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Lectio Divina: The Sacred Art –Christine Valters Painter

April 11, 2016

LD 3The four movements of lectio divina aresettling and shimmering, savouring and stirring, summoning and serving, slowing and stilling. It’s as good way to read the Bible, chewing the cud as it were.

However, I disagreed very early on when the author suggested that this method of reading is ‘unmediated’ – everything is filtered through the many voices already in our minds which we bring to any text.

Early on she says that lectio means ‘picking (as, I assume, a Lectionary chooses readings for us) but later she says that it simply means ‘reading’. Well, which one is it? I consulted one dictionary that says it means both.

She points out how difficult it can be to centre oneself- lots of distractions crowd in.

I am pleased that she uses passages from other traditions e.g. Rumi.

There’s a helpful section on how to facilitate group sessions.

I think she goes beyond the scope of her subject when she brings in nature, art and music. Also, as a male, I find her style a bit ‘girly’.

LD 2Quotations:

“Listen with the ear of our heart”

“process of contemplative unfolding”

“calls us to a radical sense of mystery”

“Contentment doesn’t mean we are always happy about life events or deny the reality of pain. We cultivate contentment by cultivating the inner witness who is able to respond to life from a place of calmness, peace, and tranquility. It means we honor that what is given to us in any moment is enough. So it is the ‘still heart’ — the heart of equanimity — that can welcome everything in. Instead of always living with a sense of dissatisfaction about our lives, or anticipation over what comes next, we live in the knowledge that this moment contains everything we need to be at peace, to experience freedom, to develop compassion for ourselves and others, to find God. Benedict’s rule counsels contentment with what we have, a sense that what is, is ‘enough.’ We don’t need anything more and so we are content. When we experience contentment we have softened our bodies, minds, and hearts so that we are able to release the unconscious resistances we hold to our own experience.”

In our daily patterns of loving, caring, and working, we are following a spiritual path of sorts, whether we are conscious of it or not.  The shape of our lives reflects our priorities and ultimate values.  We nurture intentional and conscious choices about how to shape these patterns and ways of being through commitment to regular spiritual practices of prayer.  We can help shape the persons we are becoming by the practices we choose to commit ourselves to and live into as they transform us.  Such practices are used to regulate and shape our lives, on the assumption that changing our habits can change our perceptions and ideas as well.

“The whole world is, in fact, a text of sacred revelation. All experience has the potential to be revelatory, and God is singing one unending song seducing each of our hearts. So the call is to listen, to attune to the words God utters in the world.”

As Kallistos Ware writes, For biblical authors, the heart does not signify the feelings and emotions, for those are located lower down in the guts and entrails. The heart designates, on the contrary, the inwardness of our human personhood in its full spiritual depth…. The heart is in this way the place where we for­mulate our primary hope, where we express our sense of direction, our purpose in life. It is the moral center, the determinant of action, and so it corresponds in part to what we mean today by the conscience. It is the seat of the memory, understood not just as the recollection of things past but as deep self-awareness at the present moment.’

But be warned—establishing and maintaining a spiritual practice is not easy. Spiritual practice will at times be challenging because as we slow down and move into silence we begin to hear our own inner voices that much more loudly. Our compulsions suddenly become more apparent. We encounter boredom and anxiety, restlessness, the desire to be someplace else. We want to turn on the radio or the television to fill the air with sound. We want to make a phone call, or write our list of things to accom­plish for the day. We are offered a continual array of choices: Do I stay present to this moment or do I get up and do something else? In solitude we may find ourselves in a wrestling match with the demons of boredom and restlessness, which the ancient monks called acedia.

To ease the challenges of spiritual practice, three key spiri­tual virtues in Benedictine monastic life are stability, obedience, and conversion. Outside of the monastery, cultivating these virtues can help anyone create a supportive context for contem­plative prayer and the rhythms of lectio divina.

For monastic men and women, stability means making a com­mitment to a particular monastery for a lifetime. Through serene times and times of hardship, these religious are called to stay present and do the difficult work of being in relationship. For those of us living spiritual lives outside of the monastery walls, the quality of stability is somewhat different—it means making a commitment to be faithful to our life circumstances even at the most challenging times. Stability roots us in whatever place or sit­uation we find ourselves in; we are committed to facing adversity, not run away at the first sign of difficulty. This might apply to a marriage or friendship, to our work life, or simply to the daily challenges with which we find ourselves confronted. For ex­ample, my own primary community is my marriage to my husband of sixteen years. Marriage is for me one of the hardest and most rewarding commitments of my life. In marriage or other deeply felt partnerships, there is a delicate dance of mutuality and

attentiveness to the needs of another. It can be difficult because it means negotiating daily life and dreams with another person who has his or her own vision of the world. But the rewards of approaching such relationships with the quality of stability include finding a place where we feel cherished and profoundly loved.

In the same way, we bring the quality of stability to our lec­tio divina practice because it reminds us to keep showing up even when things become difficult or challenging. When we begin a new practice or renew our commitment to one, at first we may have no problem making time for our prayer each day. But then as time goes on, we find our attention wandering or life events interfering. With the commitment to stability, we remember that the practice is to continue being present, beginning again and again.

The sounds of Scripture, once so comforting, now seem dry and unstimulating. We may have days when the tyranny of our inner voices and thoughts is alive within us, or we begin to con­nect with deep wells of grief that come from having rejected our most authentic selves time after time. Stability is about the ways we stay committed to our prayer practice through these challenges. This is the heart of practice. It is easy to pray when it feels easy, but the spiritual life isn’t about always seeking what feels best.

LDThat is why practicing lectio divina involves a great deal of patient waiting and attending

Many of us come to prayer with great hopes and expectations. We want to experience inner peace, clarity, wisdom, guidance—often right away—and we think the fruits will come to us just by simply showing up for practice. But in reality, there are many days when nothing seems to happen. We are not moved by a word or phrase, or our inner response feels dry or desolate. The invitation arising may feel trite or inconsequential. There may be many occasions when God doesn’t seem to be “saying” anything (or at least not what we wanted to hear).

Often our frustration arises from a subconscious “task-oriented” approach to lectio, where it is only “successful” if we receive something of measurable value from the experience. It is a natu­ral extension of the way many of us live our lives, valuing only what seems productive to us at the time. This is where we return again to the quality of stability. We are invited to make a commit­ment to the process through the challenges and joys as well as the periods where prayer is dull or doesn’t inspire.

the first movement of lectio is an entry to awakening your body, mind, and heart to God’s presence, listening for God’s voice not merely on the surface of the words and phrases, but between them, around them, and deeply within them. In Jewish tradition there is the belief that Torah is black fire on white fire. As Rabbi Avi Weiss writes, “The black letters represent thoughts which are intellectual in nature…. The white spaces, on the other hand, represent that which goes beyond the world of the intellect. The black letters are limited, limiting and fixed. The white spaces cat­apult us into the realm of the limitless and the ever-changing, ever-growing. They are the story, the song, the silence.”‘

The disciple’s ear, open and attentive, can hear God speaking in the bus-queue, in the supermarket, in the conversation of a tiresomely boring or demanding person, and know instinctively how to respond. That is the supreme spiritual art. Haven’t you learned it yet? Of course you haven’t. It takes a lifetime to learn it. Cyprian Smith, OSB, The Path of Life

Practicing lectio divina calls us to an act of resistance against “productivity.” When we listen with reverence we are not trying to get anywhere—to the end of the passage or to a particular experience. In a world where everything has a purpose and is to be done efficiently, where we set goals and live by our day-plan­ners telling us the next place to be, lectio invites us into a space where we release that compulsiveness. We enter into a kind of slow time, where we touch the eternal moment by bringing our­selves fully present. Eternity isn’t to be found elsewhere, or at the end of our days, but is embedded in our daily experience. We have all had moments when we were so immersed in something that we lost track of time. In lectio we cultivate this ability to touch the eternal, to open our hearts to a quality of timelessness where agendas and “to do” lists have no place. We are called by this practice to “waste time” in a world that values productivity above all else.

Something quite wonderful occurs when we are listened to fully. We expand, ideas come to life and grow, we remember who we are. Some speak of this force as a cre­ative fountain within us that springs forth; others call it the inner spirit, intelligence, true self. Whatever this force is called, it shrivels up when we are not listened to and it thrives when we are. The way we listen can actually allow the other per­son to bring forth what is true and alive to them.’

When our bodies and our senses are awakened, we begin to become aware of places in our lives where we have become hard­hearted. The Hebrew scriptures call us to move from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, as God said to the prophet Ezekiel, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). We harden so many parts of ourselves to protect us from pain or disappointment, automati­cally tightening our stomach muscles when anticipating a blow to the belly, or bracing our arms to block a fall or flying object. We harden our bodies without realizing it, involuntarily clench­ing parts of ourselves such as our jaws or fists, in response to stress.

Like our bodies, our minds can become hardened as well. We become rigid in our thinking about ourselves, such as when we limit future possibilities because of past experiences. Our minds become hardened against other people when we rely on stereotypes or assume we know how someone will respond to us. Sometimes our thoughts become cluttered with self-judgment or resentment toward others, while cynicism and a belief that life is limited to what we can see hardens our minds.

Depending on the translation, the word behold appears more than a thousand times in Scripture. It is the most common trans­lation for the Hebrew word hinneh and the Greek word idou. Both of these words mean something like “Pay close attention to what follows—it is important!” There is no other word in English that conveys this meaning, although “Look!” and “See!” express a similar energy. When we behold something, we approach it with awe and reverence, see it with eyes wide open, and take in the depths of what is presented to us.

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