Friday, February 4, 2011

Lectio Divina - Part 5

Why do we practice lectio divina?
          This brings us to our final question in the first part of our introductory study of lectio divina. God has given us an amazing gift, but why has He done so? What benefits are we to gain from His generosity? No one likes to see a gift he or she has given to a loved one shoved into a closet and forgotten! God is no different. He wants us to use His gift of lectio divina to reap, always with His help, of course, an abundant harvest of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Let us examine a few of the blessings of lectio divina and reflect briefly on the theological foundations supporting them.
          First, when we practice lectio divina, we grow both in our spiritual lives and in our appreciation of the Bible. Our faith, hope, and love expand. Our minds grow as we open the door to receive Christ, and our receptivity to God's Word increases. (48) In fact, many Fathers and theologians have noticed that if we practice lectio divina over an extended period of time, we actually, in some way, receive the mind of Christ and are able to begin to think as He thinks, to feel as He feels, to love as He loves. Our lives become “stamped with the character of Christ” and imbued with the Word of God (49) Further, our appreciation for the Scriptures themselves increases. Through our reading, we learn the forms and contexts of the Bible. In meditation, we see how it can speak to us, or rather how God can speak to us, through it. We learn to pray the text back to God in His words and our own, and if God so wills, the Scriptures lead us to the intimate union with Him that is contemplation. Essentially, the longer we spend in lectio divina, the more we will assimilate the Bible into our very beings, and over time a “biblical mentality” is formed within us. We learn to turn to the text in times of trouble or emotional upheaval, knowing that we will find Jesus present within it. We learn to rely on God's Word for comfort and conviction, for encouragement and correction. As Magrassi says, “The Word is so deeply assimilated that it becomes part of us, molding our thoughts, feelings and life.” (50) We become “Biblical” people, and the Scriptures permeates us and transforms our very souls.
          Ultimately, however, lectio divina is not about our own personal, human growth. It is about encountering God, entering into dialogue with Him, and meeting Him in the intimate communion of contemplatio. Our goal, as Masini insists, is “to establish a heart-to-heart contact with God.” (51) We encounter Him in His Word, as we have seen in our discussion of the theology of the Word. He speaks to us in our reading. He guides us in our meditation. We speak to Him in our prayer. We enter into a dialogue with Him. (52) We reach for Him. He touches our hearts. Lectio divina, then, becomes “reading done by two people, with God, heart-to-heart with Him.” (53) Our love for Him grows through this dialogue, and we learn to perceive His love in the depths of our souls. The Uncreated Being reaches down to wrap our little, insignificant created selves in the wonders of His love, and when the time is right, He swoops us up into contemplation, the final “stage” of lectio divina, in which we enter into profound communion with God within our hidden souls. We experience, as St. Jerome says, an “intimate colloquy” with God as we discover “in the bottom of the heart, in the most perfect silence...the face of the Beloved.” (54) Here, in the presence of God, we “anticipate the joy of heaven,” “suspended by the thread of contemplation” and “lifted up above the weight of human frailty.” (55) Here the “awestruck soul is rapt in is filled with is utterly speechless,” as it shares in untold, indescribable intimacy with the Blessed Trinity. (56) This is indeed the ultimately goal of lectio divina, this profound union, this spiritual marriage with God by means of His Word, incarnate in Jesus, inverbate in the Scriptures, and present in our hearts.
          Why does God wish to join Himself to us in such intimate communion? Very simply, He has created us for Himself. He has created us for eternal life with Him in Heaven, but we are broken, sinful creatures who must be rescued by God and restored to the divine life we lost through the fall of our first parents. Here we enter into the realm of soteriology, the theology of salvation. Here we meet the saving power of the Word of God. (57) Because the Word of God is Christ Himself, Who died and rose again to save us from our sins, and because Christ is the “Word abbreviated” in Scripture, we know that the Scriptures themselves have an inherent power, a power that St. Paul describes as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (58) As we read the Scriptures, meditate on them, and pray them in lectio divina, we come into contact with that power. We are transformed inwardly because of it. (59) We stretch upward to what Guigo calls “the perfection the blessed life.” (60) We are saved by God and made holy, rising up to Him, living in communion with Him, and preparing for the time when we will see Him face to face for all eternity.
          We have covered much ground in our reflections on the “why” of lectio divina, and we have soared up to the heights of Heaven in doing so, but now we must come back down to earth to discuss one more important reason to practice this ancient art. When, through our lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio, we have reached the highest realms of communion with God, when we have been transformed by Him, when we have received His mind, assimilated the Word, and become a “Biblical” person, we have one more thing we must do. We must share this gift with others, both through our verbal witness and in the way we live our lives. Our lectio divina should become a source of energy for us, giving us “an enhanced level of fervor and unselfishness in daily living.” (61) We must allow ourselves to be changed by the Word (and the words) we read, meditate, pray, and contemplate, to embrace God's will, to live His message each and every day, to reflect our union with God in our behavior, in our moral choices, in our words, in our attitudes, in our love. Our communion with God must flow over into our daily lives and into our relationships with other human beings. Only in this way will we truly complete the cycle of lectio divina.

          We have traveled a long way in our introduction to lectio divina. We have studied its definitions, examined it dimensions, and analyzed the theological foundations in which it is rooted. We have answered three key questions, “What is the proper subject matter for lectio divina?”; “Who performs lectio divina?”; and “Why do we practice lectio divina?” In the second half of this study, we will move on to more “practical” considerations and discuss the “how-to”s of this ancient practice. For now, let us pause to reflect upon one more aspect of lectio divina, namely, its complexity. Lectio divina is more than just a way to read, meditate, pray, and contemplate the Scriptures. It is a remarkable blend of human and divine, action and repose, thought and silence, word and deed, reason and faith. In lectio divina, we answer the call of Dei Verbum and immerse ourselves in the Scriptures; we reach up to God, and He reaches back to us, elevating us to Himself as we surrender to Him.

48. Ibid., 41.
49. Ibid., 14-16; LeClerq, 239; Casey, 39. 
50. Ibid., 111.
51. Masini, 3.
52. Ibid., 52;
53. Ibid., 58-59; Magrassi, 19.
54. Masini, 59.
55. Magrassi, 117.
56. Ibid., 118.
57. Ibid., 31-32.
58. Ibid., 32; see Romans 1:16.
59. Masini, 69.
60. Guigo II, 84.
61. Casey, 5.

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