The first of the Via Contemplativa (the way of contemplation) that I want to bring to the table is that of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading.
All too often, Christ followers come to the Holy Scriptures for advice or to prepare for a lesson instead of a contemplative reading that allows Scripture to shape us as God sees fit. I know that my life is full of reading. That reading is usually around an event or a need, rather than a contemplative or meditative reading. Sound familiar? Thomas a Kempis counseled believers saying, “Do not read to satisfy curiosity or to pass the time, but study such things as move your heart to devotion.” The Scriptures and early church fathers testify that by entering deeply into the text of God’s Word as a believer gives God an avenue to reveal Himself to us, to speak to us, and to direct our lives. Paul affirms this in 2 Tim. where he says that Scripture is inspired and profitable. St. Benedictine (c. 480 – 550) found this such a primacy that he built it into the practices of his monastery, cementing this practice into Western Monasticism. Indeed, on this topic of Divine Reading, Guigo II (c. 1115 – 1198), the ninth prior of the Grand Charteuse (a Carthusian order in France), gives us great insight into what he called “The Ladder Of Monastics.” He says divine reading consists of four “steps” that I want to encourage you to put into practice this very day.
The first step is reading (lectio). Find a distraction free place, which is hard to do in our society. Also, grab a copy of God’s Word that is free from distraction. That is, find an easy to understand translation. I would also encourage you to get something that flows freely without study notes. Too often we allow the study notes to be what we take from God’s Word, and not The Word Himself. The New Jerusalem Bible, or the William’s NT are great for this. Sometimes we don’t think our reading places through, and a lack of light, or a stirring hunger, or a lack of sleep keep us from giving the text our full attention. We must give this time of lectio divina our full effort. Once you have all the distractions removed, choose a text and ask for/expect direction and insight from God.
Oh, one other thing; read slowly! Savor each word. Educator Michael Casey reminds us, “we need to slow down, to savor what we read, and to allow the text to trigger memories and associations that reside below the threshold of awareness.” As you read in this fashion, some things will stand out to you. That brings us to the second step.
The second step is meditation (meditation). During meditation we grasp the “interior intelligence” of the text. We wrap our minds around the values, the underlying assumptions, and the presumptions of the passage. It’s in attending to these deeper meanings that we begin to meditate. Dwell on the things that stand out to you, and explore the feelings and emotions that are conjured in your inner being. Embrace the sorrow of lamentations, the joy and sorrow of the Psalms, the tension and passion of the Passion week. Explore and chew on what your mind is fed.
The third step is prayer (oratio). Engage The Father in meaningful conversation about what you’ve just taken in. Allow Him to speak to you in the moments that follow. The Master Teacher wants to instruct and embrace you with His guidance, wisdom, and direction.
The last step of the lectio divina is that of contemplation (contemplatio). This final step will prove to be the hardest of the four. True contemplation drives us beyond words and intellect; into what Tony Jones calls the “thin space” where time and eternity almost touch. He says, “It’s in moments like these that some of the greatest saints in the history of the church have had a ‘mystical union’ with Christ. This step requires us to imagine our existence in the new paradigm of what God has just shown us. To think back to how life would be had we already been practicing the lesson of the Teacher, and to think ahead to how life will be different marks real contemplation. Don’t just converse with God about the lesson of the reading, ask Him to paint a picture so vivid it’s beyond description. Contemplation is the embracing and dreaming of that vision.
A lot to chew on, I know, but worth the effort. Next up will be Silence and Solitude. Enjoy.
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