Gospel Contemplation: The Baptism of the Lord
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the grace of whatever you need most right now.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
We return today to the River Jordan, to John who is preaching repentance and baptizing. Place yourself there. Can you see John in your imagination, with his camel-hair clothes and leather belt?
See the river as well, and its surroundings, as well as the crowd gathered ‘round.
Notice what kind of day it is – sunny or cloudy, warm or cool. Feel the breeze on your skin, the various scents in the air.
Hear the river as it flows through the landscape, the birds nearby.
Hear John as he talks about the one to come after him, and hear the crowd’s reaction.
Perhaps you’ve moved closer, even stepped into the shallows of the water. Feel the water running over your feet as you savor and soak in the scene.
What has drawn you to the river today? Are you curious to see what all the excitement is about, or maybe you want to be baptized?
You notice a man in his early thirties approach John, who startles to see him. They greet each other like family, though John seems deferential.
Move closer to the two and let the scene play out in your imagination - John baptizing Jesus. You can watch or you can take part in the interaction. Whatever happens, stay fully present in your imagination. If you get distracted, gently bring yourself back.
What have you thought about and felt as Jesus is baptized? As Jesus receives affirmation from God of his identity and vocation, what desires stir in you?
Stay with this scene for as long as you like. Before you close your prayer, spend a few moments in conversation with someone in the scene, like Jesus or John the Baptist, sharing your thoughts and feelings about your experience and listening to what they have to say in response.
And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?