Lectio Divina II--Encountering God in Scripture

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The chief part of lectio is listening to scripture. This means engaging the word of God on some level. How does one go about it?

Well, that depends on who one is in Christ. God has made each person different from all others. The means He uses to speak to each of us will vary with the means of the persons He is addressing. In lectio you are practicing listening and so you must find the "posture" that best allows you to listen.

Now, listening is an active process. We've all heard about active listening--listening in which we show our attention by nodding, by looking the speaker in the eye, by asking questions that help to clarify the point. All of these are important skills that engage both the person speaking and the listener. In lectio you can employ some of these skills. In considering a bible text, one does well to follow St. Teresa of Avila's famous advice:Mira que le mira--roughly--"Look at who is looking at you." (Autobiography Ch. 13). Surely the first step in listening is to look at the One who speaks. Take a moment and place yourself at His feet as Mary (of Martha and Mary fame) did. And look at Him while He speaks. You will need to employ the imaginative faculty to do this, but it can be done. Look at His face and listen to the words of scripture, His personal word to you. Look at Him closely enough to see that His exclusive interest is you. His entire love is directed at you and your salvation. His complete attention is devoted to you. In the back of your mind you may also realize that this is true of every single person on Earth. So as you sit looking, you can see what so many on Earth never take the time to see. You can see how Jesus longs for us to bend an ear, to listen--to pay attention.

For some, this exercise can be too much of a trial. The strain of trying to imagine Jesus looking at one can be overwhelming. If you cannot, for any reason, bear the weight of that gaze, then start more simply. There are as many ways of listening as there are people. When Jesus speaks, He often speaks in story. The same is true of much of the Old Testament. The story carries the message meant for you. The story is a small seed meant to grow. To grow it must be planted and watered in the imagination. In the previous post, I mentioned that it may be fruitful to consider the same text on several days. This is particularly true if you are just starting and trying to get the hang of what is going on. As you listen to the words of scripture, picture them in your mind. After your reading, close the bible, marking the place with a marker, or a finger and simply close you eyes. See what it was that you just read. In some cases, for example the Letters, it can be difficult to see things because the letter tend to be doctrinal, and written instruction. For this reason, it is probably better not to start with the letters, but to look first at the Life of the Savior. Nearly everything we know comes to us as pictures. Read a passage, close you eyes and see the scene. Place yourself there--look at every blade of grass, every flower, feel the breeze or the heart, feel the exhaustion or the elation. Be present. In being present we begin to hear. Too often we are troubled with the events of the day or with the constant restless movement of the intellect. If we are concentrating on participating in the event described, the intellect will have no room to wander, we will not be able to stray from the text. If we are seeing it and listening for what God means for us to hear in the text, we will have little time for our own concerns.

This form of imaginative participation in the scripture can bear great fruits for those who practice it faithfully. It can inform your prayer of the rosary and become a constant, higher starting point from which to begin prayer. At first you may not see the point, but eventually as you continue and as you listen, you will begin to hear things that you have not heard from the scripture before.

Another way to listen is to play with the words. Read them and then read them again accenting them differently. For example:

"A voice cries out in the wilderness make straight a pathway for God."

We can read this verse in many ways--but let me present two possibilities.

"A voice cries out in the wilderness
make straight a pathway for God."

In this case it is the voice that is in the wilderness.

"A voice cries out
in the wilderness make straight a pathway for God."

In this case the pathway for God is to be constructed in the wilderness.

Now these two variations have profound resonances against one another. They are not contradictory, they are complementary. Together they ring changes on a theme and broaden the implications of the scripture. We can acknowledge that sometimes the lone voice of conscience cries out to us, "Straighten up, confess, and let God in." This voice leads us to move toward God. And sometimes the voice says to us, "You need a time apart, a time of refreshment, a time to enter the wilderness of self and find there the Pearl of Great price, the seed of the kingdom of heaven."

Much of scripture is this way. You can read it one day and hear one thing, and return to it the next and hear something quite different and quite stirring. For this reason, the version you read for lectio can be important. You need not only to understand it, but to be inspired by it. This is one of the reasons I keep promoting the KJV or the Authorized Version--not because it is the most accurate translation, but because it was the Bible of my youth and the language that I grew to know and love deeply. The words themselves are enough to move me to transports of joy. Sometimes I can sit and just listen over and over again to a single line, to one word from the Lord. "Rejoice in the Lord alway again I say rejoice." "The voice of the turtle was heard in the land. . ." etc. Obviously, this does not have the same resonance through all people and will not have the same profound movement within them. Therefore, find the version that makes your heart sing simply to read it, and then read it, over and over again, delighting in the word, delighting in the line. Delight always to come before the Lord. I think of the hours that I have spent with the single have line, "You see now as in a glass darkly. . ." The sheer magic of that language moves me and speaks to me and it speaks so deeply that I cannot utter the words that it says. They simply invigorate love in a way I do not myself understand, but which I gratefully accept.

Also, with active listening, we ask questions. Do not be afraid to say, "What did you mean when you said, " Why do you trouble me, Woman?" Is that any way to address your mother?' And then listen for the answer--perhaps it is, "I addressed my Mother as Woman, because She is the New Eve, the beginning of all Women and the Mother of those reborn in Christ. She is indeed the archetype of Woman and the exemplar for all time. There is no distance here, there is no denigration. Rather, I have raised her and placed in the place of highest regard." Or perhaps, you will hear something else. But ask where you have doubts and listen intently. If you ask in simplicity, not like the Pharisee seeking to catch Jesus in some trap, the answer will come in time and the answer will change your life.

Lectio will improve your prayer life. Lectio will give strong roots to the depth of your love. Lectio will invigorate your faith and your devotion.

From time to time in the past, I have shared some instances of my own Lectio. You can find the fruits of these, and the methods I used to move toward them by clicking "Lectio" in the side column.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 2, 2005 8:17 AM.

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