This contemplation is also available as an audio recording.
We are now in phase two of lockdown in Scotland which means yet more easing and relaxation in the guidance that has created the boundaries for us over the past months. More shops will open, we will soon be able to return to our churches for prayer if not worship yet and even those who have been shielding will be able to step out and enjoy some exercise.
Lockdown was a conscious decision to keep us in and narrow our physical worlds for a time to keep us safe and not to overwhelm our medical services. However, less consciously, we can make safe worlds for ourselves too. Most of us learn to understand and assess risk from a very young age because being without any appreciation of danger or risk may lead to some amazing and thrilling life experiences but may also lead to harm. How many times when you were young did someone say to you, “Don’t do that, you could break your neck”?
Most of us learn, therefore, as a matter of course to risk assess and to moderate our behaviour accordingly. We begin to pick and choose what we will do based on conscious but also unconscious assessment of those risks. We consider what will enable us to feel safe and we go forward, even as we engage challenges sometimes, within those parameters of staying secure.
I am not making the case for foolhardy behaviour but, once again, as lockdown speaks into my life on one level, I cannot help reflecting on what it might teach me at other levels too and, in particular just now, what it might have to show me about my spiritual walk with Jesus. Reflecting, therefore, on stepping out further and further as lockdown eases and away from the safe confines of home and limited interaction, I cannot help reflecting on the fact that there is never anything safe about my walk with Jesus.
If I am walking with Jesus, I do not control where he will lead. I do not set the pace and I would probably not be certain of the destination. Walking with Jesus is not a safe business in that sense and yet the bible teaches me that walking with Jesus is also the only truly safe choice because ultimately Jesus is leading me towards my true home and towards a deeper communion with God whatever the external circumstances of my life may be throwing at me and suggesting.
I know what it means when a neck is broken. It wasn’t risky driving that caused it, but since our son, Sam, was paralysed when his neck was broken in a car accident 10 years ago, I have seen the devastating implications of a broken neck up close and I have often wondered about some of the stories of healing in the bible. How did those men who were healed – one in Bethesda and the other after being lowered through a roof – feel at that moment when they were told to pick up their mat and walk?
This moving from paralysis to walking is in physical terms incredible by which I genuinely mean beyond belief and, therefore, utterly mind-blowingly miraculous. When I consider
these men, I cannot help but think about the many physical healings that had to occur for them to get up and walk.
Normally, it can take many days of gradual adjustment for somebody who has been prone for a long time to move to being upright because their blood pressure will not immediately allow it. Think about a time when you may have been in bed for a few days unwell – hopefully not Covid-19 unwell – and how light-headed you felt when you started to get up or had to get up to go to the loo; that slight dizziness and sway after a long period lying down. Now imagine what it would be to have been prone for years and about to stand up…
Also, what about all those wasted muscles that had to instantly strengthen to support the men’s weight or the instant relearning of a lost or never experienced capacity to walk? We know these stories tell of miracles but, they are so familiar, I wonder if we really appreciate how amazing what is happening here actually is.
The physical healing required is staggering. However, do we overlook the sheer courage and hope that lifted those men and enabled them to pick up their mats and step away as we ponder the simple physical marvel that they could do so?
Stepping out and away from life as they had known it; stepping out and away from its confines and known parameters, its safety in its predictability if nothing else. How extraordinary was that?
I have thought a lot about the action of walking this week as I thought I might prepare material on stepping out. How thinking I want to go in a certain direction, my legs and feet move to take me that way. How the action of my walking is heel to toe in a sort of rocking motion and the nature of the propulsion of that movement. How much I take for granted this simple motion that gets me from A to B whether there is risk involved or not.
As always there are so many ways that reflecting on a simple concept can uncover depths that, if explored, can help us to reflect on how we draw closer to God. The invitation of the material this week as we literally step out further is to reflect on also stepping out where Jesus would lead us. This may require healing or be scary. It may require us to leave some of what we have known behind. However, if we will risk it, it could also take us closer to him, to God and to where we will feel more truly safe and at home.
CENTRING EXERCISE (10 – 15 minutes)
If you are able, we will begin our time of centring in a standing position. If not, please experience what follows as an exercise of the imagination.
So, please stand and, as you do, allow your arms to hang loosely at your side and set your feet slightly apart, just an inch or two; we do not often stand with our feet tight together
without a reason. The aim is to be standing in a way that you feel stable and aware of your connection to the ground.
Now breathe in deeply and pull your shoulders back and down – this will cause you to stand slightly more erect. Continue to focus on your breathing for 10 or so breaths.
With your hands still hanging at your side, slowly rotate them so they point forward. Now open your fingers slightly. Continue to breathe deeply remaining aware of your posture standing tall.
This is a bold and confident posture – that from which we step out and into life with an openness of hope and expectation. It is also, though, a vulnerable posture. We are exposed, open to the slings and arrows that come with a life that is lived. Take a moment to sense that vulnerability.
Now take some steps. Focus, as you do, on the action of walking; how you lift your foot and place your heel then how the foot comes down on to the toes and propels us on to the next heel and toe action. Take a dozen or so steps concentrating on what you are doing and then come back to your seat and sit down.
Focus again on your breathing as you sit.
Hear these words from Psalm 61: 1 – 4
"Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings."
Jesus is our high tower, our refuge, our dwelling place and our shelter. Rest for a further time in the security of his presence; a presence that by the Holy Spirit is ever with you; a presence that will guide you and hold you whenever you step out and follow where he would lead.
CONTEMPLATION (15 minutes)
Following Jesus is an act of obedience but one which Jesus will not compel from us. Being able to step out with him, therefore, may be easier if we are fully confident in the strength and refuge of our relationship with Jesus. Adversity comes to us all and Jesus certainly never said the way ahead was without difficulty.
Although, a strong tower is static and we are reflecting on stepping out which is dynamic, the invitation of this time of contemplation is to allow the truth that Jesus is our strong tower to take deeper root in us. That however much things change around us God is the same yesterday, today and forever and in him we can find refuge, strength, courage and hope for any circumstances through which we may pass.
GOING DEEPER (25 minutes)
The invitation is to contemplate the healing at Bethesda. Read this short passage through several times so that you are familiar with it. Then in prayer imagine yourself in this story, be mindful of the setting and all the details. Picture these as you experience them from one of the perspectives of the story; as the invalid or as an observer or as Jesus. Hear the dialogue from that perspective.
Don’t try to analyse what you are experiencing as you pray. Also, don’t rush. If something catches your attention, linger there and be present to that.
John 5: 2- 8 (NIV)
"Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie -- the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked."
When you have finished praying the text, take some time then to reflect back over that time of prayer and what it may have revealed. You can ask yourself
· Was there a word or phrase that particularly struck me?
· What were my feelings? Peaceful? Loving? Trusting? Sad? Discouraged? Hopeful? Longing? What do these feelings say to me?
· How am I more aware of God’s presence?
· Is there some point to which it would be helpful to return in my next prayer period?
In a final prayer ask God for any grace you may need to step out where he would lead and give thanks for what he has revealed.