Let your attention stay with the Spirit at the heart of yourself
- Begin this session by taking a few moments to move more deeply into quiet by focussing on your own breathing. It’s important that you don’t try and change its rhythm or depth. All you have to do is notice it. Notice as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
- Be aware of the air being drawn into your lungs; and then aware, too, of it being returned to the atmosphere as you breathe out. Simply and calmly, pay attention now to your next half-dozen breaths.
- This time, as you breathe in, let your attention follow your breath into your chest. In Hebrew, the words for “breath” and “spirit”, as in the Holy Spirit, are the same, ruah. So imagine breathing in God’s Spirit, and letting the centre of yourself become flooded with the Spirit’s warmth and light.
- Now let your breathing continue, quietly in the background, but let your attention stay with the Spirit at the heart of yourself, just resting there in that place of quiet stillness. And in that place of quiet stillness, pay attention to the word of God as you return now to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany, try to imagine the scene.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
What would you wish to give thanks to God for?
- Shortly after the raising of Lazarus and before the Passover Jesus comes to dine with his close friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Martha and Mary want to show their deep gratitude to Jesus for raising their brother from the dead, so they prepare a banquet. What would you wish to give thanks to God for at this stage of the retreat?
- Try to imagine the scene. Typically, Martha serves the meal, Lazarus dines at table with Jesus (as is the Jewish custom), but Mary does something most unusual. Without a word, she lovingly anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil. By this act of sheer extravagance the house is filled with a wonderful fragrance.
- She appears to act on impulse, for she doesn’t have a towel or a cloth, and she has used so much ointment! Again, on impulse and regardless of the fact that it was considered scandalous for a woman to uncover her hair in public, she removes her head covering, unbinds her hair, and throws herself down at Jesus’ feet. Those present are taken aback. Mary has behaved in a startling and improper way, but she has also been very extravagant and wasteful. Judas voices their disapproval. What a pity the seal has been broken! What a shame the ointment is running all over the place! Have you ever criticised or disapproved of someone in this way?
Talk to God
Can you recall witnessing an act of extravagant love?
- Jesus replies to Mary’s generous gift with his own generosity of spirit. He does not chastise her. The ointment could certainly have been sold and the money given to the poor, but that was not what Mary wanted. She wanted to do something for Jesus. Mary openly shows her love for and gratitude to Jesus by anointing him while he is still alive. Can you recall witnessing an act of extravagant love? Like Mary, have you faced criticism for something you did?
- Look again at Jesus’ reaction. He receives this expression of love for what it is, and He moves to defend Mary. This is always true: not a single expression of love for Him goes unnoticed. It touches and moves Him, and He responds. Is this your experience?
- Think of a situation when you were in the spotlight. Is there something you could do today that clearly shows your faith in and love for the Lord? Speak to the Lord about how you could do this now.