This month's contemplative exercise


A Contemplative Exercise for December 2017

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 will give you ....... riches stored in secret places"     Isaiah 45:3  (NIV)

 In its entirety, this is "I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places"

There are many translations available, for instance:

"I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places"  (NRSV)

 

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:

  "I will give you ....... riches stored in secret places"   

Advent is a period of waiting, a time for reflection and prayer, in preparation for Christmas which arrives during the short, sometimes dark days of winter.  In the story of the nativity, the wise men bring their treasures to a lowly place of shelter hidden in the heart of Bethlehem, where Jesus the Light of the World is born.  

The Israelites had been captive in Babylon for 70 years, as a result of their rebellion and faithlessness to God. Their city Jerusalem had been invaded and they were captured by the Babylonians who had destroyed their temple, and their homes. In their long captivity they had become utterly desolate and broken in spirit.

In this passage God is comforting his people through the prophet Isaiah, and giving them reason for hope.  He tells them He has forgiven them. He promises that they would be led out of captivity back to their homeland and that they would have riches beyond all expectation.   God has appointed Cyrus the Persian King to capture Babylon and free the Israelites.  He promises that their temple would be rebuilt and their riches, the sacred vessels and large sums of money that were stolen by the Babylonians, would be restored to the temple.

Sometimes it can take an unforeseen event to bring us to our knees, and to awaken us to God's riches.  Paul (previously Saul) was persecuting the new Christians, and it took God's intervention to bring him to his senses.  Christ appears to Paul in dazzling light on the road to Damascus, and says to him "Saul, Saul, I am Jesus Christ who you are persecuting". After his Damascus experience and conversion, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit.  He would be God's instrument to preach Christ to the Gentiles and to build up the church.

The Wilderness can be seen as a place of isolation and emptiness.  However it is also a place of encounter with God.  Moses has just entered the Sinai desert and is tending his flock of sheep on a day that seems to be no different from any other. He then sees what appears to be a bush on fire.  He turns aside to have a closer look and sees that the bush is lit by a brilliant light and there he encounters God. From the bush Moses hears God's voice and listens to His message for him.  It was this decision to turn aside that led Moses to his encounter with God, which changes his life forever.  Throughout the ages the wilderness and desert, taking many varied shapes, have been places of encounter with God.

We now listen to these words of God giving hope and comfort. Let them sink into our minds as they were first spoken by God to his people in captivity and now to us.

"I will give you...riches stored in secret places" 

 

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 will give you...riches stored in secret places" 

 

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

"I will give you...riches stored in secret places" 

We all go through times of bereavement, loss and loneliness, all places which seem dark to us.   Recent statistics show that a high percentage of our present population live on their own; this is partly due to people living longer.  There are a great many people who experience loneliness which is highlighted over Christmas. 

However there is a distinction between loneliness and solitude.  Contemplative Prayer helps us recognise the solitude that is full of riches, far from the emptiness and depression experienced with loneliness.  We discover this at our Fellowship Retreats and Quiet Days when we are filled with the riches of God's word, which in turn can be reflected out through us to our neighbour and through intercession.

When people come together for a retreat or quiet day, in some cases not knowing anyone else; by the time the retreat ends they find they have come to know each other in the silence in a completely different way than that experienced with words. A rich bond has taken place. This is the paradox; the loneliness we might experience on our arrival at the retreat, is transformed into a profound solitude alive with the riches of deep communion.   In finding true solitude we are letting go of all that we are captive to, and relinquishing our emotional hold on the physical props we might normally be depending on, and turning instead to the unexpected riches and resources which lie within us.

I've always found the story of Silas Marner by George Elliot very moving.  It is a story of betrayal, abandonment, and captivity, and eventually transformation and liberation.  Silas is cruelly betrayed by his best friend; his friends and community all turn against him and abandon him. So he leaves his home and his village and finds a job in another town as a weaver.  His life becomes one of emptiness, monotony and toil.  His only pleasure is the money he has earned and he becomes captive to his hoard of gold, which is later stolen. Silas is distraught.  Then one night he comes into his living room and thinks he has found his precious gold on the hearth by the fire. The gold is in fact the gold of the hair of a little girl who has come into his house, frozen with the cold and is lying sleeping on the hearth.  The discovery of Ettie transforms the heart of Silas; instead of his heart being enslaved by his hoard of gold, he has found liberation in the true riches of human love and happiness.   

"I will give you...riches stored in secret places" 

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.

 "I will give you ....... riches stored in secret places"     

 

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

 "I will give you ....... riches stored in secret places"   

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.

One way is to say the name of a person or a group of people; then after a short pause, repeat the Saying. For example:

'Alison and your family       ......  "I will give you riches stored in secret places"

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

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