Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lectio Divina: Learning an Ancient Way to Read the Bible

I'm not Catholic, and my grandmother was a Zoroastrian, but she taught me the rosary. From her, I learnt that there is one God and many ways of worshipping him. Some said she was hedging her bets. Whatever. Those moments with her teaching me the rosary were an oasis of peace in the chaos of my life. I still have her rosary. And though I don't use it, it is a reminder of those times with her and her openness to God.

Recently, I was challenged to choose one of the ways the Bible teaches about becoming closer to God and follow it for a month. I have no problems talking to God, but I would probably characterize my prayers as rants more than devotion. And so I chose Lectio Divina. I was given a sheet explaining what it is and how to do it, and the first thing that struck me was how much Sacred Space is like Lectio Divina. As I follow the notes each morning, I'm becoming more and more comfortable with this way of reading a passage in the Bible.

Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, comprises movements or stages. (Sacred Space is a guided version of this same movement of reading.) It's a slow chewing of the text and is the antithesis of North America's culture of busy-ness and action. It begins with silence.

Silencio
  • Silence the heart, letting your thoughts bubble to the surface and float away in silence.
  • Quiet our environment, turning off TV, radio; tuning out outside noises.
  • Deep breathing -- about 6 breaths per minute is good -- helps to quiet the mind and the body.
Lectio
  • Choose a text and read it slowly
  • Believe and say to God, "Lord, I am ready to be addressed by the text."
  • Address of God to you through a given saint of the church. This is Catholic in nature, and being as I have little knowledge or communion with the saints, makes no sense to me, and so I discard this part. However, I address Jesus.
Meditato
  • Choose text from the Bible. Perhaps randomly, perhaps from one of the books that you love the most, perhaps from the church service, perhaps from Scripture Union, or if you're doing this through Sacred Space, it will choose the text for you and give you inspiration if you're having trouble understanding the text.
  • Pray for the text to address you.
  • Chew on the text. Sounds a bit strange, I know, but just as you would chew on a particularly fresh and beautiful piece of bread, delighting in the nuances of flavour, so you would read a phrase, a word, a sentence that leaps out to you and reread it so as to suck out every nuance of meaning for you.
Oratio
  • Prayer
  • It will begin to bubble up in you as you chew on the text.
  • A prayer of confession, intercession (asking God to act on another's behalf), petition, thanksgiving, embracing prayer to God and receiving from God; or it can be ranting or lamenting too. God embraces all.
Contemplatio
  • Rest in what you've received.
  • Quiet stillness before God, waiting.
  • Imagine sitting in a favourite chair, with your feet up, in the presence of Christ. He's sitting there with you, looking at you; you're looking at him. Sometimes, joy will fill you; other times rest, tears, anger, sense of urgency to action.
Incarnatio
  • To make manifest what you've learned. Apply it.
  • Take what was learned in silence, reading, meditation, prayer, and lastly contemplation and then live differently.
  • Christ hears your prayer, and somehow he will shine through you more deeply.
  • The final result will always be redemptive if you trust him enough to do that work.
That is the question for my challenge. Will doing Lectio Divina each morning change me? Will it bring about new events in my life, events that will bless me (as opposed to curse me, which seems to have been the norm for so many years now)? Will it change how I see the past and the present and how I perceive the future? It's too early to tell. But one thing I know, I feel a sense of connection with the world and with a purpose of life when I spend even just 5 minutes in Lectio Divina.

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