Gazing into the Face of Yeshua Part 6
Last time I shared some practicalities about contemplative prayer, the kind of prayer that Mary of Bethany modeled in Luke’s gospel. And I want to expand on that this week.
Last week I suggested that you begin by finding a quiet time and place alone. People who have had more experience with this kind of prayer say that contemplative time should not be right after a meal or right before bedtime. Otherwise one is likely to feel drowsy and may perhaps fall asleep!
Likewise, these experienced folk recommend that the person sit in a chair, but not one that is too comfortable, lest one begin to doze off.
I have to say that in my daily schedule, the time of day I am least likely to be interrupted by family members is just after lunch and also, right before going to sleep at night. Furthermore, that “pre-sleep” prayer session tends to be more conversational than silent, though it’s almost never about my making requests of the Lord.
I guess the rule here is “no rules.” Here again we have to find what works in our own lives in this art of prayer, within the boundaries we find in scripture.
Years ago I began my contemplative prayer life not in a chair, but on the floor, sitting in front of a big stuffed chair in my house late at night in the dark. As I sat there I would hear the Lord say something like, “What’s on your heart?”
If I thought of the Lord actually sitting on that chair and my looking at Him, it made me freeze up. I couldn’t speak to Him in an ordinary fashion, though He was very present to me. (You understand, this was over 20 years ago now.)
But in my work situation in those days I occasionally dictated letters that my secretary would type up and send “Fed Ex” to a client. So, sitting on the floor in front of that chair, I would respond to the Lord’s question by “writing” or dictating a letter to Him, that began “Dear Lord” or “Dear Yeshua.”
And of course at the end of these letters, I would always “sign” my letters: “Your loving…” and laugh at the thought of the Holy Spirit delivering the letter to Him.
I’m relating this to you in case the thought of just having a personal conversation with the Lord about nothing in particular, or say, about the feelings you have for Him, is just scary or bewildering to you. If you ask, I believe the Lord will drop something in your heart that will help you begin, as He did for me.
Of course after several months of this nightly letter writing in the dark, I finally learned to trust His heart enough to just sit and wait for His presence to come, and then to speak in response to what He said to my heart.
It was many years later that He revealed to me that what I was experiencing is a form of contemplative prayer.
“But, Sue,” some will say, “I thought contemplative prayer was supposed to be silent. I thought it was supposed to consist mostly of sitting in silence with Him, saying nothing.”
Well, that is the classical definition of contemplative prayer. But one thing I learned early on with the Lord is that He doesn’t like to be hemmed in by our definitions.
There are times when I sense Him wanting me to be extremely silent, even in my heart, and other times when He clearly wants to engage me in conversation. I have learned not to say anything like, “But Lord, this is our silent time!” Wouldn’t that be silly?
Getting back to the classic model, the saints of former centuries recommend that we begin with what they called lectio divina. This means “sacred reading.” It can be either a passage of scripture or a passage from some divinely-inspired Christian author.
In either case, some of these saints found that meditating for a few minutes (pondering the passage without “studying” it) often brought the presence of the Lord. Other saints found that just reading a passage, say in the Psalms or Isaiah, until the Lord’s presence comes was sufficient.
Lectio is a good way to begin contemplative time with the Lord, especially if you are not already doing this kind of prayer. When reading, as you sense the Lord’s presence, put down what you’ve been reading. Usually it’s better not to close the eyes, but just gaze out into the room, letting the Holy Spirit give you any “picture” of the Lord that He may wish to make known to you.
I’m such a novice at this that I do often get a picture of Him in my heart. I understand that those who are really advanced in this kind of prayer say that seeing His form is not really a mark of advanced prayer.
But I don’t really care about that. I just love His face. I love to gaze into His eyes, even for a few seconds. This is the highlight of my day—to see His beautiful face and His heart revealed in His look. This is among the greatest treasures I have in my life.
Now of course, if you are reading lectio and you put it down to begin to engage with the Lord, He might tell you, “Continue reading, please.” In that case, do whatever He tells you. He always has His reasons, though He seldom reveals them.
If you find yourself gazing into His face for a few moments, you will eventually be distracted by something—a thought, a noise in the house, etc. And you will momentarily “look away.” Don’t let that trouble you. Just try to find His gaze again in your heart.
It surprised me to find out that even people who have been doing this sort of prayer for years and years, say that truly engaging His gaze or experiencing His strong presence in silence for more than about 2 minutes out of a 20-minute session is doing very well indeed.
I say that to you to encourage you. Don’t be downcast at the small steps you seem to take. I met a woman once who told me it took her about two years (!) of sitting in silence for 10-20 minutes a day “by faith” (nothing apparently happening) before she experienced a breakthrough. And then it became so sweet for her that she wouldn’t do without it.
Remember that all prayer is really an art. It is not something that we apply a formula to and get the same result as Brother So-and-so did.
Nevertheless, I would like to give you a practical exercise to try this week.
Find a quiet space and time where you can have at least 20 minutes alone (though the exercise itself takes only about 10 minutes).
Take with you the following words on a sheet of paper. Start to read them very slowly out loud. This passage is taken from a teaching session on contemplative prayer by Gary Wiens of the Kansas City International House of Prayer.
The purpose of the created order is to communicate the beauty of God to the human race.
The whole point of this is to show the burning heart of God.
The Incarnation is the pinnacle of God’s self-disclosure.
He gazed on us and became like us—human.
So we gaze on Him and become like Him—sons of God.
The Cross is the clearest presentation of the nature of God, the inevitable climax of His self-emptying nature.
The highest revelation of the Glory is the Cross. He would rather die than live without me.
Take me to my destiny in You, Lord.
Now wait on the Lord. Just see if the Holy Spirit will bring you anything in particular—a picture, a scripture, words that God is speaking to you, a sense of the weight of His presence.
If it seems like nothing is happening, read the passage slowly again. This time, stop where your heart is drawn to a particular phrase or sentence. Let those words sink in. Then just wait for a minute again.
You can do this as much as you like, but after cycling through this several times over about 20 minutes, you might like to just stop and sit quietly for a few minutes.
Even if you don’t think you have experienced the Lord’s manifested presence, you have received something really precious from Him in the words that you spent time with. These are deep truths for us.
No matter what did or did not happen, you did not “waste time” doing this exercise. Nothing given to Yeshua out of love is ever a waste in His eyes.
Next week we are going to look at a story in the gospels that illustrates this very point.