Encountering Christ in Contemplation – Reflection for 22 SEP 2019
Over the past several weeks, we have explored ways of encountering Christ through lectio divina and through prayer. This week, we will explore how we might encounter Christ in contemplation.
In contemplation, we set aside the busyness of life and open ourselves to encounter with God. We put away our to-do list, our expectations, and our metrics of success and let God set the agenda. Perhaps a conversation with God ensues or perhaps even the contented quietness of silence.
Contemplation can be scary as we yield control of our prayer to God. Questions like “How do I know I’m finding God?” and “What happens if I do find God?” come to mind. This is why contemplation requires that we have a solid Biblical foundation for understanding the character of God so that we can both recognize Him and trust Him. For this reason, I like to begin contemplative practices in Scripture.
One practice is imaginative or experiential reading of Scripture. In this practice, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read a narrative portion of Scripture. The encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus (Luke 18:35-43) is one of my favorites for this practice. As we read, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to fully experience the passage, to hear, smell, feel, taste, and touch. We wait and let the Spirit reveal where we are in the passage. I am amazed at the way that the Holy Spirit guides me into different experiences each time I read a passage in this way. Sometimes, I find myself as Bartimaeus, sometimes as one of the crowd, sometimes at the center of the story and sometimes on the edge. However, I find that wherever I find myself, God has something to say to me that I need (but may not want) to hear. I liken this practice to the Biblical call to “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4).
Another contemplative practice is centering prayer. In this practice, we choose a word or phrase from Scripture that draws our attention to God. We prayerfully offer this word to God as a way of intentionally attending to the presence of God within and around us. As we notice our attention drifting elsewhere, we gently return to our word and so draw our attention back to God. I liken this practice to the call to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
A final practice is the practice of silence. One of my mentors described silence as a divine gift. We do not so much practice silence as prayerfully await the grace of God which offers this gift to us. This practice might even be better described as waiting. I find that in my waiting, the cares and worries of life bubble up and threaten to distract me. Instead of pushing them aside, I offer them to God…and wait. I liken this practice to the command “Wait, O my soul, for God alone” (Ps 62:5).
Contemplation invites us to encounter Christ not only with our mind but also with our heart, our soul, and our body.