Sunday, March 22, 2015

In the Court of the Gentiles: An Ignatian Contemplation

This Lent the RūacH creative worship committee at our church is experimenting with the spiritual discipline known as Ignatian Contemplation or “imaginative prayer.” Popularized by the Jesuit theologian Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), this method of praying transforms two-dimensional  words on a page into vivid scenes using all the senses, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit and of human imagination. Each week a volunteer writes a passage based on the lectionary Scripture reading and then leads the congregation in a guided meditation. If you’re curious, click here for ashort video introduction

Below is the Ignatian Contemplation I wrote for this Sunday. I had to do a bit of research in the architecture of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in order to place myself in the scene and describe it correctly. Below is one of the better illustrations I found. In the upper part you can see the open Court of the Gentiles--this is where the money-changers and animal-venders set up shop until (and probably after) Jesus chased them out. In the lower part the line indicating this part of the Court of Gentiles is pointing incorrectly, as it crosses the 4 to 5-foot wall called the sorek (or soreq) beyond which non-Jews could not pass on pain of death. Other illustrations put the wall closer to or farther from the central complex. Either way, this artificial division between God and the peoples of the world is a recurring theme in the New Testament, and I tried to capture some of that in my passage.

Temple-Herod.jpg (750×414)

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Today’s Scripture text comes from the Gospel of John, chapter twelve, verses 20-33, when Jesus predicts his death. Rather than hearing those words from the lectern, we will pray them imaginatively together. At this time you are invited to prepare yourself for the meditation by clearing your mind or by reading the text as printed in your bulletin.

Jesus Predicts His Death (John 12:20-33, NIV)
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.  

In imaginative prayer, we attempt to enter a scene from the Gospel--to put ourselves in that time and place through the use of our imaginations.  You are invited to close your eyes and allow your imagination to see the events and live the experience as it is recast in words.

Jerusalem is such a bustling place—especially with Passover in just a few days. Like so many others, you have come to the temple to worship. But being Greek, you must not venture beyond the Court of the Gentiles to the inner courtyard. Yesterday a member of your party pointed out to you the warning inscription in Greek and Latin on the balustrade: “No stranger is to enter within the partition wall and enclosure around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his ensuing death.” Since you can’t watch the sacrifices inside, you would like to see the one they call Jesus—a great teacher and healer who brought a man back to life!—but he is nowhere to be found.

Warning inscription from the Temple, unearthed by French archaeologist
Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau (1846-1923) in 1
871. This block of limestone is 22"x33", and the letters were originally painted in red.
Someone mentions they know a man who is related to a neighbor of one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip from Bethsaida. Inquiries are made. After a while a man with a Galilean accent comes up and introduces himself as Philip. The leader of your group asks, “Could you introduce us to the Rabbi?” Philip hems and haws and then excuses himself to find Andrew. After a much longer while, the two men return. Jesus is with them.

There are so many questions: “What are you doing in Jerusalem? How long will you stay here? Can you heal my brother back home? What do non-Jews have to do to be saved?” By now a crowd has recognized Jesus, and they jostle all around you. You try not to get distracted from what Jesus is saying, something about seeds dying and wheat growing, loving your life and losing it, but hating your life and keeping it. You wish the crowd would quiet down so you could concentrate on the riddles.

Jesus Walks in the Portico of Solomon (1886-1896), an opaque watercolor by
French painter 
James Tissot (1863-1902). What is also called "Solomon's Porch
runs across the lower left in the Temple illustration above; it was entered by the Golden Gate.
Jesus seems to be praying now, when suddenly you hear a terrible loud sound that comes from all around and reverberates in your chest. “What was that?” shouts someone. “It was thunder,” explains one. “No, an angel,” says another. “It said, ‘God’s name is glorified,’” replies a third. A murmur ripples through the throng of people, but Jesus appears unperturbed. He announces that the powers of the world will fall and he will rise. “I will draw all people to myself,” he says. “All people?” you ask yourself. Even Gentiles? Can you go where he is going?

Here ends the scene. However the time of imaginative prayer is not complete. You are invited to take time this coming week to reenter the scene. Look inside yourself, the onlooker, and consider what your emotions might have been. Do you love God as much as your love your earthly life? Is abundant life sufficient reward for a lifetime of servitude? Was the sound thunder, or was it God’s voice? What does it take to get your attention? Does “all” mean “all”? Whatever you are feeling, share it with God in prayer this week, and be open to hear God’s words as they come back to you.

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