Archive for June, 2006
Lectio Divina (Latin for godly reading) is a simple yet profound method of prayer found in many traditions of Christian spirituality, though perhaps most associated with Saint Benedict and the monastic tradition.
Sometimes it is called “meditative reading” or “spiritual reading”, but could perhaps better be described as praying with a listening heart, since most of the people who have used this approach to prayer throughout the ages could not read.
The “lectio” of lectio divina is a listening with the heart, as you tend to do quite naturally when you are struck by the beauty of a sunset, as you are mulling over a treasured memory, or as you pay attention to someone you love.
In praying this way you hear a scripture passage or other sacred text and you let your heart be your guide. You read slowly, with pauses, and relish or drink in the words you are hearing. A natural process takes place: heartfelt listening moves naturally into a deep reflection upon the words and the silences between them; and that deep reflection leads you to some kind of heartfelt response. You find yourself speaking from the heart to the God who has spoken to you. The ease and rhythm of this approach to prayer can carry you deeper into God.
Choose your passage from scripture (or some other text with meaning for you… poetry is good) and become comfortable with it. Read it over a few times to get past any questions that arise about meaning. Invite God to speak to you through the text. Ask for openness. Let yourself settle into an expectant stillness.
This kind of prayer has three “phases” that you move between as you feel drawn: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation) and oratio (prayer).
Read slowly and gently, listening with your heart to the words. There is no need to rush and no need to get to the end of the passage. When a particular word or phrase strikes you and seems to have some savour, linger with it …
… let it into you. Pause with it. Let the word or phrase resonate. Repeat it to yourself silently, relish it, let it echo and soak into you until the “flavour” begins to go, then …
… let yourself respond in prayer, in words from the heart, or a space full of silence, or spontaneous, unspoken feeling. Whenever the moment feels ripe, begin to read again …
When you are ready, mark the end of your time of prayer with some closing gesture or words of prayer. Afterwards you might want to make a note of anything that seemed significant.
June 29th, 2006
Shawn Anthony, at Lo-Fi Tribe, has written a piece (which has now disappeared — January 2007) on how to structure a daily space for meditation–what he calls a template. It made me think about two of the templates I am familiar with and have found helpful along the way–the monastic practice of Lectio Divina and the Ignatian approach to prayer via the imagination. Energy and concentration permitting I’ll say a little about both in the coming days.
June 29th, 2006
The storms we experience in the readings today are as ambiguous as any we face in our living. Are they destroying hurricanes or are they occasions when the veil is blown away to give a glimpse of God?
We have two storms, today. We hear God finally answering Job from the heart of the whirlwind—all noise and thunder and know-it-all. And we have the terrified disciples caught at sea by a squall while Jesus sleeps quietly on a cushion.
We have two awkward questions, too. We have Job the proverbial good man to whom bad things happen. Why? And we have the disciples making their heartfelt plea—‘Master, we are going under! Don’t you care?’
And isn’t that a damn good question? Don’t we want to scream it out ourselves sometimes? When we read the paper. When tragedy blows us flat. When the slow accumulation of misfortune seems set to swamp us. Don’t we want to know why? Don’t we want to know if God cares?
But we don’t get answers. We get silenced. Twice. God answers Job by overwhelming him, blustering him into silence. And Jesus silences the storm and the waves—and has a go at the disciples for getting upset.
Don’t those both feel like a raw deal? We don’t get the kind of answer we want. We want a real response but instead we find ourselves silenced by questions we can’t answer.
Yet the silence isn’t the end but the beginning. Silence holds a promise. Job rides out the storm of God’s bluster and finds a silence he fills with faith. And when the winds are silenced and the sea calmed, the disciples find their own fear falling away into a new insight.
Silence is a beginning. Silence holds a promise. I don’t know which is worse—God being the storm or God sleeping through it—but when the silence falls there can be a beginning, a beginning for each of us.
June 25th, 2006
I used the following reflection on story and discernment a few weeks ago with a group trying to reflect on their own life and ministry together and discern a possible way forward. I’m posting a slightly edited version here…
A little while ago I was given the DVDs of a science fiction show I’d wanted to see but missed called ‘Firefly’ — think Cowboys and Indians in spaceships — and it’s a lot of fun, and very well written, with 8 or 9 well-drawn characters that over the short series grow and take shape and show their stories and change each other in all sorts of ways and hint at secrets and stories yet to be told. Because it was a series that was cancelled part way through. A story with no ending. With loose ends. A dozen stories still waiting to be told. And my intense curiosity about each character and what they still had left to tell, and about the group, the whole, and their collective story which seemed to be going … somewhere, having some significance. I hate not knowing what happens to Inara. I really want to know who Shepherd Book really is and where Simon and his sister are headed. And I never will. Unless I make it up myself. And that doesn’t really work. Because half the pleasure is not in making up, but in appreciating the reality of the characters and the sense that behind them there is an author with a hope.
Continue Reading June 21st, 2006
Pauline—one of the Loyola Hall team—Pauline spends most of late winter trying to convince the rest of us, at every meal, that the beech trees are about to get their leaves. The rest of us peer at the barren branches and enjoy ourselves pouring scorn on Pauline. This goes on regularly for weeks until she loses heart. Then one day you look out the window yourself and there they are—somehow the trees have crept up on you and covered themselves with green fuzz. And before you know it everywhere is bright with that fresh tender salad-y green.
Living in a garden like this one, that kind of thing happens all year round. There’s a particular dark-red rhododendron that pokes me in the eye once a year when one morning in early summer I pull back my curtains and somehow it has crept into full and blousy bloom when I’d swear it wasn’t even budding the night before.
And come the autumn there’s another morning shocker for me when I open my other curtain and the copper beech outside is on fire. It always catches me unawares and startles me with its sudden molten brilliance.
If I listened with my eyes to the parables the garden preaches I’d be a wiser man and a happier and holier one. I’d sit more comfortably in my own sluggish skin. I’d despair a lot less at my fruitless prayers. And I’d find more than my share of joy when God’s disproportionate grace sticks it tongue out, right in my face, and says ‘told you so!’
June 18th, 2006
We all make promises … and we all break them. Yes, we say, we will do X or Y or Z … but find A and B come to hand instead. Some promises we make lightly and in haste and renege on them with hardly a qualm. Other promises gather a life’s hope and commitment to a honed edge so sharp it draws blood when once again we cannot be who we thought we could.
Blood and promises. The ancient habit of blood sacrifice seems a strange way to seal a promise but even so many centuries later we can feel the weight and thrill and solemnity of sloshing around all that blood. The studiers of symbols say blood stands for life but you and I know blood means death and it is death that seals promises. We know it in the schoolyard: cross my heart and hope to die. We know it at the altar: till death us do part.
For a promise to hold there has to be some dying, even if it is just possibilities that have to bite the dust, unborn might-have-beens that never see the light of day. And when a promise doesn’t hold, never could have held, someone, we are sure, will have to pay the price for our pretence.
This is Corpus Christi and it’s all about blood and promises. The blood part stands out—we hear about body and blood all the time—but we have to wonder at the promises being made.
The old covenant promise seems easy: the people make the deal with God—we will do X and Y and Z (though, of course, A and B will come to hand) and seal the promise with gallons of blood—animal blood, thank God. And in the gospel the surface pattern is all the same. On the surface there’s the familiar blood of the Passover lamb spilled to mark the promise of deliverance. And down a level there’s the other lamb, the human lamb, sacrificed to seal the unholy promise that it is better that one man should die for the sake of many people.
But Jesus messes all that up. He refuses to be a lamb led to the slaughter: he takes what someone would do to him—an act of violence—and he turns it round. The meat does something unimaginable: it says yes there will be dying; not on your terms but to seal my promise.
And the promise? God has no desire for sacrifice. God is the one sacrificed. Sacrifice itself is sacrificed, put to death, and drained dry.
We all make promises and we all break them. But we no longer need to pretend we won’t. That’s the promise. And, though it is marked by blood, it’s marked not by death, but life.
June 15th, 2006
The good news: Pray As You Go has been extended indefinitely. There’ll be (week-)daily podcasts for the foreseeable future as the project has been a great success, both in terms of number of downloads (past the quarter million mark) and user feedback.
The bad news: my health has been pretty lousy recently and blogging has petered out. Sorry! I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome aka ME and the graded exercise treatment programme I am in has been making things rather worse… so far at least. I’ll post more as I improve and have the stamina to preside at liturgy more.
June 2nd, 2006