For those who know, in faith, that Scripture is God’s very own Word spoken to our hearts—why, otherwise, would we desire to draw so near to this burning bush?—it can be something of an agony to find that we are neither quickly ignited nor easily kept ablaze. And yet, we know that we must keep our place near the Word; we stay at our post, and we ask, we seek, we knock, trusting that the Divine Master will speak to us when we are ready to hear—indeed, that His Word, of which our mind is a far-distant echo, has the power to make us ready to hear what He will say.
Once, when meditating St. Mark’s account of the Agony in the Garden (Mk 14:32–42), I noticed that Jesus issues four sets of commands to his disciples, as indicated by the imperative verbs:
- v. 32: “Sit here . . .” (This is addressed to all the disciples.)
- v. 34: “Remain here, and watch [or keep awake].” (This is addressed to Peter, James, and John.)
- v. 38: “Watch and pray.” (This is addressed to Peter.)
- v. 42: “Rise . . . See.” (This seems to be addressed to Peter, James, and John.)
- “Sit here.” — Lectio
- “Remain/abide here, and keep awake.” — Meditatio
- “Keep awake and pray.” — Oratio
- “Rise . . . See.” — Contemplatio
The second step is a continuation of the first—you were already sitting here, now remain here, do not go away when you get distracted or tired or afraid or bored—and yet goes further: keep awake. Turn your mind actively, questioningly, to the word in front of you. Turn it over and over, bang your head against it and stay awake, alert for what it is trying to tell you.
The third step again continues the prior step (keep awake!—we can’t ever give up our vigilance and just go to sleep), but adds, tellingly: pray. Out of your abiding in the Lord’s word, surely a prayer will begin to rise in your heart. Let it rise, let it swim into your consciousness, into your own words, so that it can be the response you make, from your heart, to the Lord speaking to you. Pray—pray for yourself, for your loved ones, your enemies, your rulers, anyone and anything you have a desire to pray about or pray for. In so doing, you will not only stay awake, you will become an instrument by which the Lord spreads His wakefulness and his peace to others beyond yourself.
The fourth step is a surprise: Rise, the Lord says, and see. Here is where the Lord lifts us up by His own strength, for we cannot raise ourselves to His heights. Yet He commands us to rise, because if we intend to rise by His grace, He will raise us up, for He is gracious and He loves mankind. SEE, see what there is to see in His mysteries: He will begin to show them and share them with us by an unexpected insight, an unmerited immersion into His simple truth. This is the gift of contemplation, and it begins with our willingness to rise up and see.
In the garden, Jesus himself prays three times, using the same words—a model for us, as we wrestle with the angel of God, as we accept the chalice we must drink, as we discover that the Father’s will is our sustenance and our life.