The last several months have seen us go through a sea-change, into waters we had hoped we would never see. Now we are on the open seas, and there is a storm about us. What are we to do?
We will not know, if we are not at peace: and so the first order of the day is to come to peace and abide in peace. For this, we need lectio divina: we need personal, meditative encounter with the Word of God. We hear the Word of God at Mass, in the celebration of the other sacraments, and in the Daily Office, directed to the entire People of God, and how often we have heard a personal word to us when we are gathered in the assembly? But our life is more than our public life; our worship is more than our public worship. And these are times that call, as perhaps never before, for prayer, and for sustained, deep contained with the One who created us, redeems us, and sustains us. Part 1 of this series set out a general plan for prayer. Part 2 looked at praying the Daily Office, which is required of clergy and religious and warmly and heartily recommended for laity. This part considers lectio divina.
The term is perhaps familiar to you: lectio divina, divine reading, is that manner of reading Holy Scripture in close dialogue with the Lord. The practice as we know it began in the monasteries, specifically with Benedict, who brought it to the West from the Egyptian desert, where he learned it from the Desert Fathers.
Lectio divina consists of four parts, or moments: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. In the lectio, we read a passage of Scripture to ourselves, aloud if we can, several times, to let it penetrate our minds and spirits. The passage need not be long; better, in fact, if it is not. The point is to treat the Sacred Word not so much as a feast to be consumed as quickly and as much as possible, but as the finest wine, to savor and enjoy. In wine tasting, there are several moments: the color of the wine, its aroma, the qualities of the taste, the length of the finish. In the lectio, we consider the meanings of the words themselves, the passage as a whole, the characters who are in the passage and how they are interacting with each other.
In the meditatio, we enter into the text: we dialogue with the Lord through the text; if it is a Gospel passage, we dialogue with our Lord in the text. What is he saying? What does he look like as he speaks to me? What are his eyes like, his entire face? Is he smiling or stern, confirming or correcting, is he doing more than one thing with that sacred glance? What thoughts occur to me as I consider the passage? What inspirations from it do I receive? The inspirations are usually fairly simple, in my experience, and they are often directions or commands, for Our Lord often heals us by commanding us to do something: Get up! Come forth! Stand up! You give them food! and the like: when we follow his command, he unifies our personalities, cleansing them, allowing us to go deeper into that sanctuary where God and no one else is found. In that sanctuary, peace is found: the peace of Christ, the peace that is Christ. Nothing else matches it; no one else surpasses him.
Within this sanctuary, prayer arises: this is the oratio. This could be a prayer of dialogue: Yes, Lord, I’ll do that; Lord, do I really have to?; Thank you for that word! It could also be a prayer of quiet, you and He looking upon each other, simply enjoying each other – this comes about, often enough, when he has spoken and we have heeded, and both he and we know that we will do what is asked. Each is secure in the other’s commitment. Each is delighted to be there, with the other. Each knows that one is loved. This prayer could also be a torrent: of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. Anything good can happen in this prayer.
The final stage is contemplatio. While the spiritual masters tell us that meditatio and oratio can be acquired or infused – those are the technical terms, and they mean either the fruit of our effort (acquired) or of the divine initiative (infused) –, contemplatio is always infused: one does not “acquire” it, it is always God’s gift. We can dispose ourselves for it, yes: and we should. But the granting of it is always in God’s gift, and when it is granted, one knows what St. Paul means when he writes “be not filled with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Holy Spirit”: it is a wordless, concept-free elation and freedom of spirit, a soaring heavenward and a plunging into the depths in which God is everywhere, one is in God, and the beauty is indescribable. There is a wild freedom in it – the freedom we were always meant to live.
If your lectio divina always, or even routinely, ended in contemplation, would you be afraid of anything the world might throw at you, knowing that the highest we can experience here in prayer is but a drop in the entire universe of love that awaits us?
Jesus is asleep in the boat. The Apostles and others with him – we, that is – are frightened. When we wake him, he asks us why we are afraid? And what do we do?
“Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Captain of our Faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Heb 12:2), we look unto him in Scripture, and find him there, remembering St. Jerome’s great saying, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
David Carradini is a Knight of Malta, of the Holy Sepulchre, and of the Constantinian Order. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Navarre, and resides with his wife in Virginia.