Gospel Contemplation: Many Dwelling Places
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
“In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places.” In biblical times, and indeed in many places around the world today, the parental home was one that was continually expanded to make room when sons and daughters got married and started their own families. There was a place for everyone.
Some scholars identify “my father’s house” as heaven. Others see it in the here and now, as well as an eternal home.
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 deepening faith in Jesus and his 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.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Imagine that Jesus has simply come to you, where you are right now, in the place where you are praying. He is here with you. Take a moment to become aware of his presence with you now – however he might look, however he might be.
Jesus says to you, “Do not let you heart be troubled. Have faith in me.” How do you feel when you hear this?
Jesus says to you, “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” His father’s house... is the place where God lives. When you think about God’s dwelling place, what do you imagine? Is it heaven? Is it church? St. Ignatius speaks of God in all things – in everything I see on my daily walk, each bird, each blade of grass, each construction project, the poverty and the wealth, the sound of music from apartment windows, the smell of food cooking, the taste of fresh fruit, the feel of the breeze, in suffering and in joy, in the relationship of the couple walking hand-in-hand, in each and every human being. Where does God live? Can you imagine God’s dwelling place using your vision, your hearing, your sense of touch, taste, or smell, using your heart? What is it like?
In God’s house, Jesus has prepared a place for you. Jesus, with you right now, says to you, “You know the way to your dwelling place in the house of my father. You know it because you know me; my life and works have shown you the way.” Pause for a moment to take this in. Do you respond to Jesus in any way?
Your dwelling place in God’s house is a place of comfort, joy, and safety…. But above all, it is a place of loving relationship, with God, through Jesus Christ. What more do you feel about this place and what it is like?
Turn to Jesus now and share with him what you have imagined and experienced. Perhaps, like Thomas and Philip, you have questions for him. Share with him any invitations you feel, inspired by your imaginings of your dwelling place in God’s house. Spend a few moments in conversation with Jesus, 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?