Gospel Contemplation: Epiphany
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.
Who were the magi? The scripture does not say. It does not say if they were men or women. It does not say that they were kings, nor that they were wise. It doesn’t even say how many of them there were. These magi were people who observed the stars. The word may also have referred to magicians or sorcerers, who, from a Jewish perspective, drew their power from demons. The Epiphany, therefore, is the first manifestation (epiphany) of Jesus to the Gentiles. God’s salvation through Jesus Christ is offered to all, even those who may have had customs or practices that went against the law of God.
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 of Christ’s manifestation in your own life.
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.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel."
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage." After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
We begin our contemplation with the magi. Who are they? You might choose a traditional interpretation of kings or wise men or you might let the gaps in the scripture fire your imagination.
The magi have come from the East and are on a journey, a quest to find and pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews. You go with them.
What has this journey been like? Have you enjoyed traveling with the magi? Have you gotten to know them – has any one or two of them become a friend? Spend a few moments in your imagining what this journey has been like – the days traveling (walking riding an animal?), the places you spent the night (inns? Camping by the roadside?), the things you talked about along the way.
You have visited King Herod in Jerusalem, who seems troubled by your quest. After consulting the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, however, he has sent you on to Bethlehem, and that is where you are headed now, on the last leg of your search for the child.
As you travel with the magi, how does their quest become your own? What are you longing to find as you search for this newborn king?
A new excitement comes over the group as the magi observe the star seeming to lead the way to a particular dwelling in the town of Bethlehem. What do you notice about the house as you approach? How are you welcomed in?
Inside the home, the parents agree to the strange request to see their child. How does this moment unfold? What do you do? How does it all affect you?
Stay with this scene for as long as you like, interacting with the magi, with Joseph and Mary, and with little Jesus. Before you close your prayer, spend a few moments in conversation with someone in the scene or with God, sharing your thoughts and feelings about your experience and listening to what they have to say in response.
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?