Gospel Contemplation: Jesus Walks on Water
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.
Background to the text
This passage picks up from where we left off last week. Last Sunday, Jesus had heard of the death of John the Baptist and had sought solitude, but the crowds followed him. At the beginning of this week’s reading Jesus dismisses the crowd and finally gets the solitude for prayer he’s been seeking.
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 to encounter Jesus in a new way.
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.
After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
If you prayed with last week’s guided contemplation, pick up where you left off, with that same Sea of Galilee, that same shoreline. If not, imagine this grand body of water in the Holy Land. If you’ve never seen it yourself, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it looks like in your imagination is fine. See the water, the shoreline. Hear the crowd that is still present, the birds circling overhead. Feel the breeze off the water. It is late in the day. See and feel yourself there, among the disciples.
The disciples have finished feeding the multitude with the loaves and fishes that Jesus blessed. You can see that he is tired -- and grieving for his cousin John who has been executed. He insists that you all get in the boat to cross to the other side, while he finally send the crowd home and takes some time to pray alone.
And so you go. Do you look back at Jesus as he walks off alone? What do you wonder about him?
Crossing in the boat, the wind is against you and the waves are choppy. What is it like for you in the boat?
It’s a long night, and near dawn you see something out on the water. It’s coming toward you. This is strange and upsetting. As it draws closer, it starts to look like a person walking on the water. And closer still, the person calls out, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” It can only be Jesus. What does this realization mean for you? How does it affect you?
Peter asks Jesus to call him to himself, and Jesus does. Watch as Peter gets out of the boat and goes to him, but falters. And Jesus asks, “Why did you doubt?”
What is happening with you right now – do you too wish Jesus to call you to him? Or do you wish to reflect on what has happened with Peter? Or something else? Let the moment develop as you feel led.
As Jesus returns to the boat, the disciples do him homage as the Son of God. They have finally really recognized him. And you? Do you see anything new in Jesus?
Take some time to talk with Jesus about what you have felt and experienced. Talk with him as with a friend, sharing and listening. 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?