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“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…Jesus says to her “Woman why are you weeping, Whom are you seeking? The Song of Songs expresses her love for Jesus.

“All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him. The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. “Have you seen the one my heart loves?” Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother’s house.”

 (Song of Songs 3, 1-4.)

 The Song of Songs is one of the most neglected books in the Hebrew Scriptures. The brief book is collection of physical love poems. It wasn’t until I connected the above passage with the sinner Mary Magdalen that I understood the resurrection in a different way, a more meaningful and personal one.

 Mary Magdalene, like Mary the sister of Lazarus who annointed Jesus at Bethany, exemplifies the love of God by the way in which she achingly searches for Jesus. “I held him and would not let him go,” says the Song of Songs. This is how we may understand God’s yearning for humanity. “Have you seen the one my heart loves?” The Risen Lord Jesus searches for us as our divine lover. Death could not hold him or extinguish his love for us. 

The first chapters of Genesis in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of creation has God ask Adam a question that echoes down the centuries. 

 “Adam where are you,” asks the Lord God after the man and woman have eaten of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. The story speaks of a profound truth that confronts all of us at sometime or other  in our lives.

Our Lord Jesus Christ echoes that question when he asks his disciples – “But Who do you say I am?”. The entire Scriptures in a variety of different ways ask that question. 

 We can dismiss the Old Testament as irrelevant, but without it we will not fathom the purposes of God. The Old Testament is a romance in which God and Israel dance, and promise, and separate and reconcile. The New Testament not only amplifies the question but also humanizes it in Jesus. 

 The Scriptures portray the love story between the Creator and his people. It’s the story in which God uses all possible means to endue us with his life. We’re no longer held by our past mistakes and sins, but stand at the threshold of a life where God makes all things new. The resurrection of Jesus exemplifies this truth in time, history and eternity.

 One fact stands out above all the rest in the accounts given by the four evangelists. The resurrection is a giving back of Jesus to his loved ones by God.

   The Crucified Risen Lord is given back to Peter, who denied him, to the disciples, who all forsook him and fled, and to the women who loyally followed him his ministry to Calvary and the tomb. The Holy Spirit gives us  the whole life and death of the Risen Lord. 

“Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” 

 

A blessed and joyous Easter to us all. Christ is Risen. 

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Fra Filippo Lippi’s painting of the Annunciation.

The Annunciation and the way into Contemplative Prayer

(Lectio Divina)

 

A very Ancient art, practiced at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina – a slow, contemplative praying of the Gospels which enables the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. We can study study the Gospels intellectually. However, hearing God speak to us through them can only be achieved through prayer.

 

There’s a remarkable painting of the Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi in the National Gallery. He painted it sometime around 1452. It is unusual in that the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, approaches her belly and not the ear as in many other artistic studies.

 

The seed of God’s Word is emitted as a stream of golden light from the dove’s beak. It bursts in a little splash of answering light where there is a small parting in her tunic.

 

Mary’s Womb, receiving God’s light through this aperture, is like an eye. Incidentally the 15th century science of the eye called the membranes of the eye around the opening of the pupil its tunic.

 

Mary herself is often compared to the burning bush – enkindled by God’s presence within her but not consumed. Lippi is suggesting to us that Mary’s womb has become an eye. Her whole being has become a looking, a seeing, and she is full of God’s light. This is the purpose of Contemplative prayer. The purpose of contemplative prayer is that our whole being might be enkindled with the light of God’s Holy Spirit.  

 

Here are is a suggestion as to how we might go about it.   

CHOOSE a text of a Gospel that you wish to meditate upon. I generally use one of the Gospel readings from the Daily Office. ( Matins or Evensong) The Sunday Eucharist is also a good source of readings. 

Allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; other have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. For some the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments. In past days monks often practiced contemplative prayer walking around the cloisters of their Abbey. You don’t always have to be seated.

Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightening or ecstasies. In lectio divina God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek Him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence.