[re-post from 2014]
And so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit. My child, just read! — St. Arsenius
Lectio divina “divine reading” of the Bible has been a part of my daily discipline of prayer since the late 1980’s when my spiritual director first introduced me to it. I remember him telling me to always make reading Scripture the first priority of the day, echoing the words of the Divine Office inviting us to begin every day saying, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.”
As a Christian, to say “God never speaks to me” is to insult the Sacred Scriptures. We have the living Word of God at our fingertips, and it was inspired for us at great cost to the people of Israel, and to God himself, so you could have the privilege of hearing his voice speak into your life whenever you choose. St. John of the Cross argued that those always itching for the latest special revelation, apparition, stigmatist or infused word of knowledge “tempt God” by denigrating his complete revelation in Jesus contained in Sacred Scripture.
Among of my favorite “John stories” in this regard is when he traveled to Lisbon, Portugal with some Friars. After they had arrived, some of the Friars invited John to join them in visiting a renowned mystic there who supposedly had Christ’s wounds in her body. John was completely uninterested, and instead chose to spend the day reading Scripture along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, which he had never before seen.
In the Catholic tradition, Scripture is reverenced as the heart and soul of both prayer and theology, and for that same tradition, those who prefer “secondary sources” are deemed spiritually immature. Fr. Tom Hopko made this very point with his characteristic passion:
The holy Scriptures — what can I say? We have to read them, contemplate them and put them into practice much as we breathe. A constant theme in the monastic tradition, by authors like St Ignatius Brianchaninov, is trying to convince the monks to read the Scriptures. He complained the monks often were more interested in reading books on philosophy or spirituality or mysticism or deification than they were in reading Scripture. St. Ignatius would say, “This should not be! Repent! Scripture should be our primary love. It alone is God’s inspired Word.”
We should read it so much that we have committed much of it to memory. The prophet Jeremiah tells us God will put his law in us and write it on our hearts. That’s not just magic! He does it by giving us the inspired Word for us to take into our hearts and minds so it gets burned in us. As they say, 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration — it’s synergy. There’s even a canon in the seventh Ecumenical Council that says a man should not be consecrated bishop if he cannot recite the 150 psalms from memory. Otherwise how can you teach the faith if you don’t know how to pray it by heart?
So if you’re bored with Scripture, Repent and make it your daily bread.
Lectio divina approach to reading the Bible is not the same as Bible study. It’s goal is to allow the Spirit to write in us Christ’s mind and heart. With lectio, you don’t enter into the sacred text to analyze it, take it apart to satisfy mental curiosity, plan a talk or conjure up beautiful insights. When you pray the Scriptures, read them as the living divine Word. G.K. Chesterton once asked a friend, “Have you been read by a good book recently?” That’s exactly how we are to pray the Bible, allowing it to read us, to shed light on our life. Reading Scripture prayerfully allows the words to enter your deepest core, much as St. Hildegard of Bingen described Mary:
Pierced by the light of God
drenched in the speech of God,
your body bloomed,
swelling with the breath of God.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the practice of lectio divina…
Before beginning, invoke the Spirit
and then convoke your inner attention. Recollect.
Become aware of being in the presence of Christ
whose words you will see and hear,
allowing him to enter your mind through them;
into your imagination, memory, heart,
through all of your senses.
As he knocks, let him in.
Read the words slowly, aloud,
in a low tone,
listening for his voice in your voice.
Pause when something speaks to you,
comes alive to you, stirs, bothers you in some way.
Sit with it, open yourself to it, allow it to happen,
and beg God to speak into and out of it.
Then speak to God, simply.
Speak to him as to a friend
or a tender father.
Tell him about your life,
your troubles and fears,
your feelings, hopes and desires.
Whatever bubbles to the surface.
Invite him into these.
Be still for a time. Know he speaks.
In all of this, forget about your performance.
Your mind will drift, gently return.
You will feel bored, let it happen.
Believe firmly that all of it, all of it
opens the real, the whole you.
Be ridiculously vulnerable to the all-seeing Word, Jesus.
Far beyond the awareness of your consciousness,
the Word is having real, deep effects — in you, now.
And, and, and in all those connected to you.
Like a vast unseen mystic ecosystem,
whatever happens in you reverberates out to all.
And it is in silence, uncontrolled,
that true vulnerability to grace is found.
Silence in prayer is tacit consent to God:
Do with me as you will,
I give you a free hand.
Receptivity to God is the most fruitful activity of Man.
It frees God to act, uninhibited, endlessly.
Lectio divina is about giving the Word his way,
just as Mary gave the Word his way; gaining entry.
And the Word became, becomes flesh
and went, goes rogue among us.
Permit him to do so again, now, in the wilder-ness.
You make my heart sing
You make everything groovy
Wild thing, I think I love you
But I wanna know for sure
So come on, hold me tight
I love you
That’s the general idea behind lectio divina. In the words of my first spiritual director, “Okay, I wat you to try it now for 20 years, and then come back and we can discuss any struggles you’re having…”