John was a voice in the wilderness. Can you be still enough now to hear his voice in your own wilderness?
Most of us can enter more fully into prayer if we take a little time to become still. At the beginning of each sessions’ prayer, we will suggest a stillness exercise and lead you through it. For today, let’s take a few moments to use our breath to enter into stillness. Begin by noticing your breath, the sound of it, and the rhythm. No need to change the rate. Notice the air as it enters your body, fills your lungs, sustains your life and then departs. As you inhale, breathe in God’s love for you. As you exhale breath out anything you want to share with God, or let go of, and hand over to God. Repeat this for three deep breaths. John was a voice in the wilderness. Can you be still enough now to hear his voice in your own wilderness?
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, 'The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
“repent!” “turn around!” “begin again!”
John the Baptist is an unusual character, and we might find him somewhat off-putting at first glance. Someone who dresses as he does and who eats locusts and wild honey is probably not the kind of person you could imagine wanting to spend time with! But this is true of all great prophetic figures: they make us uncomfortable, they shake us out of our habitual way of seeing things and they force us to confront those parts of ourselves that we would prefer to ignore. And this is exactly what John’s message is: “repent!” “turn around!” “begin again!”
The writer and teacher Richard Rohr OFM explains that the word which is usually translated into English as “repent”, is a Greek word which really means “turn your mind around” or “change”. John wants us to change our way of looking at things, and see ourselves and the world in a different way. He wants us to see ourselves and the world in truth, as they really are, and not the way we imagine them, or would like them to be. And he wants this for a very good reason: it is because “the kingdom of heaven has come near”. God is about to come and live among us in the human form of Jesus, as one of us.
God is showing us that our human bodies and souls, imperfect though they may be, are loved by God to the point where God is happy to share them. God wants us to see things as God sees them. Later on, Jesus will try to really shake up people’s vision of reality. He will tell us (among other things) that God is like the father of the Prodigal Son, never uttering a word of blame, wanting only to celebrate a child’s return, loving that child in all his messiness and failure, full of joy that the child has come home again.
Talk to God
• What does a new beginning mean to me today, this moment, as I am making time to pray? I take a moment to reflect honestly on myself. Are there things about myself that I am afraid to face? What are they? Is there in my life a pattern of unhealthy behaviour, an addiction, a toxic relationship? I turn to God, who knows me better than I know myself, and who loves me deeply. I imagine Jesus standing here looking at me with love. I allow that love to touch me. I ask Jesus to help me face those things in myself that need to be brought into the light.
• I take a moment now to look at the people in my life who are close to me – my family, my friends. Is a new beginning possible in any of my relationships? Is there something that needs changing, that needs me to turn my mind around, to change how I see things in that relationship? I bring those I love, those with whom my life is intertwined, into this sacred space before God, and I talk to Jesus about my relationships, about the things that I can change and the things I can’t change. Sometimes a new beginning in a relationship means accepting that I cannot change another person.
• And now I turn to all those many people who touch my life every day but who are not part of my close circle of friends. I think of work colleagues, people who serve my needs in shops and cafés, homeless people who I pass every day on the street, refugees, travellers. What is my attitude to all of these people who, like me, are loved by God? Do I treat them with respect and courtesy? Do I judge them? Do I behave arrogantly towards them? Is there a new beginning possible here? I talk to Jesus about my attitude towards other people.
• Finally, I ask God to help me to accept myself. I ask God to help me realise how greatly I am loved. I ask for healing, for light, for hope and joy. I ask God to show me one small step that I can take today towards a new beginning. And then I just spend some quiet time listening to what God has to say to me.