As part of my ministry I have had to, on occasions, not only prepare talks and sermons, but also more reflective pieces of writing for an meditation slot. To help me do this I have often used an Ignatian* method of imagining myself within the story or passage that is being used.
This is achieved by reading the passage fairly slowly two or three times and allowing one of the characters to come to your mind or to imagine yourself as an onlooker to the event. You need to be aware of all of your senses – sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. In this way you begin to ‘experience’ it – the smell of the market place; the cool of the temple; the scratchiness of the cloth against your bare legs; the expression and tone of the voices around you.
It can be a very powerful way of praying and one which can sometimes bring us face to face with Jesus himself, and whilst at first you may feel a little self-conscious, it is worth persisting with. The scripture can then be presented in a way that hopefully brings it fully ‘alive’
Meditation on John 8:1-8
What do you do when you find out that your husband doesn’t seem to want you anymore?
It’s bad enough that his work takes him away from home so much, but the truth is that even when he’s there he ignores the children and I might as well be invisible. It’s all work, work, work.
Ours was an arranged marriage you see. Perhaps I didn’t meet his expectations… perhaps he thinks I’m unattractive. Whatever excuse I give for my seeking solace with another man… the fact remains that it was wrong….I knew the risk I was taking
The shame of it though, to be dragged from the bedroom and hustled through the streets in front of our neighbours. That will set their heads wagging and their tongues clacking with the juiciest bit of gossip which will keep them satisfied for days… and all the while my lover hiding away in his house, as if it was nothing to do with him. I can imagine he’ll shrug his shoulder and look very sheepish when the priests chastise him in private
I was the one who wanted to just hide away but there was no chance of that now that they had practically paraded me through the streets, bringing me to the temple like a sacrifice
The outer courtyard seems unusually crowded at this time of morning…. Though I hardly dared to raise my eyes, I could sense that they were definitely looking for someone in particular
Why bring me here? Did they need someone to rubber stamp my conviction; to confirm my sin? Even I know that adultery according to the Law of Moses breaks one of the most basic of commandments and carries a death sentence. Surely though if they meant to carry it through they would officially need our Roman overlords to condemn me and they wouldn’t find a Roman here.
My head is swimming with thoughts too terrifying for me to comprehend. How I wished I’d never been so selfish and disobedient. I’m so sorry to have been the cause of so much disgrace. O God, please forgive me. But these supplications remained whirling around in my head in the grip of my fear
They’d obviously spotted who they were looking for as they pushed their way brusquely through the crowd. Through tear-stained eyelashes I saw a young man sitting quietly and silently, watching their approach without emotion, as if he was already expecting them
Some people jeered at this intrusion, but were roughly thrust aside. The sight of such a dishevelled, hopeless figure that I must have seemed, however, drew from them an expectant silence….unlike the thoughts in my head that swam in fearful waves.
I suddenly realised that I recognised this man. Although a stranger in Jerusalem, people had been talking about his teaching – not always orthodox but compelling with its sense of hope and truth; and the stories of miraculous healings taking place. He had been about to teach the gatherers in the temple courtyard, but I knew, that whilst he hadn’t been perturbed by this intrusion by the temple leaders, he too was wondering why they had brought me to him.
One of the Pharisees, a brash, haughty young man, stepped forward and seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery”.
I could feel myself flushing and hoped that my loosened hair covered the burning crimson of my cheeks. It just compounded my misery at my indiscretion. Oh God, please forgive me
“According to the Law as given to Moses, it is commanded that she be stoned. What do YOU say we should do?”
This didn’t quite seem to be the innocent question it appeared. It was almost rhetorical because they already knew what the answer should be under the Law. Were they expecting him to know more than them about such things?
The crowd seemed puzzled as well but remained silent, as if they too wanted to hear how he would answer. He made a slight movement forward, but instead of speaking bent over and started to trace words on the ground with his finger. I wondered if he was going to illustrate some important point but the hard baked ground of the temple courtyard was unyielding to the brush of his fingertips.
Even as I fell to my knees, he made no movement, except to continue to write his invisible answer on the earth. The scribes and Pharisees appeared to become annoyed at his lack of
response and tried to press him for an answer, with querulous voices they began to shout over each other that he should respond. Surely he could hear the angry tone in their demands, why didn’t he say anything? Was he afraid that if agreed with them and condoned their action under the Law then he would be held responsible by the Roman authorities for allowing it to happen, or if he disagreed, then he would be seen to break one of God’s holy sacred laws?
As quietly as he had bent down he straightened himself, and they fell silent. His voice was soft but carried very clearly to everyone now waiting expectantly. What was to be his judgement?
“Let anyone among you, who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her”
I flinched involuntarily, almost immediately expecting a deadly hail of flint hard missiles to break my bones and flesh. Surely, my sin was too great to expect nothing less than this brutal punishment. Oh God, please forgive me.
As my hands covered my head I saw his sandals still in front of me as he bent down again to continue his imperceptible script.
Surely Nathanial, the temple elder, with his pious, unflinching observations of all 613 temple laws, would be the first to throw his stone….but no….not one rock was cast.
I remained for what seemed an eternity submissive to my fate and the will of God. His words broke into my fervent prayers
“Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?” he gently asked
Cautiously raising my head I realised that there was no-one left apart from the two of us. The whole courtyard was deserted, yet there was a deep sense of calm both in the air and my own heart.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” His voice was compassionate, yet his non-judgemental words were offered with authority and I felt that it was possible he would have been the only one who would have had the true right to throw a stone.
As I returned home I offered prayers of gratitude and praise to our God, for his mercy and grace to such sinful people as myself. I wept that my life had been spared and felt my heart was irrevocably changed by the actions of this incredible man. My sins were forgiven, but surely someone was going to have to pay one day…
*If you would like to find out more about Ignatian Meditation you may like to read Margaret Silf’s book, Landmarks, Exploration of Ignatian Spirituality, published by Darton.Longman+Todd