I think for most of us patience is a challenging word and concept. It can seem like we are either born with it or we are not or else, with age, we may grow into it as, when we are young, waiting for anything that we want to happen now is fairly unbearable. Of course, we may neither be born with it nor grow into it. I had a great-aunt who in her nineties would still tear open her birthday or Christmas presents when she woke at 4am on those mornings; she could wait no longer. Her patience for the wait had run out.
Taken out of a purely secular context, though, patience is not dependent on the variables of genetics or age. It is, said Paul, one of the nine fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5: 22 & 23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
Patience, therefore, can grow in us as we deepen our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
We are in the midst of a Covid-19 Lockdown with either social distancing or social isolation being the order of the day for all of us and with no clear end point at the moment to the challenge that Covid-19 presents. We must wait. We must forebear. We must be patient. How?
I believe the Dutch Catholic priest, professor, theologian and spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, can help us. He says of patience that it comes from knowing that the treasure that we seek is in the ground upon which we already stand.
The treasure that we seek is in the ground upon which we already stand.
Martin Laird, an Augustinian friar and also a professor and writer, captures a similar thought in his book, Into the Silent Land - The Practice of Contemplation when he says in Chapter 2,
“God is the ground of our being, and union with God is foundational to our humanity. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). And God still knows us in this way.
Yet we don’t have much awareness of this most fundamental reality. We go off in search of what has from all eternity sought and found us. God is the ground of our innermost being, yet we skim along on the surface of life. The result is that our lives are rather like that of the deep-sea fisherman who was fishing for minnows while standing on a whale. “
The material today is going to work back to front. The third period of prayer will be, in effect, the Centring Prayer as it will be an invitation simply to sit patiently with God. We will build towards that rather than start with that. However, it may help to read all the material through first and then come back to begin with that understanding of the flow and linkages between the different periods of prayer.
Lord God, I come in the trust and confidence that you are wholly good.
Help me to open my heart and mind to you; to surrender all that would prevent me from hearing your word for me today and that would hinder me being fully honest with you. Be my light and my guide, be my defender and my protector as I sit in the shelter of your wings.
Nouwen’s suggestion that patience has its root in our understanding that the treasure we seek is in the ground upon which we stand points us to beginning with treasure.
What do we actually most want?
The invitation is to picture the treasure and the pearl described in these verses from Matthew while you gently hold and reflect upon this question:
What do I want? What is the treasure that I seek? Be honest!
Matthew 13: 44 & 45
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
To take these reflections deeper, the invitation is now to pray contemplatively John 1: 35 -39. Praying a scripture contemplatively involves setting the scene with your mind’s eye, picturing what is happening in all its detail, being present in the scene as one of the characters and hearing Jesus speak and responding to him from that perspective. This can be done several times from the different story perspectives.
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
Guided contemplation of John 1: 35 – 39
You would normally be free to pray this text from any perspective – you are still free today! However, I would suggest that you come to this text, for the purposes of the material, as one of the two disciples.
From that perspective, begin by setting the scene. See yourself standing with John the Baptist and the other disciple. Look around and set the wider scene. In verse 28, we are told that John is ‘at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan’. Imagine Bethany and picture the Jordan; you do not need to be strictly accurate but develop that sense of place.
What kind of day might it be? Is the sun out? Is it cloudy? Is it warm, cool, windy?
What ambient sounds can you hear as you stand there? Are there cicadas making a racket in the background or other voices, noises?
Take your time, there is no rush.
Then hear John say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
What is your reaction to this? Do you immediately follow John’s gaze?
You follow Jesus with the other disciple. Notice the ground beneath your feet as you go. See yourself moving with intent.
Jesus turns to you both. Does he startle you?
Hear his question, “What do you seek?
What do YOU seek?
Be open and be honest. He is asking.
Do you want to know where he is staying, or do you have another desire of him?
His response is to “Come and see”
His response is to follow and to stay with him…
The invitation of this final period of prayer is TO STAY with Jesus. Simply be in his presence. There is no agenda other than to be present, patiently present and to experience the treasure that is in the ground upon which you already stand.
There is nothing further to seek; nothing to wait for. He is with you already.
Remain in his presence for as long as is comfortable.
Bring your response of thanksgiving and praise to Jesus for what you have received.
Share with him anything that is on your heart as you hear these final words of blessing from Philippians 4: 5b - 7
The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.