to the ‘promised land.’ At this stage they really need to hear God’s word and message to which they can look and cling to in the long journey ahead of them.

God’s words are both comforting and challenging. ‘See, I am sending and angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.’  We are not given the name of the angel, only that he goes ahead and will guard the people on their journey to the place prepared for them – the ‘promised land.’ The challenge is to ‘pay attention and listen to what he says…since my Name is in him.’ Here the Jewish people are being summoned to ‘listening prayer.’ The words of God are simple and direct, yet very  challenging to put into practice. They are to be open to the presence and promptings of the angel who will always be with and go before them, guiding and guarding them throughout the long journey and pilgrimage through the wilderness. They are to perceive Him throughout the many struggles and difficulties that lie ahead, not only physical but also the spiritual discernment of worshipping the one true God and not turning to the ‘gods’ of other nations (Baals).

And there is a further promise of assurance – ‘if you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.’ (verse 22). God really wants to get across to the people by repeating and reiterating this message of reassurance, but they must ‘pay attention and listen carefully to him.’

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you…..Pay attention to him and listen to what he says”

“Pay attention … and listen”  

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.

 “Pay attention … and listen”  

 

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

“Pay attention … and listen”                                                                                                                                           

This is very good saying to be starting a new year. As we set out on the pathway of a new year and as the Israelites were setting out again on their journey through the wilderness, we need to hear God’s words of reassurance and encouragement. This is a saying that we can constantly keep close in our heart and mind (as a Watchword) to tell us that Gods sends an angel ahead of us as we venture into each new day.

There is also a longer view of the journey ahead as the verse goes on to say ‘to guard you along the way and bring you to the place I have prepared for you.’ Not only is the appointed angel going to guard us but also guide us in the journey ahead and bring us to the right place; the place that God knows and has prepared for us. This verse spoke to me very profoundly when attending a selection conference, trying to discern God’s calling to the ordained ministry Church of England. As sometimes happens these were exactly the words I needed to read and hear at that particular ‘turning point’ in my life.

It is often helpful and salutary to look back and reflect on our life’s journey and trace the way in which God has been guiding us in bringing us to the place we find ourselves today.

Can we see the way in which an angel has been guarding and guiding us in the past? Some people like the idea of a ‘guardian angel.’ Angels are used much in scripture as God’s messengers. Have there been people who have acted like angels in particular situations for us? Someone close, or perhaps a complete stranger, who has arrived just at the right time to help and reassure us. At the time an ordinary person but they were like an angel. When my wife was in hospital with complications after our first child was born, a nurse kept appearing exactly when we needed her. She seemed just like an angel at the time.

The second part of this saying is very poignant for prayer and contemplation, as we try to pay attention and listen to the angel, to God, to our Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth was heralded by angels. We take these words into our hearts, into the depths of our own experience:

“Pay attention … and listen”

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.

“Pay attention … and listen”

 

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

We open ourselves to God's presence in listening prayer and we reflect our prayers out to those for whom we intercede and for our troubled world that needs all the angels God sends to guard and guide its pathway in this particular period of history.

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.

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you…..Pay attention to him and listen to what he says”

We might use just a part of the Saying, in intercession and also as a Watchword during the coming month:

“I am sending an angel ahead of you”

“Pay attention … and listen”

 

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 RF