Be Still - Three - Lectio Divina

So, having established, in my last post, that we need to cultivate quiet in order to hear God as we need to, how might we go about that?

In theory, it’s simple. Find somewhere physically quiet. It might be a quiet, comfortable, space in the house, or a bench in the park, or somewhere else like that - somewhere one isn't likely to be disturbed. Sit down and do nothing.

I wish, oh, how I wish, that it was so simple.

I have, and I’m sure you do too, a mind which is full of thoughts, hopes, fears, ideas, memories, more thoughts, and so on. They race around inside my head, competing for my attention, until I’m quite weary of them, and feel like yelling "Be quiet, will you!!" I can’t just ‘switch them off’ - it doesn’t work that way.

So, what do I do?

Well, I sit. And I stay still. And I resist the urge to check Facebook, empty the washing machine, collect the post from the doormat, or any other of a dozen things which might distract me for the duration of this time. This is time for me and God, and I am determined not to let the world, even the good things of the world, intrude on that. Usually, I need to do ‘something’; some ‘spiritual exercise’, in order to focus, and to ‘drive out’ all those extraneous thoughts, so that I can hear God’s still, small voice.

Let’s start by considering a simple spiritual practice; one which is probably least ‘alien’ to most of my readers because it mainly revolves around reading the bible. This practice is known as ‘Lectio Divina’, and it’s a form of what’s known as ‘contemplative prayer'. The words are slightly awkward to translate from Latin in English, but it roughly means ‘divine reading’. It owes its origin to the Jewish way of reading the Haggadah during the feast of the Passover. In the Haggadah the Exodus story is retold, but the point is that it’s not just a reading, it’s meant to be much more than that - it’s a reliving, an identification with the story - placing oneself and one’s family within it, in order to experience, in the imagination, what one’s forefathers went through.

As far as Christianity is concerned, it’s a practice which has been around, in various forms, since its introduction by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c 330- 395); it was also later encouraged by St. Benedict of Nursia (c 480-547), the founder of the Benedictine order.

In Christianity, it’s used as a way to develop a closer relationship with God by reflecting prayerfully on His words. In Lectio Divina, we read the chosen text three or four times in total, giving an opportunity to think deeply about it and respond thoughtfully and prayerfully. When we practice Lectio Divina, we should imagine that we’re involved in the events depicted in Scripture - for example, hearing God’s words to the Israelites in the desert. It can (and should) be an intensely personal experience.

Prepare

I suggest allowing at least half an hour to read, reflect, respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, and finally to rest. I start by praying. Just something simple, once I’m sitting quiet, comfortable, and relaxed, inviting God to be present in my reading and my thoughts; for example: ‘Lord, please show yourself to me.’

Read

The first reading is an opportunity to get to know the Scripture passage. Just read slowly, leisurely, letting the words flow. Take note of any words or phrases that seem to ‘jump out at you’. It’s important not to force things, but to wait patiently for God to give gentle guidance - and don’t worry if nothing in particular stands out in the passage.

Reflect

The second reading of the same passage focuses further on the points I become aware of during the first reading. Don't feel that you have to read the whole passage again at this stage - sometimes it pays to concentrate on any things which stood out on the first read through.

Reflect for a few minutes on what you’ve read. Be careful not to go into ‘study mode’: don’t try to learn anything from the passage; don’t try to analyse it; but instead let your imagination run with the words... Picture the scene in your mind; perhaps picture yourself involved; consider how you might feel. Think about what God might be trying to say to you in the situation the words conjure in your imagination.

Respond

Read the passage a third time, carefully, savouring the words as before. And then it’s time to respond. Maybe pray to God, and thank Him for what you’ve noticed; spend some time quietly listening too - you may find yourself in a conversation with God.

If you’re forgetful, you may like to write down your thoughts and the things you’ve imagined, for future reference and perhaps further consideration. If you keep on with Lectio Divina, this may become a journal... And it may be an idea, every now and then, to read through the entries and see if a common theme develops.

Rest

After a final, careful reading of the passage, try to spend around 10 minutes in silent contemplation. This isn’t a time of prayer or meditation - just sit quietly and allow God to work. If you realise that your mind is wandering, thank God for pointing it out, and steer yourself gently back to stillness again.

Always remember that Lectio Divina is not an end in itself or another spiritual practice to tick off our to-do list. It’s an aid to help us hear individually from God through Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, and it’s one possible way to deepen our relationship with Him.

So, practically, where in the bible should you start? Psalms are good - with a few exceptions, they are of manageable length and are mostly self-contained. Sections from the gospels can be good - as can the epistles. As a general point, be careful of reading ‘chapters’ - many of them create quite arbitrary divisions in the text - sometimes it can pay to select a section in which the ‘action’ straddles the divide between one chapter and the next. If you really want me to give you direction, then Psalm 23 is a good place; at this time of contagion, Psalm 91 is good too; Psalm 139 is always good, but it’s long, and it can be hard to ‘consume’ something so big on your first go - though picking a section of it can work.

More posts with further ideas for spending time quietly with God will, hopefully, follow shortly.

God bless you!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020