Friday, December 13, 2013

A few comments on Lectio Divina - for ordinary, unattached lay people.

I normally use the readings from daily Mass.

My first introduction to prayer came about after a retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, shortly after my return to the Church a long time ago.  Later I learned more 'about' prayer through the practice of Teresian mental prayer.  St. Teresa speaks about taking a book to mental prayer, and it is there I see a connection to the traditional practice of the monastic prayer of Lectio Divina.  Monks and nuns are the experts in this field, so far be it from me to contradict, add anything, or claim to know more than they do.  In practice my personal spiritual exercises have become rather simple, and like I say, I'm no expert.  Yet after so many years, it has been my experience, that what seems to be a mysterious, lofty spiritual exercise or discipline, is in actual fact, very accessible and practicable for ordinary people.

A friend who recently entered a monastery wrote to me telling me of the excellent training he is receiving as regards Lection Divina, and he happened to mention his experience with the practice was so far rather numb, without any sense of connection.  Indiscreet as usual, I jumped in with my unasked for advice on the matter ...
What I think the author was trying to convey is that thinking too much and studying the word can be a substitute for Lectio.  It becomes a sort of Bible study.  In a way, that is how Magnificat presents Lectio.  It is not like that.  You read and listen - by faith you know the Lord speaks - Today!  He is actually present in the Word.  He is right there!  Listen with the heart, not trying to find a specific message or insight - we need to let the word speak, to reveal itself - we listen - we hear one word, one phrase, and we can think - 'I never noticed that before'.  or, 'I never heard it that way before'.  Then you look up - and there he is, gazing at you through the lattice of the sentences - you catch a glimpse.  But then he hides.  God is more humble than we are.
Not great advice, and spoken out of turn - because when a candidate for religious life is in 'training' no one save his spiritual fathers should interfere.

Besides, the 'practice' of prayer takes time - especially when we are surrounded by so many distractions.  It also takes some effort to accustom ourselves to sitting quietly.  St. Teresa writes about such difficulties.

That said, after reading a post for today on Fr. Mark's blog, I noticed something Father wrote on Lectio - which echoed what I had told my friend (which is why I decided to write this post, BTW):
The monk falls on his knees to seek the Face of Christ shining through the lattice–work of the sacred text. - Fr. Mark
I was happy to see it.  I'm not sure, but that image may be derived from Guigo the Carthusian, who wrote the most simple text on Lectio.  You see, the encounter with the Word - the Word of God - is a real encounter, it is like the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.  We eat the Word, we chew it, we ruminate it, we consume it - swallow it, we digest it without expelling it - it becomes part of us.  I may be wrong, but I can't help understand it in the same sense St. Teresa uses while explaining the prayer of recollection:
We should know and abide with the Person with Whom we are speaking, and not turn our backs upon Him; for that, it seems to me, is what we are doing when we talk to God and yet think of all kinds of vanity. The whole mischief comes from our not really grasping the fact that He is near us, and imagining Him far away -- so far, that we shall have to go to Heaven in order to find Him. How is it, Lord, that we do not look at Thy face, when it is so near us? - Way of Perfection 
(Remember, I'm just thinking out loud here.)

The Magnificat version of Lectio Divina

The actual prayer of Lectio Divina differs somewhat from the example Magnificat offers.  The Magnificat version, in my opinion, is an excellent example or means for the remote preparation of Lectio.  Perhaps studied the night before?  It makes for a useful guide to Lectio.  But in practice, Lectio is not Bible study or concordance - it is prayer, a lifting of the heart, a receiving, a communion, a listening, a conversation.  The Word acts - so it seems to me.  Returning to what Fr. Mark wrote:
Today the meditation of the Word of God, also known as lectio divina, is an indispensable element of the monastic life. It takes place first of all in the Oratory of the monastery where each monk in his choir stall applies himself to chant the psalms with understanding and to listen to the Word of God with the ear of the heart.  What begins anew each day in choir is prolonged in the solitude of each monk’s cell where, opening the Bible as one would open the door of the tabernacle, the monk falls on his knees to seek the Face of Christ shining through the lattice–work of the sacred text. He reads the text aloud, repeats it, allows it to become a prayer rising from his heart, and then falls silent in God to rest in Him and to adore Him. - Fr. Mark
Monastics may differ in their methods and practice, while remaining basically the same as regards the fundamentals.  Lay people can be even more idiosyncratic because they are not bound by any particular school of spirituality, canonical obligation nor horarium.  It seems to me freedom of spirit is essential for prayer, to allow the spirit to soar, and that we prepare for by docility to the Holy Spirit. 
"Any preparation we do on the text will aid in the actual lectio process.  For example, looking up references and footnotes; if your text is from the liturgy for the day, compare other texts from the same Mass., etc." - Outline on Monastic Lectio Novena,  c.1985.

Lectio is reading.  Lectio Divina is sacred reading.

Therefore we really should read and study the Scriptures.  Again, the example of the Magnificat version of Lectio Divina can be an excellent way to do that.  Yet for the period of prayer, which can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, Sacred reading is more concentrated, more focused - especially when we are well disposed or prepared.  Sometimes it can be flat, we feel cold, and we derive no satisfaction - I consider that a grace in itself.  Sometimes, even much later after the hour of prayer, we may encounter the text, or it comes to mind spontaneously, as a gentle breeze, or even a great light.  Never be discouraged, remembering it is the Holy Spirit who prays in us, for we do not know how to pray as we ought. 

Guigo the Carthusian breaks the practice down to four rungs upon a ladder:  Reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation.  (I've posted on this before here.)
Reading concerns the surface,
Lectio in cortice,

meditation concerns the depth
meditatio in adipe,

prayer concerns request for what is desired,
oratio in desiderii postulatione,

contemplation concerns delight in discovered sweetness.
contemplatio in adeptae dulcedinis delectatione. - "The Ladder of Monks"

Back to basics - for ordinary, unattached lay people.

Read with an open heart.

Ponder what you read.

Then whisper your heartfelt desire in prayer.

Remain in His presence - gratefully loving Him who loves you.

NB:  Technique and methods of prayer vary of course, and are useful to 'learn' how to pray, or to acquire the practice of prayer, I suppose, but prayer becomes very simple after that, and one doesn't measure or delineate the manner or order of it after long practice - I think it takes on its own rhythm, as it were. 

I also wanted to mention that the Liturgy of the Hours, the psalms are a rich depository for Lectio as well.  I also understand the rosary as a type of Lectio - but that may just be me.

Disclaimer:  Always follow the advice of your spiritual director and read the masters of the spiritual life on prayer.



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