As we choose spiritual practices for Lent, we might consider the practice of lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Scripture. (See part 1) This slow reflective reading may be done alone or within a group.
The method of lectio divina is often referred to as fourfold: lectio (reading the text), meditatio (reflecting and meditating on the text), oratio (praying from the text) and contemplatio (deep contemplation of the text).
“Reading as it were, puts food whole into the mouth, meditation chews it and breaks it up, prayer extracts its flavor, contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes.” (Guigo II, Twelfth century monk)
This kind of reading is slow and reflective, focused on absorbing the word itself in a reflective manner. St. Ambrose writes that calm, slow reading enkindles the ardor of prayer.
When doing lectio with a group, it is good to read through a short passage slowly several times, then allow time for silence. Then people in the group say one word or one phrase that struck them. An atmosphere of quiet, calm and peace is important.
The purpose of meditation is to assimilate the word of God, to allow it to become more and more a part of our hearts. The Jewish theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “To meditate is to know how to stand still and to dwell upon a word!” In reading the word of God there can be one word or phrase that moves our heart. At the visit of the shepherds at Bethlehem, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
Whatever speaks to the heart moves us to wonder, think and pray.
“Prayer is best understood as a dialogue or conversation between God and a person. The ancient practice of lectio takes for granted that we begin by first listening to God speak to us, then after we hear God speak, we respond; sometimes with a word of thanking and blessing God for divine goodness to us…other times with an acknowledgement of our weakness.” (Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB)
Abbot Gregory continues: “What has the sacred word said to me about growing deeper into the life of Christ? What has it said about a more authentic love of my neighbor? Of what has it accused me and called me to personal conversion?”
God’s word begins to call forth from us a reply.
“Be still before the Lord and wait in patience.” (Psalm 37:7) Reflection on God’s word will lead us to a posture of peace before God. “Contemplation is a movement from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom, from doubt to belief, from uncertainty to hope.” (Abbot Gregory)
Reading a passage from Scripture in a slow reflective manner can be a practice for encountering the mystery of God in the Scriptures.
I close with a favorite prayer, Psalm 23; perhaps you would like to use it for lectio.
The Lord is my shepherd;
There is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
Where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
To revive my drooping spirit.
He guides me along the right path;
He is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
No evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
With these you give me comfort.
You have prepared a banquet for me
In the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil,
My cup is overflowing.
Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
For ever and ever.
Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB is a retired abbot of New Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, AR
Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB is Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order and resides in Rome
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I love Sister Joanne’s “HEART” symbol in the heading of this suburb reflection on an absolutely essential core of Benedictine Spirituality-“Lectio Divina.” When I read something that Sister Joanne has written I know that it blossoms out of her life-long commitment to seek and be all that God desires her to be. In cruder words, it’s like that 1982 US Army recruitment ad that invited women and men to: “Be all that you can be, find your future in the Army.” Of course, in Sister Joanne’s case, it becomes: “Be all that you can be, for that is why God created you as the one and only (insert your name) in the history of the universe.” Thank you, Joanne, you’ve done it again, unfolded another key part of being Benedictine.