Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lectio Divina - Part 10

The Practice of Oratio
          In oratio, we allow the words of the text we have read and meditated on to flow back to God in prayer. If we are practicing our lectio divina with the correct dispositions (or at least trying to), we have already been praying during lectio and meditatio by simply placing ourselves in the presence of God and lifting up our gaze and our hearts to the One Who is mediated to us by the Scriptures. (47) The oratio, however, is a special time of prayer in which we freely and spontaneously use our chosen passage to compose our own Biblical prayers. We run to meet God with words “nourished” by the Scriptural text while we express to Him our blessing and adoration, praise, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving, which spring from the reflections of our meditatio. (48) We acknowledge the value of His words, and we realize our total dependency upon Him for all we have, all we are, and all we pray. Turning again to the story of Zacchaeus as an example, we may practice oratio by thanking the Lord for coming into our hearts at baptism and for staying with us throughout our lives. We may ask Jesus once again to remain in our hearts forever and to forgive us for whatever would block Him from staying with us. We may intercede for a friend who, like Zacchaeus at the beginning of the passage, has not yet found God or who has lapsed from the Church, or we may simply praise and bless Jesus for being the Son of Man and the Son of God. Again, the possibilities are endless, but essentially, during oratio, we pray to God by echoing His words back to Him and bringing before Him all that we have discovered in our reading and meditation. (49) This prayer strengthens our relationship with the God and imprints His words more deeply into our minds and hearts as we rush to meet Him, responding to what we have heard Him say, like a child imitates the words of his or her father. Then, after we have prayed, after we have followed our hearts and cried out to God, after the words that we have internalized have poured out of us back to their Author, we may return to the Scriptures for further nourishment, for additional reading, for more meditation, or if God wills, we may be swept up into the fourth dimension of lectio divina, the contemplatio.

The Practice of Contemplatio
          The word “practice” is not particularly accurate when we are speaking of contemplatio, for this dimension of lectio divina differs from the other three in that it requires no effort from us at all. We do not “practice” contemplatio; we accept it as a gift from God. Moreover, when we attempt to define contemplatio or describe its effects, even the most articulate of us find that words fall short of properly capturing this experience. We can say, however, that contemplatio is a “very highly personal experience of God” in which the soul stands in a joyful silence in the presence of the Lord, (50) Casey adds that contemplation is “a change in consciousness marked by two elements...there is a recession from ordinary sensate and intellectual awareness is being possessed by the reality and mystery of God.” (51) In contemplation, we do not think, and we are not aware (or at least not as aware) of the sensory world around us. In the deepest, most hidden part of our souls God is touching us, and we are standing within His embrace, just looking at Him, feeling Him, enjoying Him, and receiving Him. We are in the midst the greatest possible intimacy with God on this side of Heaven. In fact many Fathers and theologians have called contemplatio a foretaste or prelude of Heaven, of the beatific vision. (52) In contemplation, then, we glimpse eternity; we are caressed by God.
          Are we swept up into contemplation every time we practice lectio divina? Certainly not! God decides when He wants to give us this gift. Lectio divina helps us to prepare our hearts to partake of this intimate union, to receive God, but just going through the “steps” of lectio, meditatio, and oratio will not automatically lead to contemplatio. Our relationship with God is deepened and strengthened in each dimension. We reach up to Him. He touches us. But contemplation will elude us if we have not properly prepared our minds and hearts, cultivating the proper dispositions, or if God chooses to withhold the fullness of His presence for a while in order to increase our desire for Him, to teach us to repent of our sins and correct our faults, or to preserve us from the dangers of spiritual pride. (53) We must not become discouraged, however, for while we cannot reach contemplation on our own, we can continue to prepare for it as best we can by reading God's word, meditating on it, and offering to God our sincere and heart-felt prayers . We would also do well to remember that there are levels or gradations to contemplation. Most people will never experience the deep ecstasies or rare mysticism of the saints, but all Christians have the opportunity to reach “astonishing intimacy” with God, to look at Him in wonder and admiration, to sit with Him in peaceful silence. (54) We are, after all, His children. If we are baptized and in a state of grace, His is present, indwelling the deepest part of our souls, the hidden soul that is beyond our senses, beyond our intellect, beyond our emotions, but still very real and still filled with the God Who waits there for us to seek Him, as we do in lectio divina, so that He can draw us to Himself in a relationship of greater intimacy than we could ever imagine.

          We have covered much ground in this two-part introduction to lectio divina. We have defined the practice, examined its dimensions, and analyzed its “what,” “who,” “why,” “when,” “where,” and “how.” Along the way, we have seen how lectio divina is ultimately about encountering God in the “love letters” of Sacred Scripture and about building, deepening, and strengthening our relationship with Him through reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. We have learned that lectio divina can be a “source of life and renewal” for us if we approach it with the proper dispositions. (55) All that remains now is to open our minds and hearts to God in His Word and begin practicing lectio divina, If we do, we shall discover riches beyond all telling, guidance for our journey, light for our lives, and most importantly, God Himself.

47. Masini, 51; Casey, 61-62.
48. Masini, 63; The Catechism of the Catholic Church, (accessed 27 June, 2009).
49. Masini, 61-64; Magrassi, 112-115.
50. Masini, 93.
51. Casey, 39.
52. Magrassi, 104.
53. Guigo II, 77.
54. Magrassi, 116-118.
55. Casey, 98.

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