Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Spiritual Practice of Meditation (Lectio Divina)

Some notes from this week's sermon on Meditation, specifically about Lectio Divina:

Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline): “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. It is that simple. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult. It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things, desires our fellowship.”

--For the early Church, this “listening to God” took the form of a practice called Lectio Divina. Lectio is a Latin word that means “reading,” while Divina is the Latin word for “holy” or “sacred.” So, Lectio Divina literally means “holy reading” or “sacred reading.”

The early monks, who were among the few who could read in those days, used the words of Scripture as the basis of their meditation.

There were set Scriptures that were read each day, or sometimes the monks would simply begin with Genesis, and practice Lectio the whole way through the Bible. In other cases, monks would meditate on the Psalms, beginning with number one, and sometimes meditating their way through all 150 psalms in one day!

Lectio Divina has four basic steps, which also have Latin names to identify them:

Lectio (Reading): In this step, the reader chooses a passage of Scripture—the shorter the better (just a few verses or a chapter at a time). Then, the passage is read (usually aloud, so the reader can hear the words and say them as they read along). Reading is done slowly, and without concern for memorizing the words or “getting it right” as far as meaning or understanding is concerned. Lectio is about encountering God in the Scriptures, not about passing a knowledge test.

Meditatio (Meditation): After the Scripture has been read through once (or sometimes several times), the reader will choose a word or phrase that stands out or has a particular ring to it. I always describe this as the “ah ha” moment of reading the Bible. Sometimes, after reading through the passage of Scripture several times, I will find myself stopping and looking at one word or phrase several times, over and over again.

Contemplatio (Contemplation): Contemplation is a time of silent reflection. Often, after dwelling with your chosen word or phrase for a while, you may find yourself simply being—settling in completely, and listening quietly for the voice of God. (Do not expect an actual voice here—that happens, but very rarely! Unless your name is Moses, you may have to settle for simple a nudge or a poke in the right direction.) If you find yourself getting off track—thinking about what to have for dinner, or the big meeting you have coming up this week—simply smile to yourself (we’re all human, after all), and go back to Meditatio for a while. Conjure up more images of your word or phrase in your head, and turn it around and around again until you find yourself coming back to Contemplation.

Oratio (Prayer): For the ancient Church, prayer came only after the long extended period of silence that accompanied Contemplatio. Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic, once said that “God is the ground of our beseeching.” In other words, we need to first listen for God’s voice, and then add our own voice to the conversation. Sometimes, I never get to this point in my practice of Lectio. Sometimes, I simply sit in silence and listen for the voice of God, or listen to the voice of God speaking to me through Scripture.

--The profound point of this type of meditative prayer is that it is not about us—that’s a different kind of prayer completely—one we’ll talk about in another sermon. This type of meditation is about God—and more specifically about our relationship with God. As with all the practices we’ll cover in this series, meditation is not about “getting it right,” but about “getting right in” with God.

Watch this space this week for more information on other types of meditation!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Some "Bonus Material" on Guidance.

Guidance can sometimes take the form of engaging in a guided meditation, or "spiritual exercise" under the direction of another person.

The Sisters of the Humility of Mary, our friends in Villa Maria, PA, have spiritual directors who can guide people through the "Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius." Their website is: .

You can also find a min-version of this type of guided meditation at , which is a site run by the Irish Jesuits. This site has a daily meditation based on a scripture reading. It is a text-only site, but if you prefer a more interactive approach, you can check out, which has the same type of scripture meditation in MP3 format--you can listen online, download to your computer, or put it on your iPod or MP3 player.



p.s.--watch this space for guidelines about the topic of Meditation, beginning next week!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Spiritual Practice of Guidance.

Guidance (also sometimes called "Spiritual Direction" or "Spiritual Companionship/Friendship," is the process by which we seek God's guiding Spirit in community with other people. Here are some suggested practices you might want to try out this week (or this month, or this year, take your time and pace yourself!)

--Pick one of the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and read the sections of that Gospel that focus on how Jesus interacted with his disciples. How did he act as a spiritual director to them? How did his stories, prayers, and conversations with them act as a spiritual guide in their quest to come closer to God?

--Call a trusted friend or mentor this week, and get together with him/her for coffee (or tea) and a conversation. It doesn’t have to be about anything major—or maybe there’s something you’ve been dying to tell this person for a long time. Experience what it is like to take time away from the business of your life to reconnect with another human being on a different level.

--If your mother is still alive, call her today and thank her, and wish her a happy mother’s day. If your mother has passed on, pray to God for her, and know that God cares for a loves those whom we hold dear in our hearts, even after they have died.

--Read Paul’s letters to Timothy. These are great examples of spiritual guidance. Reflect on how Paul both respects Timothy’s gifts and graces for ministry, while at the same time offering his own thoughts on how to practice ministry. What words of wisdom does Paul offer you as you “listen in” on his spiritual direction sessions with Timothy?

--Come to the meditation group tomorrow night at the Eastwood Mall. This is not a commercial, I promise! We meet at 7 p.m. in the community room, which is now located in the Dillard’s wing, across from Payless Shoes. Okay, it sounds a little bit like a commercial, but really, the meditation group is an opportunity where we kind of mentor each other in our spiritual practices.

--Reflect on the key verse from today’s Scripture reading: Galatians 5:25—“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” What does it mean to be guided by the Spirit? Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit for guidance when facing a problem? What happened? If you haven’t ever asked, try it today. Watch how it changes your perception of the problem, and journal about your thoughts and experiences this week. Or, talk to a trusted friend or mentor about how you’re feeling about God’s guidance.

--Check out the website of Spiritual Directors International:
Find out more about what a spiritual director is, and what a spiritual director does. You can also find a spiritual director near you, and learn about what it takes to become a spiritual director. If you feel yourself being called in that direction, a good place to start is by finding yourself your own spiritual director, and explore what that process looks and feels like.

Watch this space--as I get more ideas this week, I'll post other ways you can think about/practice the spiritual practice of guidance.



Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Spritual Practice of Solitude

Solitude is time spent alone, in silence, to hear the voice of God speaking to you. Remember the story of Elijah--God's voice was not in the fire, whirlwind, or earthquake, but in the silence and stillness that came at the end. But solitude is also an attitude and a way of life--not that we separate ourselves out from the world in order to be "pure," but that we create spaces in the midst of our crazy-busy lives in order to be present to God's Spirit.

Here are some pointers on cultivating the spiritual practice of solitude:

--Begin by finding the quiet spaces in your life. What part/parts of your day is the most quiet? (For me, it’s about 6 a.m., before anyone else, including the dogs, have awakened.) Richard Foster told the story in his book about playing “the quiet game” (all the parents reading this will know what he means by that) “Who can be the quietest?” Find those moments when you feel the quietest, and remember what that feels like.

--Then, find a quiet place. Where do you go to be alone? (A place in your house, a park, the church, the library—some other place.)

--Go to that place and spend some time alone on a regular basis. (If you are an extrovert, it is usually best to do this in conjunction with spending time with others—don’t take anyone else with you to your quiet place, but spend time with others, and then go there. If you are an introvert, don’t spend all your time in the quiet place, but find a way to interact with others, too.) Remember what it feels like to be in your quiet space.

--Quiet your mind; settle in (There is a Quaker expression that is used for this—“Centering down.”) Remember that this is not a contest. It will take time to learn to center yourself—many times of going to your quiet place.

--Cultivate the practice of “centering down” in your quiet place. Find out what helps you center down most easily. Then, remember that feeling, and what it was that got you there.

--While you are centered, do not speak, but listen. Listen for the voice of God. Sometimes, despite what the psychological tests say, it is o.k. to hear the voice of God. Find God speaking to you through whatever you are reading or experiencing while you center down. Remember that. All of this will become very important later.

--Ease yourself back into the world. Don’t shock your system. Remember what they tell you when you bring a fish home from the pet store? You keep it in the baggie and put the baggie in the fish tank at home for about an hour before you let the fish go. That way, the water in the baggie can take on the temperature in the tank, and the fish won't be shocked when you let it loose. Take a “buffer time” between solitude and plunging yourself back into life full steam. Remember how you do that, and how it feels.

Why is it so important to remember how you feel as you go to your quiet space?

--Because solitude is a frame of mind, not necessarily a place. (I’ve met too many people who say they can only experience the presence of God in one particular place—it limits your ability to be attuned to God’s presence and God’s voice.) If you practice enough, you may be able to center yourself in a shady glen or in an airport, in a church or in an office building. Even in the midst of noise and distraction, if you can remember what helps to center you down in your quiet space, you can find solitude and peace.

The pitfalls and dangers of practicing solitude:

1. Feeling like you’re not doing it “right.” (It’s different for everyone. What centers you may feel like torture to someone else. Do what works for you, but don’t use the lack of finding any one method as an excuse to say that you can’t practice solitude, either. It often takes months or even years of practice to get to a solitude that works best for you, and sometimes even then, you might find yourself growing and finding new ways to experience solitude.) Don’t feel like you have to “get it right.” Practicing a spiritual discipline is not about “getting it right,” but about getting right with God.

2. Restlessness—or the wandering mind. One of the desert “Abbas,” or fathers, of the early monastic movement was once asked, “What do I do when I am meditating in my cell and my mind wanders?” Abba replied, “Smile to yourself, and then get back to your work.” [Work, here, meaning, the work of practicing solitude.] Our minds wander; how many times have you spent at least a few moments during worship thinking about what you’re going to have to eat after church? Be honest! Smile to yourself—smile at yourself—and then get back to what God has called you to do.

3. Rushing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me for pastoral counseling or spiritual direction, and they come in for one session, and I teach them some method of meditation or prayer, and they go away and come back the next time and say something like, “I tried it, and it didn’t work!” I ask, “Really? How many times did you try it?” “Once.” Practicing a spiritual discipline—especially solitude—takes time. It’s like taking care of a plant--you water it a little bit at a time and let it grow. If you tried to give a plant all the water itwould need in its lifetime in one gulp, it would die. Practicing solitude is the same way.

4. The “long dark night of the soul.” This is not my phrase--it comes from St. John of the Cross. Often, we try to avoid the dark places in life; St. John of the Cross invites us in. “The dark night of the soul” is a time of struggle—think of Jacob, wrestling with God (or an angel) in Genesis. It was only after the struggle that he was blessed. Rather than a place of dread and fear, the dark night can be a great teacher. The greatest mystics and teachers of the faith have all had this experience. In her recently released letters, Mother Teresa is seen to be struggling quite often with this very issue. The dark night of the soul teaches us patience with God, and with ourselves. It is the time during which we deconstruct all our pre-conceived notions about ourselves and the world around us, not so we are left quivering and confused, but so we can put it all back together again in the end.

St. John of the Cross wrote this about the dark night of the soul:

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved into the Lover.

In going through solitude, and eventually the long dark night of the soul, we go through the exact experience of Jesus. What does Luke tell us happened while Jesus prayed on the night before his death? He sweat blood! (That’s a powerfully dark night of the soul…)

--Working through all of these pitfalls, with some fits and starts, and allowing yourself enough grace to learn from your silence and solitude, you can begin to build up for yourself a practice of solitude. You will not become a monk—I don’t expect that—but if you do feel that call, let me know, there are ways to express a monastic vocation in a Protestant environment. But you will find yourself cultivating your own flower of solitude to the point where you can find that quiet place inside yourself whenever you need it most. And in the stillness and the silence, you can listen for the heartbeat and voice of God.

Grace and Peace to you in solitude,