Holy Week Lectio - Isaiah 25

Lectio Divina, or 'holy reading', is a way of prayerfully meditating on a written passage - usually from the Bible - and allowing it to soak into your heart and soul. To find out how to do Lectio Divina, then try this link.

If you already know, or if you have just returned from the link above, then I invite you to use the prayer method of lectio divina on the passage below from Isaiah. We usually associate Isaiah's prophecies with the Christmas story, because of the well-known verses that are read at that time. Well, here is one of Isaiah's prophesies that we can relate to the events of Holy Week.

May you be blessed as you read and meditate.

On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

From Isaiah 25

Here is this week's thought from one of our spiritual fathers or mothers...and I am continuing for two more weeks with The Imitation of Christ. If you have any favourite classics from which you would like to see passages in future, then please let me know in the comments.

This Christian classic was most probably written by the Medieval monk Thomas à Kempis in the fifteenth century. It is a devotional book encouraging a holy and prayerful lifestyle. This translation comes from The Cyber Library.

The Imitation of Christ
Book Two - The Interior Life

Chapter 8 - The intimate friendship of Jesus

When Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard. When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if He says only a word, it brings great consolation.

Did not Mary Magdalen rise at once from her weeping when Martha said to her: "The Master is come, and calleth for thee"?[John 11:28] Happy is the hour when Jesus calls one from tears to joy of spirit.

How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For what, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.

He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace.

It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep Him. Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and calm, and He will remain with you. You may quickly drive Him away and lose His grace, if you turn back to the outside world. And, if you drive Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go and whom will you then seek as a friend? You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake.

Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful. For Him and in Him you must love friends and foes alike, and pray to Him that all may know and love Him.

Never desire special praise or love, for that belongs to God alone Who has no equal. Never wish that anyone's affection be centered in you, nor let yourself be taken up with the love of anyone, but let Jesus be in you and in every good man. Be pure and free within, unentangled with any creature.

You must bring to God a clean and open heart if you wish to attend and see how sweet the Lord is. Truly you will never attain this happiness unless His grace prepares you and draws you on so that you may forsake all things to be united with Him alone.

When the grace of God comes to a man he can do all things, but when it leaves him he becomes poor and weak, abandoned, as it were, to affliction. Yet, in this condition he should not become dejected or despair. On the contrary, he should calmly await the will of God and bear whatever befalls him in praise of Jesus Christ, for after winter comes summer, after night, the day, and after the storm, a great calm.

This is the fourth in a Sunday series. Here are the others:
The Imitation of Christ - Book 1 Chapter 1
The Imitation of Christ - Book 1 Chapter 4
The Imitation of Christ - Book 1 Chapter 6

Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard always emphasised the need for commitment in Christians. He was a thorn in the side of the institutional church with his criticism of the church's way of producing stereotyped church-goers, rather than vibrant, faithful, committed believers.

This is one of his prayers which I have taken from this webpage.

Picture from www.allposters.co.uk
You Have Loved Us First

Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment.
But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.


Here is this week's thought from one of our spiritual fathers or mothers...

This Christian classic was most probably written by the Medieval monk Thomas à Kempis in the fifteenth century. It is a devotional book encouraging a holy and prayerful lifestyle. This translation comes from The Cyber Library.

The Imitation of Christ
Book One - Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul

Chapter 6 - Unbridled Affections

When a man desires a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at ease. A proud and avaricious man never rests, whereas he who is poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace. An unmortified man is quickly tempted and overcome in small, trifling evils; his spirit is weak, in a measure carnal and inclined to sensual things; he can hardly abstain from earthly desires. Hence it makes him sad to forego them; he is quick to anger if reproved. Yet if he satisfies his desires, remorse of conscience overwhelms him because he followed his passions and they did not lead to the peace he sought.

True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.

This is the third in a Sunday series. Here are the others:
The Imitation of Christ - Book 1 Chapter 1
The Imitation of Christ - Book 1 Chapter 4

In one of my church's Lenten Bible studies we were looking at some of the moments of conflict in Jesus' life, as depicted in the latter part of Mark's gospel. After the key turning point in the middle of the gospel - when the transfiguration (Mark 9.2-8) followed swiftly on from Peter's confession of Christ (Mark 8.27-30) - Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and comes into increasing conflict with the authorities.

However, it is not only the authorities that Jesus came into conflict with. His own disciples caused him headaches with their ongoing lack of understanding, and in the passage below we see Jesus in conflict with himself and with his destiny. This has echoes of the passage from Genesis where Jacob wrestles with God/an angel/himself.

There are different ways in which you might approach this passage. Two ways which are appropriate are:

  • Ignatian imaginative contemplation
  • Lectio Divina

Ignatian imaginative contemplation is particularly suited to passages from the gospels - in it you use your imagination to picture yourself in the scene. For a more detailed description of this prayer method please click here.

Lectio Divina, or 'holy reading', is a way of prayerfully meditating on a passage and allowing it to soak into your heart and soul. To find out how to do Lectio Divina, then try this link.

Now here is the passage. Decide first on how you will approach it and try to stay with your decision. If you wish to try both these tried-and-tested methods of prayer, then it is probably better to do them on different days or separated by a few hours.

May the Holy Spirit move within you as you pray.

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
Picture from www.allposters.co.uk
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Lenten Lectio 1
Lenten Lectio 2

Here is this week's thought from one of our spiritual fathers or mothers...

This Christian classic was most probably written by the Medieval monk Thomas à Kempis in the fifteenth century. It is a devotional book encouraging a holy and prayerful lifestyle. This translation comes from The Cyber Library.

The Imitation of Christ
Book One - Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul

Chapter 4 - Prudence in Action

Do not yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God's will. For very often, sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.

Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one's opinion, not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.

Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek the advice of your betters in preference to following your own inclinations.

A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives him experience in many things, for the more humble he is and the more subject to God, the wiser and the more at peace he will be in all things.

This is the second in a Sunday series. Here is the first:
The Imitation of Christ - Book 1 Chapter 1

I have just read this quote again recently, but now can't remember where! So to the person who brought it back to my attention - I give you thanks.

Pedro Arrupe was a Jesuit priest who died in 1991 and for many years was the Superior General of the Jesuit order - the Society of Jesus. He allied the Jesuits firmly with the fight against injustice, particularly in South America, and consequently was associated with the growth of liberation theology. Because of this he came in for criticism from the Vatican, although he was highly regarded by others, even being described as 'a second Ignatius'.

Reading this once more has made me realise that I have been neglecting to write about Ignatian spirituality in recent months, even though it is the style of spirituality that I relate most closely to. So - coming up - more on Ignatian prayer and lifestyle!

In the meantime, here is Pedro Arrupe's beautiful quote often called 'Fall in Love' or 'Falling in Love'. Sink yourself in this - is it true about your relationship with God?

Fall in Love

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

My apologies for the lack of posts recently - I have had some pressing family issues to deal with. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Each Sunday I hope to publish an extract from one of the Christian Classics. The Imitation of Christ is one of my favourites and so it will be my starting point for the next few weeks - I hope it might become a favourite of yours, too!

This Christian classic was most probably written by the Medieval monk Thomas à Kempis in the fifteenth century. Originally written in Latin, it was first translated into French and German, before being translated into English in 1502. It is a devotional book, written for a monastic audience and encouraging a holy and prayerful lifestyle. Some parts feel strange to our twenty-first century ears, but it has remained a favourite of Christians of all traditions through the centuries.

I hope that you will enjoy meditating on this spiritual gem. This translation comes from The Cyber Library but I have taken the liberty of inserting the Biblical references into the text to make it a smoother read.

The Imitation of Christ
Book One - Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul

From Chapter 1 - Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth

He who follows Me, walks not in darkness," says the Lord.[John 8:12] By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.

The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God.

This is the greatest wisdom - to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.

Wise words never date, do they?

Which part spoke most clearly to your heart?

Here is another helpful passage to reflect upon during Lent - and again I would like to suggest that you use the method of Lectio Divina. If you don't know what Lectio Divina is and would like a simple set of instructions, then try this. Otherwise, please read on...

Some people give up something for Lent. A smaller number actually fast (taking water only) for a significant period - for instance, one day each week. Fasting, when done sensibly and for the correct reasons, is a spiritual discipline that has been used for centuries. But, when done for the wrong reasons, it has little going for it. Here is Isaiah - telling the Israelites of approximately 700 BC what, in God's eyes, is the type of fasting that God would prefer to see - in comparison with their existing rituals.

Isaiah 58: 6-8

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly

If you would like to 'stand up and be counted' during Lent there are many ways you can do this. 
(My apologies that the following links are only UK links - perhaps you might add your local ones in the comments)
  • Try asking the manager of your local supermarket if he/she can stock more Fairtrade goods (perhaps check out what they do supply first!) 
  • Write a letter or send an email expressing your views about world trade justice - particularly in relation to tax avoidance by multi-national companies
  • Write to your local MP and other party candidates asking for details of their views on development goals
  • Set up a regular payment to your favourite development charity
  • Follow the Christian Aid weekly reflections through Lent to provide thoughts to take into your personal prayer times
But whatever you do or don't do, I wish you all a blessed and inspiring Lent.

Click here for Lenten Lectio 1

My previous post spoke of Jacob's experience at the Ford of Jabbok when he wrestled with a man/angel/God. One of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins refers to this episode from Genesis.

'Carrion Comfort' is an expression of Hopkins' determination not to succumb to despair. He battled against a gloomy and depressive nature through much of his adult life but died with the words 'I am so happy' on his lips. For me this poem seems to express an honest ambivalence about his calling to the monastic life and his personal struggle with suffering.

It speaks to me at a very deep level, because I too have a depressive nature and sometimes have ambivalent feelings about my own calling. I would be interested to hear other people's impressions of the poem and particularly whether you can relate to it and, if so, in what way.

Carrion Comfort

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist – slack they may be – these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! Lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

Gerard Manley Hopkins