Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Lectio Divina

This past March I spent three days in a monastery in Michigan for a little solitude, silence, prayer, and reflective-meditation. It was an awesome three days... On the third day, I was leaving the dining area having just finished breakfast. Just next to the dining area is the monastery's library. I thought I would take a few moments and peruse aroiund and see what type of books they had etc. As I was poking around, I came across a book that caught my attention. It was entitled The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life. It was a guide to monastic living according to the St. Benedictine Rule. Humm... interesting, I thought to myself.

So, I picked it up, checked it out for the day, and headed back to my room. A little later in the morning I picked it up and began to leaf through it. I came to a chapter that I found pretty inspiring. The chapther was "Lectio Divina" or sometimes called "spiritual reading." Some of the things I had been experiencing in my time with God in Scripture were outlined here in this little book. A practice of spiritual reading (lectio divina) that has been practiced for centuries. Nevertheless, enough about me... below is some excerpts from that chapter... hope you find them inspiring and thought-provoking as well.

Lectio divina is the exact opposite of the diagonal scanning of text with a green marker, to quickly highlight the keywords and main points that might be important for a negotiation session or for a meeting. After that you may forget them again. The spiritual reading Benedict prescribes for his monks was intended in the old monasteries, among other things, to be learned by heart. The lectio divina is about a very slow reading of a text, preferably aloud, that the words may really be mouthed and tasted. This is reading til a word of phrase touches you, till you listen to something that as it were sticks to you. This word or phrase is then repeated aloud, regurgitated, as it were. The Latin term for this process is rumination – simply what you see cows doing in a quiet place, preparing the product of the first digestive process of the following phase in the transformation of grass into milk. During intervening moments this word of phrase is unpacked: what does it say to me? What touches me in this reading? Why does it touch me? What might it mean within my context? How might I fruitfully respond to it? This is about as it were to tap the text from all sides and to listen to it with the stethoscope – not because of voluntary interest, but so that I might give an adequate response to it. With the rumination we try to press a maximum of nutritional juices out of a piece of text. Then we keep reading slowly, til we suspect we have landed again on something nutritional.

This transformation process has a double significance: the text is transformed – because it is brought over and “translated” into my context; and I, the reader, am changed. Sometimes a text can open up so unexpectedly that an inward vista shows itself in which you as it were keep “hanging” for a while. Monastic literature mentions the four phases or steps of the lectio divina: the lectio, the meditation, the oratorio (prayer), and the contemplation. Translated: do a slow reading til you are tripped, with repetition and association, responding, open-mouthed, gratefully looking into the depth or into the distance.

These four phases of increasing deepening are, of course, not always experienced by any means. Often we experience just staying in the course in lectio and meditation. Those are also the only phases we can work on. Whether a word or phrase speaks to you in a manner that a hearty response may be given remains to be seen (a monk once defined his prayer meditation as “sitting and waiting”). One cannot organize unexpected vistas. Moreover, a text may contain some thistles. A text may be nicely locked up, but the reader may as well. “That text says nothing to me (yet),” will often be the reaction. Benedict would say: “Did you listen attentively enough? Did you use your stethoscope? Did you only hear noise?”

The persistent attitude of reading and meditation with the lectio divina reminds us of the triad of first sentence of the Rule: listen attentively, agree heartily, give a realistic response. One can also recognize the three vows in it: stabilitas, quietly persisting; conversion morum, transformation; and obedientia, listening.

Will Derkse, The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press), p. 37-38.

1 comment:

Jenni said...

This reminds me of how I read Psalm 27 yesterday. In it says the one thing I ask is to dwell in the house of the Lord and continue to seek His face. This seems small at first and then I "unpacked it" as you said, and really to really hear from God it's an action and then reaction. Kind of a Newton's law type of thing, an object in motion must stay in motion until acted upon by another object. Our prayers and meditations must stay our prayers and meditations until we get a reaction and seek His face and then will we hear His voice.