This past Tuesday I had a profound life-changing experience. My friend Betsy, urged me to join her in attending the last of the summer’s meditation group sessions offered by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Ipswich, Massachusetts (https://ndspiritualitycenter.org/)
The last of the series was focused on Ignatian Contemplation, a way of studying the Gospel by taking a passage, closing your eyes, and putting yourself there, in that place and time. (For more information, you may find this link helpful: http://bit.ly/2HqECRe).
It was an ecumenical gathering, although most of those in attendance were Catholic.
Whereas meditation is a quiet reflection, contemplation is active. After prayer and introduction to the practice, we were given Mark 5:25-34, the story of the hemorrhaging woman who had suffered from this condition for 12 years. After silently reading the passages, we were asked to close our eyes for roughly 20-30 minutes and put ourselves in that time and place. We could be an onlooker or one of the players. No rules.
It took a while but I found myself drawn to the woman. I pictured her days, awakening with horrific cramps and finding once again that her bedding was bloody as well as her clothing. She would get up with cramps and exhausted, would wash the bloody items, dress in swatches of cloth that would hopefully hold the blood and keep it from leaking through her outer clothing. Then she would hang her multiple pieces of washed linen outside to dry.
I thought that oh my, the neighbors would see the abundance of drying linens and know that she bled, that she was unclean. I thought that everyone in her neighborhood knew she was unclean and wondered if she even got out much. I felt loneliness for her. I did not know if she had anyone in her life who cared to get her groceries or help her; I doubted that anyone did this for her, so I thought of her shame as she went outside her house to get the most basic of needs.
She knew when Jesus was in the area that if she could simply touch his garment, she would be healed. In God’s perfect timing, I felt, Jesus was in her neighborhood allowing this weakened woman to get to Him. I doubted that she could have traveled far due to her condition. Focusing on the touch, she succeeded and immediately the cramping stopped and she could feel that soaking flow subside. She knew she was healed.
And then more embarrassment. Jesus stopped and asked who had touched Him.
The question I found myself stuck on was, was her healing only complete when she confessed that it was she who touched Him? She, who was frightened that He called her out. She who bravely, in my opinion, confessed her need and her approach. Could I have done that? And was that integral in her full healing?
After our contemplation, we were asked to gently return to the here and now. The leader encouraged anyone who wanted to tell of their experience to do so. A couple of us spoke. I told of my experience and my question regarding the woman’s confession.
The next woman who spoke had found herself in the position of one of the disciples. Protect the Lord from being touched at all costs! Protect the Lord, move along Lord, this woman is unclean! Leviticus! Then her heart as a disciple softened as she recognized that her Lord was not there to enforce the law. A wave of understanding of the purpose of a new chapter that Jesus was trying to impress upon people hit her.
There were a few others who spoke up, but it was the woman who found herself focusing on the last verses, in which Jesus insists upon knowing who touched Him, who helped me come full circle in understanding those last verses. Jesus was no dummy. He knew who had touched Him. After asking, he continued to search among the faces and insist on finding this person.
With her coming forward, HE ACKNOWLEDGED HER, HE SAW HER, and He claimed her as “my daughter.” So, beyond the physical healing, He released her from the stigma that had haunted and marked her for 12 years. He revealed to the masses that He saw her.
It was amazing. How many times have I read that passage? Oh yes, I truly believed in her faith, it made perfect sense that she could be healed by His touch. But I never was part of the scene.
I called a Christian friend, who had been a co-worker of mine, to tell him about Ignatian Contemplation. He was surprised that I had never done this before. Without knowing what it was called, he conducts all his devotions in this manner. He spoke specifically about the passage in Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. He has, in turn, become each of the
players. The man robbed and near death on the ground; each of the passers-by (the priest and the Levite—what were they thinking?). The Samaritan. He even wondered about the reaction and response of the innkeeper where the Samaritan took the half-dead man to recover while paying for his lodging. Hmmm.
How could I have missed this method of devotion?
Although this method of contemplation focuses on studying the Gospel, I decided to take it further. The following morning I studied my devotion in Acts when Paul is shipwrecked and had only the planks of the broken ship to get to shore. I imagined the fear of the prisoners, then the fear of the two-week storm when the land was in sight but there was no way to get it. I dove deeper into understanding this passage. The guards were frightened, for if a prisoner got away— well the punishment to the guards was death (I sought information on this from my Bible commentary), so heck, let’s make sure that if the going gets rough, we kill all the prisoners. It is one way to ensure that they don’t escape.
I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Harold Busséll decades ago. Recently I decided to re-read his book, “Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians”. Although no longer in print, I urge every Christian to grab a copy (they are available used https://amzn.to/346kz4i) and read it.
This book is rich in content for all Christians. In it, Dr. Busséll addresses the merging of the sacred and the secular:
Most cults, like many Evangelicals, divide time and activities into two categories: the sacred and the secular. Michael Griffiths describes this situation “Thus, part of our life is spent spiritually at innumerable meetings, in personal prayer and Bible reading, in public worship and in ‘profitable’ conversation with men about their souls. The rest of our time, however, must, perforce be spent in a less worthy way on ‘the things of this world’— eating, drinking, sleeping, working, playing being with our families, digging in the garden, having holidays and so forth “
We overlook the scriptural teaching that God has ordained all these “secular” activities and therefore must have some intention in them. Scripture regards everything we do as part of our Christian walk. Dividing existence into narrow, compact divisions dissolves the practical delights of a satisfied, effective, and fulfilled life in Jesus Christ. The instruction of the Scripture is remarkably vivid and unclouded and cannot easily be spiritualized. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do do it all for the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)*
In pondering the merging of the sacred and the secular with Ignatian Contemplation as well as the issues of today, I must become the immigrant, the person of color, the poor, the sick, the uneducated, the disenfranchised. I must move out of my position of privilege and put myself in the situation of those around me and immerse myself in understanding as well as acknowledge and confess my sins.
*Busséll, Harold L. Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians. Zondervan Pub. House, 1983, p. 36.