Prayer and Praying: June 2003 Archives

More on Lectio


More on Lectio

A generous reader contributed this website which is from the Valyermo Benedictine on lectio It includes tips for private consideration of the prayer and for communal forms. Quite often our Carmelite group does this with great effect for everyone--it allows an exploration of the message of scripture in a way that is impossible for a single person. Also, it better helps tease out some of the applications one might make of the scripture. My thanks to the person who so generously sent me this link. (There are a great many links out there on lectio. This one is nice because it is succinct and yet pretty thorough, it seems.)

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It is time again for me to issue a fairly standard disclaimer. I recognize the presumption inherent in giving advice to anyone about anything dealing with prayer considering the state both of my soul and my prayer life. However, if we waited for those who are perfect to hear advice, we would labor long and hard without hearing a word since the time of Christ. So please forgive me both the arrogance and the presumption and take these as intended--mere bread crumbs to help those who may profit from them--myself among them.

Now to meditation advice. Many are reluctant to start on the path of lectio because they see it as more demanding and difficult than they are up to. Many doubt their own ability to "think" of things to pray about. Many say they lack imaginations and so have difficulty getting into meditation. All of these I understand. And yet these same souls are the ones who pray fifteen or twenty decades of the Rosary each day--whatever in the world are they doing all that time. They are meditating--but they have worn that path so often and so long that it is second nature--the territory is familiar and so the meditation is a natural concommitant of the prayer.

So it will become with lectio, but it may take a while and you may need help at the start. In addition to innumerable books in print about meditation and how to do it (most of which have never been much help to me) there are some helps to get you started. One thing I would recommend is a good bible-study guide, such as those now being produced by Ignatius Press. At the back of each printed gospel are two sets of questions for each chapter of the book. The questions for application make excellent meditation starters. Look at the question and then read the passage associated with it. Read the passage listening for the answer to the question and for the other questions raised by the passage. Do not read looking for some literal answer, but read expectantly, knowing that if we knock it will be answered, and if we seek, we shall find. The presence of application questions indicates that at least one other person found something here worthy of your attention--worthy beyond the mere study of words or understanding of the text--worthy to the point of doing something about what is said. Thus you are offered simply a way into the text--a path for initial meditation.

I hope as we go along to post other helps along these lines, but I welcome the suggestions and the helps of all of those already engaged in these kinds of prayer. They will be of benefit to all.

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The ancient practice of lectio is a gateway from verbal prayers to the richness of meditation and contemplation. When I think of lectio, I think of the passage from psalms "I will hide His word in my heart that I might not sin against God." (RSV: "I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. "--Psalm 119:11). I also think of our model in prayer, "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. " (Luke 2:19).

In the practice of lectio, most commonly done with scripture as the basis, we ponder God's word to hear what He is saying to us. A lot of people I know shy away from this because they perceive that such close communion in the Word borders on private interpretation. I think the fear may be overstated if the practice is rightly conducted. Moreover, the purpose of meditation is not to come up with new doctrine and new explanations for the way things are, the purpose is to talk with God and listen to Him in a way that is transformative. If prayer does not change you then it is not as efficacious as it can be.

How does one "do" lectio? All the standard rules of prayer apply--a quiet place, a few moments to recollect oneself and place oneself in the presence of God, an invocation of the Holy Spirit to guide and inform us as we meditate and to protect us from error and intrusion. And then we turn to a passage of scripture. It needn't be long--a single pericope from the gospels, a passage from daily Bible reading in your plan to read through the Bible, or the daily readings from Mass. Even the short verse used in morning and evening prayer can provide a wonderful foundation for prayer. God's word is loaded, packed, and infinitely expandable and ponderable. We read His word slowly and reverently knowing that His Word resides in these words. Jesus is present in the Word, throughout all of scripture. In the Old Testament, He is foreshadowed, announced, and present in a shadowy way and in images and types. (For example Jesus likens himself to the bronze serpent mention in Numbers 21:9 "So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live." And again in 2 Kings 18:4 "He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashe'rah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehush'tan. ") When we look for Jesus in God's Word we will find Him. When we find Him, we need to listen to what He says.

How do we listen? There are a number of ways--we can pursue active imaginative meditation. We can place ourselves in the scene. For example, read the passage of the Gospel of Luke about Zacchaeus. (Luke 19: 2-10 or so). Where are you in the passage? Are you Zacchaeus, are you in the crowd milling about Jesus? Are you standing off somewhere watching the whole thing? Listen to what God has to say to you as the person you are in the meditation. If you are merely observer, what does that say about your involvement in the things of God?

In addition to meditation, if you take a sufficiently short passage, you can simply repeat the passage, turning it over and over in your mind, worshipping God in His holy word. You might in times of dire trouble turn to the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (4:13) "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. " We might rest in this word, awaiting the strength, taking to us the grace that comes from this promise, recognizing its truth and applying it to our lives.

There are many ways of conducting lectio and many worthy sources and books on how to go about it. But first and most important is to immerse yourself in the Word of God. The Church thinks this so important that a plenary indulgence is granted daily to the person who meets all the usual requisite conditions and spends a half-hour or more reading scripture. By reading scripture, I have always assumed that they meant even so small a portion as a verse considered continuously in meditative prayer for half-an-hour; however, I suppose one should consult a canonist on the actuality of this. Even lacking a plenary indulgence, spending half-an-hour in the Word is much like an entire day of vacation. Many cannot spend that much time, but any time spent is well worthwhile.

One major caution: lectio is NOT Bible Study. Bible Study is a good, necessary, and concomitant action that accompanies lectio, however, your meditative prayer time is not the time to mull over the aorist tense of verbs in Pauline injunctions. It isn't the place to ponder the civilization and achievement of the Hyksos or the Chaldeans. It isn't time to speculate about the kerygmatic implications of the Book of Micah. Bible study is a necessary outside activity that inculcates a base-level literal understanding of the text. In the course of Bible study, you may find yourself drawn off into lectio and you would do well to abandon your trials and worries over the text and vanish for a moment into your "private room" where you might spend a few minutes really speaking with God about what His word means.

Lectio is a very powerful, very fulfilling means of prayer. When we conclude our time of prayer it is well to finish with an "Our Father," and with one firm resolution of what we will take away from the time we have spent and practice in the world at large. That is, lectio should touch you where you live and change your life in some small way. After all, how can one sit with the King of Creation and not be transformed?

More about lectio, keeping a journal, and prayer later. For now, just go and try.

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Life is made much simpler when other bloggers say what you would eventually get around to. The Blogmaster of Disputations has posted a remarkable little note on prayer as talking with God.

It seems we most often go wrong with prayer when we make it a lengthy list of petitions and pious meanderings through the wide fields of our daily concerns. These are legitimate topics for prayer time but they are not the sole purpose of prayer. There are times when we must share those things that burden us so that God can help us, so we utter our petitions. But we should make a space around our petitions to hear what God has to say back to us. Thus, if we have long lists of concerns and people for whom to pray, we should write everyone of them down, and offer God the entire list. And then, as we are moved to do so, talk with God about them--not monopolizing the conversation as it were with one petition after another, but taking those things that lay heavy on our hearts and offering them to God. Speaking the depth of our concern and then pausing, ending our portion of the conversation and assumng an attitude of listening.

I find petitions work quite well with Lectio. By that I mean that one spends some time listening to what God has to say. Hearing the word may in the course of events bring to mind certain concerns that then express, and we can return to the word to listen again. More on the ancient practice of lectio in another post.

But petitions must not merely be uttered, they must be offered and they must be the subject of deep conversation with God. Try to give them time and to hear what God has to say about them. You'll be surprised at what a fulfilling experience merely mentioning someone's name may be.

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Reflections on Silence


Sometimes silence is more difficult than at other times. Sometimes silence is comfortable--a space to be with God. Other times silence is merely being alone. God may be present in the silence but circumstances preclude the recognition of His hand in what is going on. Silence is simply emptiness. It may be good to experience these times of emptiness, but more often than not it is a trial. Worse yet is to be within a pocket of silence while everything around you seems to be in a whirl. You see life going on outside the little vacuum that defines your present world and you wonder what it is you do to join that boisterous, seemingly fun crowd.

Silence, however, does always nurture dependence on God, and it may be one reason that we try so hard to avoid it. We fill our time and space with noise, sometimes small, insignificant noise, but sometimes enormous, overwhelming noise. We seek to avoid too close an encounter. We reason, we think, we fill our time with small disputes, argumentations, conversations, thoughts. Or we fill silence with music, television, telephone conversation, anything to avoid facing the reality that sits immediately beneath the surface. Much of our business is simply the flurry that gives us excuse to ignore the invitation from the Almighty.

Still, we are human, silence is only ocassionally comfortable, and as one progresses, silence becomes progressively less comfortable. As one is weighed down under the normal routines and burdens of life, silence becomes the time when all the cares, concerns, troubles, and potential disasters rush in at once. How do we avoid the press of concerns and move through the silence to the place we ought to occupy--an awed and loving gaze at the Father, Creator, King of All?

I have no simple answer, but I do have the advice of a great many pray-ers from the past that tells me that you do not seek to avoid these things. Rather, you let them flow over and through you into the hands of God Himself. In itself, this is a form of prayer. God knows our concerns and they will come like harpies to pick and distract. If we hand them over immediately, they may still return. But the process is continual--every time they stop by to interrupt us, we hand them over to God. Eventually we will be able to entrust them to Him, and we will stop being distracted. More than that, the things that concern and frighten us will begin to have less power over us. We won't dismiss them, but we will being to understand that they are in hands far more capable than our own.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Prayer and Praying category from June 2003.

Prayer and Praying: May 2003 is the previous archive.

Prayer and Praying: July 2003 is the next archive.

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