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!


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