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A Template for Biblical Contemplation

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Today is our second article in the three-part series by Shelley Maw. Enjoy!

A Frame for Biblical Contemplation From Joseph Tetlow, S. J. "Choosing Christ in the World".

The imagination turns out to be a powerful way of knowing.  Using this power that you have, you can pull together images or data that might seem to be worlds apart and make coherent sense of them. Great scientists and inventive technologists say that, after you've gotten all the information, then real knowing begins: you have to re-envision things, see them anew, differently. That demands imagination.  So you use this great God-given power in prayer. 

Here is one proven way to focus your imagination for the sake of coming to know, love, and follow Jesus better.  This is the frame of contemplation in the Ignatian contemplations on the Incarnation and on the Birth of Jesus.  It is a "method" - everyone uses it in his or her own way and gets out of it something uniquely their own. You will readily find how much and in what ways this frame of contemplation helps you.

I come into God's presence and feel His loving gaze, and then I offer myself completely to God.

  1. First, I recall for a moment some details of the particular part of sacred history that I am going to pray about.
  2. Second, I compose myself in the scene I am going to contemplate, or in the location where it takes place.
  3. Third, I ask for what I want: I want to know Jesus intimately, friend to friend.  I want to share great love with Him.  I want to go where He goes and do what He does.
  4. Then, I enter into the event.  I can do that in many different ways, and nothing constrains me to do it one way rather than another.  I notice the people themselves, keenly, lovingly.  Then I listen to what they say.  Then I watch how they are acting.  Or I simply get involved in the event, at whatever point I feel drawn into it.  I act in it, a part of the event - holding the light, fixing the hayrack, helping with the animals. Or I go along with one of the persons in the event, letting the event be a dynamic background. We talk with and listen to one another.
  5. Whichever of these ways I use, I try to keep myself involved.  For intimate knowledge reaches both into the one known and into the one knowing, and deep love of God comes only to the one who knows himself or herself loved even while loving.

It should be noted that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are completed with the accompaniment of a Spiritual Director.  The Spiritual Director plays an important role in helping the participant go deeper, by providing helpful feedback, encouragement, observations and questions along the way.  They also serve to highlight any concerns and provide confirmation and affirmation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the retreatant's life.  

Most people do the Spiritual Exercises through an organization.  In my case this was a para-church ministry.  Others I know have taken it through a university or college course.  These organizations provide help with finding a director for the journey who is trained in leading people through the exercises.  

The following websites may be helpful as well.  

A note from Shelley - As with our childhood memories; different personalities notice different things and even remember the same event entirely differently, because each of us holds different values, cares, priorities and learning styles.  There are details in all of these events that matter to me or don't matter to me, things that resonate with my own experiences, feelings I relate to and linger with, or pass over because I don't at all. For all of these reasons my experiences in these contemplations are unique to me. They are not meant to be an attempt to tell you what I think might have 'really' happened or even what it might have been like for you.  Should you embark on this journey with Jesus yourself, your experience, like my own sister's and my childhood memories, will be as different as you and I are different.   Also, because the point of these contemplations is for me to encounter Jesus, I made no attempt to change myself to reflect the time period Jesus lived in.  I bring my vocabulary and my cultural context with me, because it is a part of who I am.  I believe Jesus, while he did walk this earth in a specific time and place, is also timeless in his desire to meet us and to share his life with us. 

I chose to enter these stories with Jesus and me as young children, and I as one of his playmates. And then as I progressed through the stories with Jesus I remained his friend, growing up with him and following along with him as he entered ministry and the gospel stories. I imagined that if I had lived then alongside Jesus I would not have known anything more about him or about the future than what was happening right in front of me.  As it turned out, this attempt to experience the stories as they happened and without prior knowledge or context caused me to see these all too familiar stories in a completely different light.

I saw Jesus in a new way, and the heart of the Father God in a new way as well – and this has really impacted me in my life today.  When I began this series of gospel contemplations, in my heart I saw God as a hard task master – as someone with a grand important purpose – a purpose that made God pretty far removed from my personal struggles as a human being trying to serve him.  I discovered that while my mind knew that God is love, my heart more often pictured him as impatient and sometimes frustrated with me and my human struggles. But my experiences with Jesus in these stories really showed me Jesus as a compassionate and understanding friend, and a Father God who had a heart for his Son that was loving, beautiful, and completely respectful and honouring of Jesus’ challenges as a fully human being. This experience has really changed my own relationship with God.

Each of these contemplations was followed with a conversation/reflection with God and me about it.  I have not included these because they are personal, between God and I.  I think it would be more helpful for you to have your own anyway, than to read mine. 

Biblical Contemplation Three Part Series - by Shelley Maw

  1. Combining Two-way Journaling with St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises
  2. A Template for Biblical Contemplation
  3. Two Biblical Contemplations - Meeting John the Baptist and Resurrection of Lazarus

Related Resources: 

How to Hear God's Voice!   

Related Blogs: 

How to Hear God’s Voice   
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