Desire therefore my words; long for them and you shall be instructed. Wisdom 6:11
It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that it dawned on me . . . Scripture is Jesus. From the first word of Genesis to the last word of Revelation, Christ is present in The Word . . . as The Word. I had learned that Jesus is God’s incarnation on earth, Emmanuel, God among us, present to and in the human race. I had learned about the schisms in Church history that erupted over the argument about how Jesus is both human and divine; and yet it had not occurred to me to regard scripture as Christ himself. This may have been because my early catechesis was pre Vatican II and I learned my early religion lessons through the Baltimore Catechism which never even asked us to open the family Bible. My Protestant cousins knew Chapter and Verse answers to life’s complex problems, yet the sisters who taught me after Sunday Mass each week urged us to set the Bible aside and memorize answers to questions: Who made me? God made me. Why did God make me? To know, love and serve him in this world and the next . . .My mother, a cradle Catholic, gave in to my pestering and purchased a Bible story series which she read to me in installations at bedtime. Drifting asleep each night to the expressive but soft tones of her voice, I knew that although these stories of parting waters, brave women like Deborah, Judith, Esther and the women of the New Testament were exciting in themselves . . . there was something else present. The sisters were right, I told myself endlessly, there is mystery here which we cannot open . . . but which will be opened to us if we are patient and if we persevere.
Years later I discovered something called lectio divina, “an attentive and reflective pondering of sacred Scripture . . . that consists more in savoring than studying”. (Cameron 3) Using the method described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as contemplative prayer, I let the Bible fall open where it would to begin this adventure in which I would encounter Christ in a new way . . . and to my amazement, I felt something new burgeoning. My mother and I had read stories in chronological order beginning with Genesis and we had made our way through the soap-opera-like narratives in a plodding yet determined way; we had moved from the Old Testament through the fantastical prophecies and the comforting wisdom books to finally arrive at the New Testament. Now I handled the Bible in a completely different way; I allowed myself to be guided by Christ himself. I had stumbled upon the mytery the sisters had always hinted we might find. I had begun my journey of speaking daily with Christ in lectio divina.
What is the lectio divina? Simply this.
First, we must settle ourselves as much as possible in this world in which all of us are in constant touch with everyone. Once we move away from the constant call of electronic connections with others, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the opportunity to have a conversation with God.
Second, we choose a portion of the text as a reading by allowing ourselves to begin and end at what seem natural places in the narrative. We may want to read a wisdom Book in portions, or we may prefer to start with a narrative – some story we have always questioned or wanted to know more about.
Third, we refer to footnotes, online resources and juried commentary to clear up ambiguities about references and allusions to people and places we do not know. This allows us to “pierce the pearl of Sacred Scripture as ancient rabbis used to say”. (Cameron 5)
Fourth, we regard the Scripture as another human being and wait for the words we have read to speak to us . . . and Christ, The Word, will speak. “Treat the word of God as if it is a person – not as a problem to solve or a code to decipher; the Word of God is a presence – someone to get close to”. (Cameron 5) We listen, and even respond with a comment or question. We enter into dialog with God.
Fifth, we compare the meaning in the verses we have read to our own lives, seeing where the universal messages fit. We consider the connections with our own experiences, and the deeper implications of what we have read and heard.
Sixth, we offer a prayer of petition, praise or thanksgiving. We have, after all, just spent time with a friend who loves us greatly.
When I find myself thinking that I am too busy to pray, I know that my priorities are out of sync with my true function. When I put aside my work and find time for prayer with scripture, the reward is always much greater than I could have anticipated. Lectio divina is, after all, a conversation with God.
The CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH has this to say about The Life of Prayer. Prayer is the life of the new heart. Rhythms of praying [are] intended to nourish continual prayer. Whether prayer is vocal, meditative or contemplative, they have one basic trait in common: composure of the heart. (2697-2699)
Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share his mystery. (2724)
Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Editorial.” MAGNIFICAT. July 2011: 2-5. Print.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. 2nd edition. The Vatican: Libreria Editice Vaticana, 1997. Print.