What is the meaning of contemplation? When one contemplates on something, it means that he is examining it closely, exploring, inspecting and analysing, to see its depth.
Contemplation then is entering into the depth, either in the work of the thought or the work of the spirit.
It is reaching a type of
knowledge that is much higher than ordinary
knowledge, a knowledge that is above the senses, a knowledge that is new
to you and is a delight to your spirit. You find in it spiritual nourishment
Or contemplation is the opening of the mind, the heart and the spirit to receive the divine knowledge from above or from inside the person, from the Spirit of God that dwells in him ...
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contemplation, it is appropriate to have quietness and calmness, be-
ing far from noise that occupies the senses and thus occupies the mind and
keeps it from the work of the spirit in it. Contemplation becomes deeper
whenever the senses become free from outside disturbance and one is re-
leased from the control of his personal thoughts in order to receive what the
spirit grants. What helps contemplation is the desire to understand and con-
centration on the divine.
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There are many spheres for contemplation that we would like to discuss in detail ...
There is contemplation on
the Holy Bible or on hymns and tunes. Or
contemplation on the creation and nature or on heaven and the angels, or
on death, judgment and what follows. And there is contemplation on events
and the lives of the saints, on virtues generally and specifically, or on God’s
commandments. There is another type, and a more sublime one, of contem-
plation on God’s beautiful attributes ... such as contemplation on the unlimited, the truth and the grace ... However, the subjects for contemplation are
countless so that the spiritual person could contemplate on everything, even
the materials: trying to extract from them spiritualities that would benefit
FIELDS FOR CONTEMPLATION
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CONTEMPLATION ON THE HOLY BIBLE
words of divine inspiration are a spirit that is materialised into ex-
pressions. And it is not the body (that is, the expression) that will benefit
you but it is the spirit which is in it that gives life. (2 Cor 3:6). Therefore
the Lord said: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (Jn
The words are just a covering which encloses meanings within; like a shell that contains a pearl. The pearl is the spirit of the words. Do not be satisfied with the shell. Uncover it and take the pearl that is inside. This happens through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, as you say with the Psalmist: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps 119:18). Or as Elisha prayed for his disciple, Gehazi, that the Lord may open his eyes that he may see (2 Kings 6:17).
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Contemplation, then, is the
enlightenment of the mind by the Holy
that we may understand the meaning of the books within the Holy
Bible, delve into them and remove the shell so as to reveal the core. This is
what is meant by contemplating on the Bible, trying to discover the divine
mysteries that are present in the divine inspiration. Or as it was said about
the work of the Lord Jesus Christ with His Disciples after the Resurrection:
“And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures”
Truly, Lord, through Your light we see the light.
then need light from Your Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds, our
hearts and our thoughts, to understand what the Spirit says to the churches
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As for the effort done by
our thoughts, our hearts and our souls, we
consider it just as a request, asking the grace to open our minds to receive
what the Spirit pours in them ... Our job is to offer our minds to God, to fill
them up with depth and understanding from above... We open the door for
Him to come in and dine with us (Rev 3:20)... Yes, we dine with the Bread of
Life that comes down from heaven (Jn 6:33,35). We live by this bread and
by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4).
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So, in contemplation, the step taken by the mind is opening the door to the Spirit.
That is why some of the fathers consider contemplation, in its depth, something outside the human effort; considering it a gift from the Holy Spirit. Or as the Psalmist says: “I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (Ps 119:131).
Or contemplation is a period of study by the Holy Spirit. A training on how to take from the Spirit what He wants to give you.
It is not a matter of an effort by the mind to understand, or just a matter of depending on our intelligence and ability, as the Bible said, “And lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).
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The purely intellectual thinking that is void of the work of the Spirit does not produce contemplation... It might produce knowledge or philosophy, but not contemplation.
There is a difference between a scholar and a worshipper, between the one who studies and the one who contemplates, between the one who searches the books and the one who receives from the Spirit.
Contemplation is not just a thought. It is mixing the thought with the heart, then leaving the heart as a tool in the hand of the spirit. Then the spirit prays to take from the Spirit of God. And what the spirit takes is given to the mind through the heart.
that time, we realize the strength of the word because it takes strength
from the Spirit ... Then do not stop, my brother, at the level of the mind but
use the mind as means to reach the spirit. And the spirit will lead you to
God who has all treasures of knowledge, and He will give unto you ...
The one who reads on the surface may read much with no contempla-
As for the spiritual reader, the little he reads becomes a spring of contemplation that does not dry up.
does not concentrate on how much he reads, but rather he contem-
plates on what he reads... A word or an expression might attract him, so he
plunges into its depth and remains there. He says with the Psalmist: “I have
seen the consummation of all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly
broad” (Ps 119:96)... God may open his heart and in one word, he may see a
great treasure that will never end, no matter how much he takes from it. As
David the Prophet said in his prayers: “I rejoice at your word as one who finds
great treasure” (Ps 119:162).
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Would that you take one verse per day for contemplation, as a spiritual exercise.
Consider a verse from the Bible that may have left an effect on you during your reading. But do not stop at the limit of this effect. Memorize this verse and take it as a field for your thinking and contemplation, giving the Spirit of God a chance to grant you something through it ... Or take a specific story from the Bible as a field for your contemplation.
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God’s dealings with people is a very wide field for contemplation ...
God’s dealings with His saints, those whom He loved and those
who dearly loved Him and had an intimate relationship with Him, or even
God’s dealings with sinners who benefited from His long suffering and the
abundance of His gentleness and so they repented, or those whose hearts
Personalities in the Bible could also be used as a field for contemplation. ... And many are the books written on this topic...
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What would also help you to contemplate is having memorized many verses from the Bible.
you start contemplating, you will find these verses coming
back to you, each completing and complementing one another. Each verse
presenting you with a specific meaning. They all present to you a beautiful
bouquet of contemplations. In its co-ordination, we remember the saying of
“Comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13).
And so you occupy yourself during the day with spiritual thoughts...
thoughts will penetrate deep within you. And these pure thoughts
bring forth other pure thoughts. They also bring forth many feelings, emo-
tions and contemplations. Your heart becomes pure and the word of God
works in it, spreading within it spiritual contemplations ... These contem-
plations will also accompany you during prayer and will even cross your
mind while conversing with others. The listeners will notice depth that is
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And so you will benefit from contemplation by deepening your spiritual life.
It will not be limited to the mere thought or spiritual feeling, or inner satisfaction, or the pleasure of knowledge ... But it will develop to have its effect on your practical life ...
when you read, whether it be the Bible, or lives of the church
fathers, do not stop at the level of reading and contemplating only, but min-
gle what you read with your thoughts and your heart... Apply your con-
templations to your life and develop accordingly a program to follow that
will become a part of your relationship with God and with people...
Let your reading be accompanied by prayer ...
As said by David the
Prophet in the long Psalm: “Open my eyes, that
may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps 119:18) ... We see here that con-
templation needs divine uncovering ... Many a time one stands in a state of
amazement before what God uncovers for him ... He may read a chapter
from the Bible that he had read before, but new meanings are revealed that
may never have crossed his mind before in his previous readings...
The same thing could happen while reading or praying the Psalms. And even perhaps when he prays the same Psalm a few days later, then he will discover new meanings that he never discovered before...
God opens for him windows of light that will shine into his
enlightenment is not due to his intelligence or knowledge. But it is
a gift from God that He pours on him while praying, reading or contemplat-
ing. Prayer becomes a source of contemplation and is accompanied by con-
templation. Also contemplation becomes accompanied by prayer... The
meaning of verses becomes wider and unlimited and one experiences its
depth all the time ...
If you don’t have the gift of contemplation, read the contemplations of the saintly fathers.
A great saint like St John Chrysostom has a commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew, another commentary on the Gospel of St John and many other commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles and the fourteen Epistles of St Paul ... These books are full of explanations and contemplations. Follow him in the way he explains and contemplates and learn ...
great saint is St Augustine, who is very deep in his contempla-
tion and the delicacy of his style. He has written a book of contemplations
on the First Epistle of St John the Apostle, another book of contemplations on the Psalms as well as various sermons on many chapters of the Gospels. Read his works and learn...
Likewise with the rest of the works of the saints, especially those who are known for their contemplations and not only for the depth of their teachings ... such as Mar Ephram the Syrian, St Jacob El Sorougy, St Didymos the Blind and others. Read their works, benefit from them and consider them as a school in contemplation.
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Train yourself also to read the fathers who became famous in their symbolic contemplations on the Bible ...
You will find great depth in their writings, as they do not restrict themselves to the literary meaning of the verses of the Bible, but they go into the depth of the verses’ meaning...
symbolism would also help us in understanding the books
of prophecies such as the Song of Solomon ... and understanding such things
about the sacrifices, offerings and feasts; the laws concerning uncleanliness
and purification and other laws about which St Paul the Apostle said: “...
Are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:17).
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Practise contemplation because it occupies your mind with something good and beneficial, instead of leaving the thoughts to wander in wrong or trivial matters that are void of any benefit ...
certain that your mind can be active in contemplating, but it depends
on what you offer it for contemplation, whether it be good or bad, whether
it is offered from your heart and thoughts, or something from the world...
So it is better to contemplate on what is beneficial.
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You should know that the gift of contemplation is for all and not only for the saints, but even for the sinners...
There are many who have an
amazing ability to contemplate, but on
sin; one who loves a specific sin, how easy it is for him to wonder and con-
template on it deeply. It dominates his thoughts, his heart and his feelings
to the extent that it could influence his imagination. This is what some au-
thors, poets and novelists used to do. It is one type of contemplation, but
they used it on sin ...
As for the saints, their contemplations are on spiritual matters. Therefore, those who contemplate on sinful things, if they repent and direct this gift of contemplation to a spiritual path, the good effect will then show. We mention here, as an example, St Augustine who after his conversion lived a life of repentance and spiritual growth, to the extent that he recorded all his sins in his book entitled “The Confessions”.
Reading is one of the tools that produce contemplation...
We have spoken about reading the Holy Bible ... We also add to this the reading of spiritual books and the lives of the saints which needs from us more explanation.
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But remember always that contemplation makes you perceive and enjoy the depth of the subject.
keeps you from shallowness, offers you spiritual food that is good for
your inner being, grants you wisdom and makes you feel God’s work in you...
CONTEMPLATING ON NATURE
first verse in the Holy Bible that refers to contemplation is what was
said about our father Isaac, the son of Abraham: “And Isaac went out to medi-
tate in the field in the evening” (Gen 24:63). May be that introduces us to
another type of contemplation: which is contemplating on nature.
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It is not just contemplating on the beauty of nature but more on what it offers from spiritualities, according to the saying of the Psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps 19:1). And here we progress from nature to the greatness of God, its Creator, or to the love of God who cares for it. Listen to the poet singing:
Here is nature let us stop, O traveller...
So I may show you the wonders of the Creator.
the past, they used to study astronomy at the Theological College be-
cause of its wonderful, accurate system that proves the existence of an Al-
mighty Creator. Even one of the philosophers gave Him the title: “the Great-
If the materialistic heaven,
(i.e. the universe) is a great field for con-
templation, how much more is the Heaven, which is God’s throne (Mt 5:34).
How beautiful is what St John the Beloved saw in the Book of Revelation, especially when he said: “I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven” (Rev 4:1). Add to that what he described about the Heavenly Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God with people (Rev 21) ...
on heaven and on the heavenly no doubt elevates one’s
mind and heart much above the level of the substance and material things ...
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Contemplating on heaven also involves contemplation on the angels...
on all the Heavenly Hosts: consisting of the Cherubim and the Sera-
phim, the Lordships and the Powers, the angels and the archangels, the mul-
titude of thousands and ten thousands that are before the Divine Throne,
and the angels that are: “Ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who
will inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14). What is the nature of these angels? What
is their spirituality, their holiness, their love and their obedience? (Psalms
103, 104) What is their service for God and for the people? What would our
relationship with them be like in eternity? And what are their stories that
are mentioned in the Bible and in the lives of the saints ...? Here the thoughts
float in a spiritual realm...
If this type of contemplation is deep for us ...
Let us contemplate on the spirits of the saints who have departed ... As the Lord told us about our father Abraham and Lazarus the beggar being in his bosom. We contemplate here either on the saints who are in paradise with God (Lk 23:43) or those sent by God to do services on earth such as the Virgin St Mary, St George and others. And the levels of all these, and how one star differs from another star in glory (1 Cor 15:41)...
Then what about the resurrection, and the spiritual, celestial, and heavenly bodies? (1 Cor 15:42-50). And what about eternity and the forthcoming glory, the Kingdom, the levels of saints and their relationships and the Kingdom prepared for us in the everlasting delight.
If we cannot do this, let
us come back down to earth and contemplate
on the creation that surrounds us, as the Lord said: “Consider the lilies of the
field ... look at the birds of the air” (Mt 6:28,26). God does not mean sensuous
contemplation concerning their beauty, multiple colours, aroma and
dination ... But their elevation over the senses, to God who created them as
such that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them ...
Contemplation here leads to God’s wonderful care for all His creations. It
also leads to faith, concerning God’s care and depending on Him without
we contemplate on the great difference between natural flowers and
the artificial ones we will find that, no matter how much man masters their
making, they remain with no life, no aroma and no growth. Even their col-
ours could never compare to the natural ones, and this proves God’s won-
derful might. The same thing applies to the birds of the air in their multiple
kinds, shapes and tune of voice, characteristics, travels and contentment ...
You put next to that the Psalm’s saying: “Our soul has escaped as a bird from
the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped” (Ps 124:7).
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Truly how kind is God: “He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens that cry” (Ps 147:9).
The Lord even says: “Consider
the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap;
and God feeds them” (Lk 12:24). Yes, the black ravens that some consider as a
bad omen ... God gives such care to them. He even assigns them tasks: ravens used to feed Elijah during the famine (1 Kings 17:6) . And other ravens
used to bring food to St Paul the Hermit ... God sends them to His saints
and they obey and know how to carry out God’s will. And here you progress
a few steps in your thinking, to a level deeper than the shallow thought dur-
relationship with animals and birds is a long topic, but now, how-
ever, is not the time to talk about it, and contemplating on it is a longer topic...
God gave us the opportunity to contemplate on even the small in-
sects, so the Bible said: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways
and be wise” (Prov 6:6).
Truly, I have never seen in my life one ant that does nothing... It is continuously moving, continuously working, it never stops. Groups of ants give an amazing lesson in co-operation for whoever contemplates on their group work, carrying things that equal ten times their size. It is also a lesson in discipline, as they always walk in a long queue towards a fixed target. They have amazing communication with each other.
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As we learn lessons from contemplating on ants, we also learn from contemplating on bees.
Ahmed Shawky wrote a poem about bees where he said:
A planned Kingdom - by a commanding woman.
Who takes the control - among workers and
I wonder for workers - who appoint a Caesar to rule them.
The astonishing system under which lives the kingdom of bees is another field for deep contemplation... How God created the bee with such abilities and capacities... How it collects the nectar and makes it honey. How it makes food for the queens! How it builds amazing and well designed hives. How it flies far away in search of flowers and nectar! How wonderful! And what a wonderful Creator!!
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spiritual person is capable of making everything a field for con-
templation. He is also capable of extracting spiritual lessons from the ma-
that I once published in the book “Words of Spiritual Ben-
efit” a contemplation on spiritual lessons that we can derive from the River
Nile. And also from the mere soft drops of water which, if they continu-
ously fall on rock, shall engrave it... Also the banks of a river and how they
do not limit its freedom but protect it from spilling. So are God’s command-
ments and the guidance of the fathers. They do not limit one’s freedom but
protect him from doing wrong.
Likewise the human body is a wide field for contemplation, giving evidence to the greatness of the Creator.
enough to contemplate on the abilities of each member of the body
and the science of physiology. For example, the brain with all its amazing
centres for sight, hearing, movement and speech. If the blood does not reach
any of these centres, its job stops and the person becomes disabled ...
The same with the heart, which is the size of one’s fist, but it is a very precise system that one’s life depends on as it also depends on the brain. We will be short of time if we talk about all the systems of the human body and how they work harmoniously in an amazing balance. If any of these systems are damaged, not even all the scientific progress in the world would be able to return them to their natural condition...
Therefore in the Theological Colleges they studied medicine and astronomy to deepen their faith in the ability of God, the Creator...
these are the abilities of the body according to the creation of God the
Almighty, what would the contemplations on the abilities of the spirit be?!
But I would like to leave this point now to talk about another subject which
CONTEMPLATING ON EVENTS
By this, I mean the events that we experience daily which prove God’s wisdom and planning, His intervention and care ... whether in our present time or God’s hand in history... It is a matter that calls for deep contemplation. It is not spiritually good for us to casually pass by historical events without stopping for contemplation.
God’s hand was involved in
what happened to Arius, Diocletian and
Nero. God’s hand was with St Athanasius when the whole world stood
against him. God’s hand was with Yostina and Kebrianos the magician...
God’s hand was with the anchorite fathers in their solitude, guiding some of
the saints to where they lived so that they can record for us their life story
before their departure.
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God’s hand was in the
church history and in the secular history and
how they met and in the way everything was planned for good... Is history
just a record of knowledge and events? Or does it contain lessons and divin-
ity? I mean God’s Divine work in it. This also needs contemplation.
Does not God’s involvement with King Constantine call for contemplation and how it led him to issue the Milan Decree in 313 AD which granted freedom of religion? This event became a serious turning point in the history of Christianity and the history of religious persecutions.
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we deny that God’s hand was in the events that led to the change
in the destiny of Russia and the Soviet Union? It influenced the wiping out
of atheism that continued for seventy years. It concluded in an amazing speed
that was unexpected, which proves that God’s hand was involved...! Would
such an event pass us by without a stop for contemplation that would result
in the strengthening of our faith in God and His Divine intervention...? Only
He is the maker of wonders ...
Separating history from God is not a spiritual act. As for those who are spiritual, they contemplate on the hand of God in history.
We move to another subject in contemplation which is:
CONTEMPLATING ON PRAYER
Whether it be during personal prayers or in the prayers of the Holy Mass, the Psalms or in hymns and praises, whenever one starts prayer by contemplating on the Psalms and the segments of prayer, the more one’s prayer becomes deeper and with understanding ...
I remember publishing a book entitled “Lord, How?”, contemplating on Psalm 3 from the Morning Prayer ... And another book on Psalm 20 in the Third Hour Prayer, entitled “The Lord Hear Thee”, ... And another book of contemplations on some Psalms from the Ninth Hour Prayer ... I also published a book called “Contemplations on the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Psalm 51”. Would that we take the rest of the Psalms as a field for our contemplations and publish more books on them...
The fathers never recited the words of prayers in a shallow, fast manner. But as Mar Isaac said about their prayers:
“Because of the sweetness of the word in their mouths, it was not easy for them to leave it for another word.”
They used to pray with understanding, plunging to the depths of the meaning in contemplation that gave their prayers spirit, warmth and depth. In so doing, their feelings would become one with the words of prayer and the words uttered from their hearts. They never worried about the length or the amount of prayers but the contemplation and depth that they contain. And so Mar Isaac said to the one who wanted to rush through prayer to recite as many Psalms as possible:
If you are fought by this,
say: ‘I do not stand before God to count
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We say the same about the hymns and praises ... especially hymns that have the spirit of prayer such as “Your Mercies O Lord are abundant” ... and the chant “O my Lord Jesus Christ, my good Saviour” ... It is true that those who hurry in their prayers and chants lose their depth and contemplation. It turns from being a prayer to a mere recitation ...
If you don’t have the gift
of contemplation in prayer, I advise you to
read the contemplations of the fathers on the prayers and Psalms, and there
are many ...
We move here to another point in contemplation, which is:
CONTEMPLATING ON DEATH AND JUDGMENT
The Church teaches us in the “Prayer before sleeping” (the Twelfth Hour prayer) to pray saying:
I am about to stand before the Just Judge in fear because of my
numerous sins...”, and “If this life was everlasting and this world eternal, O
my soul, you would have a valid excuse. But if your wicked deeds and re-
pulsive evils are exposed before the Just Judge, what answer would you then
give, when you are lying on the bed of sin and fail to subject the body?!”
And in the Midnight
Prayer, the Church directs us to contemplate on
the end of the world and the second coming of Christ, the destiny of the
wise virgins and the foolish virgins ... and the necessity for spiritual watch-
CONTEMPLATING ON GOD’S ATTRIBUTES
attributes of God, blessed be His name, offer a deep subject for con-
templation, presented to us by the Liturgy of St Gregory and the concluding
prayer at the end of each hour in the Agpia: “Have mercy upon us, O God,
have mercy upon us”, as we contemplate on: “Christ, our good Lord, plen-
teous in patience, mercy and compassion, who loves the just and shows mercy
to all sinners” ... We find the same contemplation in the Trisagion, as we
say: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Is
Our contemplations on God’s attributes consist of two types: the attributes concerning His relationship to us and the attributes concerning Him only as a God such as the Eternal, the Unlimited, the Creator, the Almighty, the Everlasting ... They are all a field for deep contemplation...
OTHER SUBJECTS FOR CONTEMPLATION
You can contemplate on one of the virtues:
Such as contemplating on
wisdom and discretion, or on the virtue of
mercy, love and long suffering, or on prayer and your relationship with God.
You contemplate on the depth of the virtue, its causes inside the soul, ways
of expressing it ... and whatever relates to all that from the verses and sto-
ries of the Holy Bible.
You can contemplate on the Church Sacraments:
Such as Baptism and the
hidden grace that takes place in it and is ex-
plained by the verses of the Holy Bible ... or the holy Chrism (myron) and
the work of the Holy Spirit in it and in us ... And so forth with the rest of the
Sacraments, and the divine work that is concealed in the laying on of hands.
You can contemplate on God’s will and His good planning:
Or on the wondrous works
of God (Job 37:14) and His strong hands.
Or on God’s way and method of dealing with sinners and with saints. And
as David the Prophet says to the Lord: “I meditate on all Your works” (Ps 143:5).
CONTEMPLATING ON THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS
This is a beautiful subject that is very
beneficial. Contemplating on the
lives of the saints is a desirable food for the soul and I don’t want to cover it
hastily. I would rather specify for it an independent subject, God willing.