Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lectio Divina - Part 8

How should we practice lectio divina?
           We will now enter into what many people will probably consider the “most useful” part of this introduction to lectio divina, the section that explains the “how-to” of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. We will begin with a brief review. As we saw in part 1, the twelfth-century monk Guigo II describes lectio divina as a ladder that lifts us up to heaven. “It's lower end rests upon the earth,” he explains, “but its top pierces the clouds and touches heavenly secrets.” (14) The ladder consists of four steps (or dimensions or times, etc.): reading or lectio, which is “the careful study of the Scriptures”; meditation or meditatio, which is “the busy application of the mind to seek with the help of one's own reason for the knowledge of hidden truth”; prayer or oratio, which is “the heart's devoted turning to God to drive away evil and obtain what is good”; and contemplation or contemplatio, which is “when the mind is in some sort lifted up to God and held above itself” in an intimate, silent, joyful union with God. (15) Each step or dimension flows smoothly into the next, back and forth as the Holy Spirit works within us, guiding us and leading us into the truth. (16) Once again, we must stress that these dimensions are never an end in themselves; the goal of lectio divina is meeting God and establishing a relationship with Him by spending time immersed in His Word, the Sacred Scriptures.

          Because we are seeking to build, to deepen, and to enrich our relationship with God (keeping firmly in mind that the entire process is initiated by Him and is His gift to us), we must approach lectio divina with a proper set of dispositions that will help us prepare ourselves for an encounter with God in our reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. These include receptivity (or openness), humility, faith, reverence, recollection (or mindfulness), purity of heart, desire, commitment (or fidelity), discipline, perseverance, and love. (17) We shall examine each of these briefly, acknowledging that some of them overlap and that these are only a few of the attitudes that will help us open ourselves to the Blessed Trinity and receive the message the Scriptures hold for us.
          Before we read our very first word of lectio, we must cultivate within our hearts and minds a receptivity or openness to the words before us. We must put aside our presuppositions, so as not to impose them on the Bible, and allow the text to speak to us on its own terms. We must make ourselves vulnerable to the Scriptures, embracing a willingness to be led, challenged, and changed by God through His Word. This is absolutely essential, for if we begin our reading having already determined the message we wish to hear, we will perceive exactly that rather than what God wishes to say. (18) In other words, we must train ourselves in humility. Magrassi tells us, “The Word of God is too great, and we are too small to approach it with presumption or intellectual pride.” (19) We cannot open our Bibles with the arrogant certainty that we can master them, or even understand more than the tiniest part of them, with our own powers of reason. We should, instead, imitate God, Who humbled Himself in becoming Man and in using our “poor human language” to communicate with us. (20) Indeed, before we even open the Scriptures, we should be aware that they are truly the Word of God in human words. We must have faith that the text we read is not merely a human document but is the inspired and inerrant product of the Holy Spirit. (21) The Bible is both human and divine, but many today simply ignore its divine aspects to focus exclusively on its humanity. In lectio divina, however, we must approach the Scriptures with the “gaze of faith,” believing firmly in the divine realities mediated by the text and trusting that our loving God is waiting to speak to us as we apply ourselves to His Word. (22) Our faith in the Scriptural text as the Word of God leads us naturally to disposition of reverence. Casey defines reverence as “the sobriety of spirit that stems from an experience of the otherness of God which makes us want to subdue self, remain silent, and to submit.” (23) With a proper attitude of reverence, we recognize the mystery of God revealed in His Word, and we stand in awe before Him. Further, when we discern the presence of God in the Bible, we will see the need for our next two dispositions, recollection and purity of heart. The former refers to our stance of full attention before the Word of God. (24) We strive to be wholly present and completely mindful of what we are doing, and of Whom we are encountering, as we read, meditate, and pray the Scriptures. (25) We also make a concerted effort to purify our hearts before and as we practice lectio divina; we attempt to let go of anything that might prevent us from focusing wholly on God. (26) We set aside our worries, we repent of our sins, we renounce our worldly desires, and we concentrate “purely” on our relationship with the Lord. (27) As we do so, our desire for God increases, as does our “hunger and thirst” for the truth of His Word, and we come to lectio divina with a deep longing to receive God. (28) We are then ready to cultivate the dispositions of commitment, discipline, and perseverance. We decide to be faithful to the practice of lectio divina because we know that our firm commitment to spend time reading, meditating, and praying God's Word will only deepen our relationship with Him. (29) We also resolve to discipline ourselves in our lectio divina, determining that we will make a conscious effort towards concentration, continuity, and constancy as we fulfill the commitment we have made. (30) Further, we dispose ourselves to perseverance, especially when our reading seems incomprehensible, our meditation shallow, our prayer dry, and our contemplation non-existent. (31) We continue our routine of lectio divina nonetheless, knowing that eventually, if God so wills, we will see the fruits of our labors. Finally, we must always approach lectio divina with the disposition of love, for we know that “one who loves sees more, because love is also a way of access to the truth.” (32) We understand, too, that in our lectio divina, we are meeting Someone Who is completely and totally lovable and to Whom we owe all our love, for He is our Creator, our Father, our Savior, our Guide, our Brother, and our Friend.
          It may seem that we have spent a great deal of time discussing preparations for lectio divina. However, as humans, we approach all our activities with a set of presuppositions, and if we begin our practice of lectio divina with a closed mind, pride, unbelief, irreverence, distraction, division, indifference, unfaithfulness, inconstancy, negligence, impatience, or apathy, we will not meet God. We will not receive the message He gives us through His Word. We will not be able to grow in intimacy with Him. All relationships require work and appropriate attitudes if they are to strengthen and deepen, and our relationship with our Lord, which is intensified through lectio divina, is no different. If we practice lectio divina without the proper preparation, without the proper dispositions, we will likely find it to be an exercise in frustration rather than an encounter with God, and no matter how much we work, we will not progress in intimacy with the Blessed Trinity. Let us pray, then, for God to help us in cultivating dispositions that will open our hearts to His Word and to Him.
14. Guigo II, Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations, ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1979), 68.
15. Ibid.
16. Masini, 71; Magrassi, 104.
17. Casey, Masini, and Magrassi all discuss the dispositions necessary for lectio divina. For specific references, see the notes that follow.
18. Casey, 6-12, 28, 30, 46-47, 54, 59, 84, 96, 98; Masini, 35, 78; Magrassi, 58, 63, 82.
19. Magrassi, 60.
20. Ibid., 61.
21. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, documents/ vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html (accessed 2 July, 2009).
22. Magrassi, 59, 24.
23. Casey, 26.
24. Magrassi, 64.
25. Ibid., Casey 70-72.
26. Masini, 77; Magrassi, 57-58.
27. Ibid.
28. Magrassi, 65.
29. Ibid., 57, 66, 70-71; Casey 16.
30. Casey, 20-21, 45.
31. Casey, 10; Magrassi, 70.
32. Casey, 51.

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