pathways of prayer
Week 5 - The contemplative path
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly;
Day by day. Amen.
Richard of Chichester (c.1197-1253)
Anyone who has been in love knows what it is like to simply gaze and gaze upon the person you love. It can be a holy moment. Just by looking intently, love seems to pass from one person to the other - and with it usually comes a great sense of peace and fulfilment.
The Contemplative tradition in Christian spirituality describes the steady gaze of the soul upon God. Contemplatives give up all other distractions - noise and busyness of all sorts - just to focus on God. Some Christians have gone into the desert or joined a monastic order to give themselves more fully to God.
Ironically, when you gaze at a lover for a long time, you can't help being aware of how separate you are - how frustrating it is that you can't take the final step of love and become one person. In the same way, Christians contemplating God often experience times of loneliness or darkness, a thirst for God that can't be satisfied. But in that process the contemplative Christian is gradually changed from the inside out to become more and more like Jesus.
- Most of us have experienced times when life is stormy or the world seems to be in chaos around you. What do you do to feel safe when life is tough? Are there any special places where you go to find peace?
- Have you ever felt that God was speaking directly to you? What were the circumstances? What did God say? What did you do about it?
This Psalm is one of the 'Songs of Zion'. We don't know its origin, but it was almost certainly a hymn used in the liturgy at the Temple in Jerusalem. It even has a returning chorus in verses 7 and 11. You can almost hear the crowds shouting out these verses in response to a cantor. This is a Psalm about the character of God - in particular God's strength and protection. For the people of Israel that character was summed up in the 'city of God', which they thought was inviolable. As it turned out, they were right about God's character, but not about the city of Jerusalem, which was later to fall.
Read Psalm 46 :1-11
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
- In verses 2 and 3 the Psalmist describes the most extreme disaster he can imagine. What disasters, natural or otherwise, do people fear today?
- What do you think the writer means when he describes God as a "refuge"?
- How did the people of Israel understand God's intervention in international affairs? Does this Psalm describe God as a warrior, or a peacemaker (v 8,9)?
- Why does God instruct people to "be still" (v10)? What might "being still" mean in practice in a busy world? What happens when people are still?
- Verse 10 is couched in the actual words of God to his people. In what ways does God speak to his people today? If you felt that God was speaking to you directly, what steps might you take to check that you weren't simply imagining it?
If you are taking your first steps in contemplative prayer, a good plan might be to choose a spiritual picture or an icon. Ask God to speak to you through the picture. Decide to spend time looking at the picture intently, waiting for God to touch you through it. Some gentle background music may help you to focus. If you are using this study in a group you may want to share your thoughts with others.
Alternatively, use the words of God recorded in the passage "Be still, and know that I am God". Carry the phrase in your mind for a few minutes, and keep it there until you move beyond the words to hear the voice of God speaking to you through it.
You may want to repeat this exercise at other times this week.
Contact: BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship
This material has been provided by BBC Radio 4 in collaboration with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Text © BBC 2007. Web site © CTBI 2007.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of International Bible Society. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of International Bible Society.