This month's contemplative exercise


A Contemplative Exercise for February 2018

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 

"Even now...return to me with all you heart"     Joel 2.12   (NIV)


To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; becoming aware of the sounds around you and putting them aside; and offering 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:

 "Even now...return to me with all you heart"   

First of all, we receive this saying from the Book of the Prophet Joel into our minds -  hearing it as if we were hearing it alongside those who heard it for the first time.

 About Joel we know virtually nothing, except that his name means 'God is the Lord'.   In the short book, part of the material shows God as the speaker and Joel his mouthpiece; the other part is Joel, the prophet, interpreting what God is doing.   But generally, Joel is far in the background - he puts God and the Day of the Lord in centre place in his text.

The coming Day of the Lord is a great day, when God will show himself to the people, creating a sense of fear and awe.   The divine energy of the Spirit will be given, but it is also a day of judgement and anguish.   But for Joel it will be a day of renewed blessings - an invitation to return to God, to pray and to ask for mercy.   It is a day when people move from darkness to light, from suffering to joy, and from death to life. 

Something specific has happened, an event of unprecedented proportions which led the prophet to begin his words with a question: Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers ?  Tell it to your children and let your children tell it to their children to the next generation...   Was it a war - or a volcano - or an earthquake - or a tidal wave ?  What was it ?

It must have been quite something because it made such an impression on everyone who experienced it.   The event in question was a plague of locusts.   In the early part of chapter 1, there can hardly be any more words to describe locusts and what they can do !   Plagues of locusts must have been quite common, but there is no other record from the ancient world which records an attack as ferocious as this one.

Here was something so special they thought the world was going to come to an end.   It led Joel to press his hearers for a day of prayer and fasting.   He demands that everyone, class by class, family by family, should pray and repent.  Joel is asking: is this the coming Day of the Lord ?   He is asking questions: what is the meaning of it all ?   Why has this happened ?

 And the locusts ?   This has devastated him and his people.   Through Joel, God pleads with those listening to him: Even now return to me with all your heart.   And Joel goes on to beg us to remember that God is a God of compassion and of love, of graciousness and peace.

 Put yourselves in the shoes of those who experienced the devastation of this terrible plague of locusts, eating everything in their path ... nothing left ....               God says to you:

 "Even now...return to me with all you heart"

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.

 "Even now...return to me with all you heart"

 

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

"Even now...return to me with all you heart"

 This is a good saying to take into the beginning of Lent.   We first recall some of the great questions that are asked in the scriptures.   For example, in Genesis when Adam and Eve have tasted the fruit of the tree that they had been told about and forbidden to eat.   They now know that they are naked and without any kind of excuse and so they hide.    God calls to Adam: Where are you, Adam ?

And so, he calls to each one of us - not harshly or with a biting edge to his words - not in judgement or with the threat of punishment in his tone - not bleakly, as if we didn't really matter somehow.   He calls us, warmly, with love, compassion and generosity: Where are you ?  He asks us to reflect.

Consider another of great scriptural questions, which Jesus asks of the disabled man: Do you really want to be healed ?   Well, do we ?  Or are we content as we are?   He asks each one of us, deep down in our hearts: Do you want to be healed ?

And he says to each one of us: Even now return to me with all your heart.

Where have we been ?   Rushing this way and that to get things done ?   Anxiously trying to sort out a problem that honestly hardly exists ?   Deceiving ourselves that we don't need to be healed ?   Imagining that we are 'all right' with God because we did the flowers in Church the other week and put our stewardship envelope in the plate last Sunday?   Where have we been ?   Have we been avoiding any real encounter with God himself, listening to him, facing him with the realities of our lives ?

Even now, return to me with all your heart

Remind yourself of the Parable of the Prodigal Son - read it over in Luke 15 afterwards.   Imagine yourself in the shoes of the prodigal son - go through the same experiences - and then return...   Feel the loving arms of the Father around your shoulders.

Even now, return to me with all your heart

The summons is a loving one.   What can we say about God's love ?   It is unconditional.   God does not say: I will love you if ...   There are no 'ifs' in God's heart.   God's love for you and for me doesn't depend on what we do or say, on our looks or our intelligence, on our success or our popularity.   God's love was there for us before we were born, from eternity to eternity.

Does that mean that God doesn't care what we do or say ?    No, because God wouldn't be God if he didn't care.   To love without condition, doesn't mean to love without concern, as any parent knows.   He loves and wants our love in return.

So, as Lent begins, we can spend some time in this act of 'returning'.   Repentance is a strong word and it is the word we need to use.   It includes saying that we are sorry.  But that is not enough.   It also involves determining that we are going to do things differently.   We are going to change our lives in some way, large or small.   We are going to deepen our faith, extend our understanding of the love that Jesus showed us in his life and death and resurrection.

And this returning means going back to the source of everything, to the God of compassion and mercy, to the creator of the whole universe.  To meet with him - to allow him to forgive us and to give us the experience of an encounter with him.

With all your heart means with everything - no half measures, no lip service, no ifs and buts...

"Even now...return to me with all you heart"

A time is now kept for silence of the heart - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

Conclude the silence with a short thanksgiving and/or by repeating the Saying:

 Father, we thank you that your Word is alive and within us.

 "Even now...return to me with all you heart"

 

Introduction to the time of intercession - we use our will to reflect God's word outwards.

   "Even now...return to me with all you heart"

With this word in mind we can now bring the meaning alive not only for ourselves, but also most importantly for the lives of others, in our intercession.

Say the name of a person or a group of people, and after a short pause, repeat the Saying. For example:

'All you who seek to profit from the exploitation of the weak .......  "Even now...return to me with all you heart" '


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 AE

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