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Lectio Divina: it could be for you!

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Lectio Divina: it could be for you!

There has been a working party of core parish members invited by Father Chris to look at the feasibility of setting up on a regular basis a Lectio Divina Group. The ‘guinea pigs’ , have been attending sessions to explore what Lectio Divina is and how to put it into practice under the gentle  guidance and leadership of Caroline Price , who is a great advocate of this ancient christian practice.

Group Member Jane Critten explains more:

 

Lectio Divina: ‘What?’ ‘So what?’ & ‘Now what?’

What?

The term ‘lectio divina’ simply refers to the time-honoured method – practised by monastics since their beginning – of prayerfully reading the scriptures.

Whilst understanding scripture – as theology, literature and history – is important, lectio divina is not as concerned with exegesis as it is with learning to listen in the context of prayer to what scripture has to say to us and to respond prayerfully to what we hear.  As Pope Paul VI wrote so eloquently,

‘Prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying”.’[1]

To practice lectio divina, we need to set some time apart for this prayer and establish external and internal peace.  Then, asking the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin the first stage:  we read our passage of scripture.  At this stage, lectio, what concerns us is what the passage is saying of itself.  Without paying attention to scripture at this level, there is a danger that we simply manipulate the text to our own purposes, rather than letting God speak through his scripture.

The second stage of the process is meditatio: we listen to what the scripture passage is saying to each of us.  This stage is deeply personal.  This is not a search for something original or clever to say about the text, nor is it a quest for identifying the most objectively important message of the passage.  It requires a listening of the heart: which word or phrase ‘jumps out’?  There is no need at this stage to analyse the reasons for it (indeed there is a risk that if we do so, we may suppress a challenging or otherwise unexpected response to the scriptures), but simply acknowledge that it is there.  Having acknowledged its presence, we go further into our meditation and, through reading the passage again, we ask what that word or phrases means to us.

Having meditated attentively upon the Lord’s word, we move on to the third stage of lectio divina: oratio, or prayer.  What do we say to the Lord in response to his word?

The fourth stage of the lectio divina structure is contemplatio.  As we spend this time in wonder, we pray for the grace to see as God sees and for the wisdom to discern God’s will for us.  David Foster compares this stage of contemplation – or ‘wonder’ – with lingering after sharing a meal with a friend:

We sit and take time to enjoy the food shared, and especially to enjoy the company in which we have shared the food and drink. It is a time for gratitude, humour and togetherness.  So it is good not to hurry out of the presence of God we have savoured in our time of prayer… this is a time just to let God be God, and to let God be God for me. Our own self-offering to God will come naturally out of that.’[2] 

Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation are the four stages of lectio divina but of course, there is always actio,  for as St Paul says, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5:14).  The impact of our lectio divina in our lives – the caritas (or charity) it inspires – is the true completion of the process of lectio divina.

So what?

Last year, John Huntriss came to St Bernadette’s to give us his lecture series on scripture, ‘The Diary of God’.  A natural follow-on from learning about scripture is learning to pray with scripture.  To that end, Fr Christopher invited Caroline Price to help form a group of seven parishioners in the ways of lectio divina.  The hope is that the group will open up to those who would like to make use of the formation they have received and the seven will take it in turns to facilitate a lectio divina group at St Bernadette’s.

At the prospect of facilitating a prayer group, there was – as you might imagine – a strong sense of ‘we’re not worthy’ among the group, coupled with a fear of coming across as ‘holier than thou’.  However, having journeyed through the formation process under Caroline’s gentle guidance, I am relieved to find that facilitating such a group does not require great knowledge or even holiness.  All we are called upon to provide is an opportunity for a group to read the scriptures in this prayerful manner, handing on what we ourselves have learned.

One might wonder why we bother to meet up to read the scriptures in this way when it is a process that one can readily make use of on ones own.  The answer to this will be evident to anyone who has taken part in the process.  Each week we shared one passage of scripture. Each week, we shared what ‘jumped out’ at us (though please note that sharing is not compulsory – there may be times when sharing would make you cry, or feel uncomfortable in some other way. That is understood and respected).
Sometimes, two or even three of us would have been struck by the same word or phrase, but even so, each person’s response to those words or phrases was always markedly different (this is not surprising when you think about it, because we are all individuals and the scripture passage provides only one side of the conversation!).  For me, listening to those insights from the other members of the group has demonstrated the great value of sharing the scriptures in a group.

Now what?

We are very grateful to Caroline, who has been leading us through our formation process with her beautiful gentleness and humility, and we are now nearly at the end of our formation process.  In the New Year, we hope to open the group up to the wider parish.  I have been challenged, surprised, delighted and have received many unexpected graces through my participation in the group and would highly recommend it!  Don’t just take my word for it, though: Pope Benedict XVI has said of lectio divina,

‘If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.’[3]

I warmly invite you to come and share in what we have had the good fortune of receiving.

Jane Critten

 


[1] Dei verbum paragraph 25

[2] David Foster, Reading with God (2005), p.
112

[3] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the International Congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation ‘Dei verbum’.  16th September 2005

 

 

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