Friday, May 08, 2009

In the classical discipline of Lectio Divina there are four basic steps to be examined: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. Before we do this, however, it must be realized that Lectio emerged and was practiced in settings where those engaged in Lectio lived in a context of intimacy with God where lives of increasing Christlikeness were expected. This is hardly the context of our life in the world. Therefore, we need an added introductory and concluding step in our practice of Lectio: Silentio and Incarnatio.

Silencio. If the Scripture is to become a place of transforming encounter with God, we must first adopt an inner attitude of stillness, openness, receptivity, and responsiveness to God in love. We must begin our time with the Word become text by making our self available to God, setting aside our agendas, relinquishing our self-referencedness, willing for God to meet us in the text however God chooses, committing our self to receiving whatever God brings to us in the text no matter how disturbing or troubling it may be. Silencio is, at its heart, a loving abandonment to God which will allow God to be and do with us whatever God chooses. Don’t rush this step. Seek to become as abandoned to God in love as you possibly can.

Lectio. Here we read the text. Choose a small portion, the focus is not covering large units but plumbing the depths of a small, integral segment. Read the text slowly several times, absorb the text into your mind and heart. It might help, if the nature of the text permits, to place yourself in the role of one or more of the persons in the text and experience the text from those perspectives. Engage your sight, hearing, smell, touch and even taste as the passage permits. Live in the text as deeply as possible. Take the text into your being. Immerse your being in the text. As you “absorb” the text, take note of how your spirit resonates with the text. Are there moments of delight? Disturbance? Peace? Fear? Sense of loss? Light? Darkness? Decentering? Recentering? Presence? Absence? Resistance? Anger? Joy?

Meditatio. Now we “wrestle” with the text, with the Word become text. If you think of Lectio as putting food into your mouth, Meditatio is chewing. You ruminate upon the text and how you have been probed by it. What is God saying to you in this text? What engenders those resonances in your spirit? What is the source of your resistance, your fear, your sense of loss? What has been decentered and why? What has been recentered? Throughout your rumination keep your focus on how God is encountering you in the text, how the Word has become text for you.

Oratio. Meditatio should flow seamlessly into Oratio—prayer; but this is prayer of a special kind. Up to this point, God has been encountering you in the text if, through abandoned receptivity, you have been allowing the Word become text to be a place of encounter with God. Now you respond to this encounter from your heart. Oratio is no formal, stylized prayer. It is the communication of heart to Heart, spirit to Spirit, the outpouring of one’s being to God. In the text God may have probed some deep pool of anger in you and your Oratio is simply screaming out that anger at God. God can handle our anger, and this may be the most real prayer we have ever prayed! In the text God may have touched some hidden sin and your Oratio is tears of repentance. God may have opened a fountain of joy in the text and your Oratio is laughter and singing. God may have been silent in the text and your Oratio is affirming your willingness to wait upon God. Transforming encounter with God is always a two-way relationship, and Oratio is the first response of our being to God in that relationship.

Contemplatio. Once we have poured out our heart to God in Oratio, we then become still and allow God to implant the Word become text in our heart that the Word might become flesh in us. A powerful image of Contemplatio is from Psalm 131: “Truly, I have set my soul in silence and in peace, like a weaned child at its mother’s breast.”[9] The unweaned child is at its mother’s breast for what it needs and wants—milk. The weaned child is the image of abandonment to the mother in love, letting the mother be whatever she wants to be and do whatever she wants to do. Without such radical abandonment to God in love, the Word can never become flesh in us. In Contemplatio we may experience deep touches of God or we may experience nothing. Neither is as significant as the Contemplatio itself, the nurturing of the soul in a posture of loving abandonment, a yielded availability to God.

Incarnatio. The inner posture of yielded availability must then be carried out into the world of our daily life. If there has been a transformative touch of God upon our life, we must incarnate that reality at the first opportunity. We must allow the Word which has encountered us to become flesh in us, in our life in the world, in our relationships, in the circumstances and situations of our daily existence. A word or phrase from the passage might become the deep inner breathing of our soul as we move through our days.

One practical example of how the Word become text could become a place of transforming encounter with God so the Word might become flesh in your daily life. It comes from a portion of Scripture which, I presume, is very familiar to you -- The Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven” (Mt 6:9). This Word can be a place of transforming encounter with God, it can structure a whole new mode of being in the world. The first word, “our;” indicates that as we initiate openness to God in prayer we don’t do it alone. We come to God within the matrix of all the relationships of our life, real and potential, close and most distant, regular and occasional. We come to God in the context of life in human community, in both the broadest and in the narrowest sense. The entire human family is caught up in “our,” as well as the closer web of our daily relationships and the closest network of friends and family. In the word “our” our relationship with God and our relationships with others are inseparably intertwined.

When we pray, “Our Father,” with integrity, the context of all our human relationships is transformed. Every person encompassed by “our” becomes our sister and brother. Others are no longer valued for the ways they enhance our agenda or devalued for the ways they thwart our purposes. Others can no longer be pawns in our game, objects for the fulfillment of our desires, or enemies to be demonized and destroyed. Every person becomes one whom God loves and for whom God’s grace is constantly outpoured. Others are those for whom we are to be the sister or brother in whom God’s love and grace touches them. “Our Father,” instantly bonds us with God on the one hand and with others on the other hand. If we take these two words, “Our Father,” out into our life, if we make them the sub-text of every relationship, our relationships will be transformed and the reality of God’s dynamic for holistic human relationships will become incarnate in us.

When we pray, “Our Father in heaven,” with integrity, all of life is grounded in a radically alternative mode of being. “In heaven,” is not a statement of location, it is the affirmation of God’s realm of being in which the “our” can find wholeness of life in loving union with God in relationships with others. “In heaven,” affirms a realm whose values, perspectives, and practices are contrary to those of the pervasively self-referenced structures of our culture; a realm which, as Jesus said, is already in our midst (Lk 17:21). If we take these four words, “Our Father in heaven,” out into our life, if we make them the sub-text of every relationship, the reality of God’s realm of shalom and justice will begin to become incarnate in us; the Word will begin to become flesh in us in our world.

[8] In addition to the practices suggested in this section, cf. “Breaking the Crust,” “Wesley’s Guidelines for Reading the Scripture,” “Obstacles to Spiritual Reading,” and “The Practice of Spiritual Reading” (Ch. 10-13) in Shaped by the Word.


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