The effects of keeping the commandments are not enough to heal the soul completely. They must be complemented by contemplation – Evagrius Ponticus
Reading: Matthew 26:36
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
The Bible is food for the soul and contemplation is the ancient Christian practice which reads the Bible as a meditative prayer. It has four steps.
We begin with listening deeply to the text, to hear "with the ear of our hearts" as St. Benedict put it. We should allow ourselves to listen for the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12); the "faint murmuring sound" which is God’s word for us, God’s voice touching our hearts. We quietly, slowly, and patiently read and reread a short passage from the Bible until a particular phrase or word comes into special focus.
The second step is to ruminate on the reading, imitating Mary, who, upon hearing the message of the angels via the shepherds, "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). We ponder the text humbly, without the illusion that we can or even should be able to quickly grasp the deep spiritual meaning of the words. Instead, we let them sink into our hearts and become part of us, watching as they begin to interact with our memories, our hurts, and our hopes.
The next step is prayer. We surrender whatever part of ourselves this word has touched. This could be an old wound, never quite healed, or a doubt we have harboured for years. It could be a longing, still unmet, or a hope cruelly dashed. It could also be a secret spiritual aspiration, one we’ve been too embarrassed to admit before. Whatever it is, it will be deeply personal.
Finally, we simply hold the words in our heart and rest in God’s presence. We stop thinking about ourselves and what we believe God is asking us to do. We listen to the silence.
For ancient Christians, this was the tried-and-tested method of prayer.
Today, I will spend a little quiet, uninterrupted time with the Scriptures and discover the presence of God.
Speak, for your servant is listening.