Experience the Holy Spirit in Contemplation | 07

AUTHOR: Holy Scripture

READ:

Read or listen to Revelation 1:9–20.

I, John, your brother and partner in the affliction, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame. His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

How do you think that contemplating Jesus sustained John while exiled in Patmos? How does staring at Jesus in moments of isolation sustain you?

The written Scripture is CSB, however, the audio Scripture is ESV.

FOCUS:

Read or listen to the blog. What is one thing you learned about what it means to lovingly gaze on Jesus? How can you incorporate what you learned into your daily routines? For example, I will pay attention to the beauty in nature around me, and acknowledge that it is from the hand of God.

Contemplating the Present in Light of the Future

by Kelli Sallman

 

Haven’t we all felt isolated and lonely at one time or another? Sometimes our present circumstances contract around us like a prison. Protracted illness or grief, of course, both isolate. But so can job loss, new retirement from a beloved career, remote work, moving cities, or staying home with a newborn.

Sometimes our harshest sense of loneliness arrives in the midst of a crowd, when we feel we cannot be who we really are. Being the rookie at work, a leader expected to have no chinks in her armor, a person of color in a culturally white space, or someone working in a field largely populated by the other sex—all these circumstances, whether voluntary or otherwise, can create an experience of exile.

And then there’s the kind of exile the Apostle John experienced: persecution for preaching Christ. Banished by the Roman Empire to the desolate volcanic island of Patmos at an advanced age, John must have missed the camaraderie with the churches of Asia Minor he often visited. Perhaps he felt put out to pasture, useless, constrained. With aching bones and old teeth that made it hard to chew his meager meals, he waited apart from those he loved.

 

What the Future Holds

But John was not alone, and he was not apart from the one who loved him. On a Sunday, praying and contemplating God in the Spirit, John received “the revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). As Daniel had many hundreds of years before, John saw the Son of Man in a vision. John’s Son of Man stood amid seven golden lampstands representing the seven churches throughout Asia Minor (Revelation 1:12–13; 20). He wore the robe, sash, and glory of Daniel’s vision on the banks of the Tigris River (Daniel 10:4–6), perhaps representing the Son of Man’s role both as king and priest, tending to his church, as suggested by G. K. Beale in his commentary on the book of Revelation . His hair was white as wool and snow, like that of the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s earlier vision (Daniel 7:9–10), who sat on his throne to judge the empires of the world. What a sight that must have been: our humble Savior enrobed in all his glory as our king, priest, and judge.

Through this extended vision, the Lord offered John nothing less than foresight of God’s final victory, the coming of his kingdom—heaven on earth (Revelation 21–22). He would continue to suffer, but it would all be for a purpose—for an eternity when suffering will be no more and all the redeemed will dwell securely in God’s presence, face to face.

God meant this vision not just for John but for his whole church, his kingdom of priests, all who have been set free and who thirst for God. Dare we claim it only intellectually? Yes, just knowing what God has said will do us some good. But we develop hope by trusting his purpose and promises for us. We reach deeper into that hope through the discipline of contemplation, through which we embody hope and grasp its reality now with the help of a holy imagination.

 

Holy Imagination

What is a “holy imagination”? It’s using our amazing capacity to conceive of our world beyond its immediate reality to place ourselves in the midst of God’s scriptural promises. Does Scripture promise that God loves me? Then in contemplation, I can look on Jesus and recognize the love on his face for me. In that mysterious imaginative process, my body and incredible God-created brain feel that love.

For most of the past two years, I endured a long illness that continually stripped away ability and work and self-identity. It was a difficult season of loss and letting go. The present was difficult, and the immediate future held no promise of relief or improvement. Doctors were stumped. Perhaps I wasn’t sinking into the ocean depths like Jonah tossed from the boat, but still, “as my life was fading away, I remembered the Lord” (Jonah 2:7).

As I contemplated my situation, the Lord turned my attention to him and his sufferings. I entered the words of Scripture with a holy imagination and felt deeply how Jesus knew in his own body the pain in mine. But the Lord did not leave me with merely that epiphany. As I wrote in another essay at the time, he showed me that “to move toward acceptance in sorrow means leaning in, embracing my future reality now, a reality I don’t fully know, but know is true.”

As I continued to focus on him, his time in the tomb, and his resurrection, I remembered his promise to raise my perishable body into an imperishable one. I allowed my imagination to pan through a scene of me lying beside him in the tomb, waiting in the dark for him to act, then him rising and grabbing my hand to raise me from the grave along with him. The promise of resurrection—and all its intellectual doctrines and explanations—became more real to me in that moment as my body and mind rehearsed those feelings both physical and emotional of him raising me from the dead. What had I to fear in the dark waiting if Jesus was coming for me like that, to make me whole?

 

Cosmic Significance

What present reality do you need to present to God with a holy imagination? For reasons perhaps only the Lord knows, my body has begun repairing itself these past few months. But my spirit found healing long before then, when I imagined myself in that grave with the Lord and understood that even there—useless, unproductive, needing much help—I held significance to the one beside me.

Are you isolated or lonely, in exile from yourself or others for one reason or another? Monastic writer David Steindl-Rast recently reminded me that even when we pray alone in our closet, we are connected to the body of Christ and the Spirit. In our prayer closet, we sit beside countless millions who also turn their eyes and hearts and thoughts to the Lord. Do you see them now all around you? You will see them in the future, people of every tribe, tongue, and nation standing before the throne.

The more we understand God’s nature, glory, and mystery, the more certain we are of our expectant hope. The more we can sense that God will use our present circumstances in his cosmic strategy, the more we can know we are on mission no matter what we must endure. Though we may be alone, we are not abandoned. If we are in the body, we are called. And if we are called, we have a cosmic significance even while in chains.

Works Cited

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Stendl-Rast, David. “Prayers and Prayerfulness,” excerpted from Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. New York: Paulist Press, 1984. In On Patience. Dallas: Art House Dallas.

PRAY:

Jesus, in the midst of my loneliness, help me see you and experience your nearness.

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Week 7 of 8 Contemplation

4 Comments

  1. Chelsa Jensen

    Hi Kelli,
    You are an extraordinary writer. My sabbath today created time for the gift of your work and voice over recording. Thank you my sister and beloved friend.
    -Chelsa

    Reply
    • Kelli Sallman

      Chelsa, I’m so glad this work ministered to you. Writing it was a blessing to me too!

      Reply
  2. Chip Shockey

    Beautiful, insightful post! Loneliness and isolation strikes everyone, the lives most live of “quiet desperation”. Thank you for sharing your journey and hopeful relief in Jesus!

    Reply
    • Kelli Sallman

      My pleasure! I agree—we are all in that space of loneliness sometimes. “Quiet desperation” is a great way of putting it.

      Reply

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