Gospel Contemplation: Prepare the Way 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 what you need to prepare the way of the Lord.
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.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he 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.”
See in your imagination, the desert. Maybe you have the memory of a desert to draw on, one that you have visited or even lived in yourself – or perhaps your images come from TV, films, or photographs. Imagine the desert. The dry earth, the plants, shrubs, and even flowers that dot the landscape. The rocks, the animals and insects.
A desert is not empty. It may even have a river running through it, like the Jordan River. Can you imagine this river? What does it look like? What do you hear – the running water, desert animals and birds nearby? Is there a soft touch of breeze on your skin along with the warmth of the sun? What does this desert and river smell like?
Imagine yourself there, by the river. You have joined a crowd of people who left the city to walk to the river. What was this journey like? Who is with you? See the great crowd of people. What is it like to walk with them, talk with them, as you go to see this wild man everyone is talking about?
You arrive and you see him, John the Baptizer. What does he look like? See him in as much detail as is helpful for you – his camel hair clothes belted with leather, his face, his hair. How does he seem to you? He calls for repentance of sin and for baptism. And he proclaims God’s forgiveness! How do you respond to this news? What do you do?
John puts his call for repentance and baptism in the context of one who is to come – one who is greater than John who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John is preparing the way – the Lord is coming! As you stand there listening to John, surrounded by the crowd – in what way do you feel invited to prepare the way of the Lord in your life and in the world?
Close your prayer with a conversation. You might want to talk with Jesus about all of this, sharing your thoughts and feelings with him and listening to what he has to say in response. Or, you might consider talking with John the Baptist, or someone else who has accompanied you to the river.
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?