Recently I spent the day swimming with my family. I had taken the day off work and, prior to leaving for the swimming pool we did some chores, prepared our lunches, and gathered our swimming supplies. I was feeling a bit grumpy that day and was quick to get frustrated or upset with my kids. Of course, my anger was justified in my mind by each of their infractions, but later in the day my son asked me why I had been so upset all day. He felt like he couldn’t get anything right, and that I was bothered by them (the kids) all day when I should have been happy to have spent the day swimming with them. My son had a point so I apologized, but after further reflection I realized that I had been a bit grumpy for some time.
I know we all have our moments like that, where we get easily bothered by little, trivial things, but I decided to take stock of my routines to see if there was something contributing to my edginess. After some reflection I realized that it had been over a week since I had done my regular daily prayer and meditation routine, so I returned to my regular routine and it has made a big difference in how I interact with others, my blood pressure is markedly lower, and I feel more “grounded”, for lack of a better term. It has served as a reminder to me of the importance of consistency in prayer and meditation for my wellbeing, which got me thinking that I should share my current practice here, in case it might benefit someone else.
There are two primary components of my prayer and meditation practice: the Anglican Daily Office and the meditation practice of Lectio Divina. I’m not going to spend much time discussing the Anglican Daily Office (though you can read about it here, here, and here), but will instead focus on Lectio Divina, which probably jibes more with common LDS scripture reading practices.
The term Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading” and is a form of scripture-based meditation intended to treat the scriptures not as texts to be academically studied, but as the “Living Word” where one can come to know the presence of God. It has its informal beginnings with Origen (3rd century) and others who viewed scripture as a means by which one can come to know the meaning behind the words of the text, and thus come to know God. The desert fathers of the 4th century focused on repetitive scripture reading so that one would always have the scriptures in mind. However, it wasn’t until Saint Benedict and the Benedictine order that the concept of Lectio Divina would come to be more formalized, for it functioned as a critical component of the monastic life of a Benedictine monastery, where, in addition to liturgical prayer and manual labor, monks were expected to engage in prayerful reading of the Bible.
Lectio Divina is composed of four phases, which I’ll outline below.
First Phase: Read
The first phase of Lectio Divina is the reading of scripture. This is typically done following a period of preparation, which might consist of prayer, but the point is to achieve some level of stillness prior to beginning the reading of scripture. It may seem kind of trivial to take the time to achieve stillness, but I have found this to be a critical component of the overall process because it removes distractions. I usually go to a quiet place and offer some prayers in order to orient my mind toward that which I’m going to do. Since I utilize the Anglican Daily Office, prayer and preparation is naturally part of the process.
Once you’ve taken some time to quiet yourself, select some portion of scripture and read it. You may choose a verse, multiple verses, or whatever feels right at the time, but I usually don’t read longer than a dozen or so verses, depending on the natural stopping points in what I’m reading. The point isn’t to plow through the scriptures but to let them speak to you, so keeping the length at something one can ponder is a pretty good idea.
After the scriptures are chosen, you engage in a slow and gradual reading of the scriptures, sometimes repeating the reading a few times. Try to clear your mind of preconceived biases about the text, the chasing of footnotes, etc.; instead, just slowly read the words and let them speak to you. I find it useful to read from unmarked text so as not to remind myself of previous notes or ideas related to the text. I’d rather have an open mind at each pass.
Second Phase: Meditation
The point of Lectio Divina is to listen to the message of the text as God’s “Living Word”. The point of the exercise is to commune with God so, the second phase of Lectio Divina entails meditating and pondering upon the passages of scripture you have read. As you ponder pay attention to which words or phrases from the text stand out to you. This isn’t a time for academic reflection, but rather a time to let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart. What stands out to you?
I frequently utilize the Anglican Daily Office lectionary when I practice Lectio Divina. For example, yesterday’s Gospel reading was Matthew 26:47-56.
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
As I read through the text multiple times and meditated upon it, my mind focused on the phrase “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Third Phase: Pray
The third phase of Lectio Divina consists of prayer about the word or phrase that was impressed upon your mind. Prayer is meant to be a dialogue with God, so, in my example, I prayed for peace in our communities. I prayed for an end to war, violence and bloodshed. I prayed that I may lose any desire I may have for violence or revenge; that I may seek to understand others rather than demonize or attack them; and for inspiration that I may do my part in bringing peace to my home and community.
Fourth Phase: Contemplation
In the fourth phase of Lectio Divina one moves into contemplative prayer, where the purpose is to just “be there” and quietly commune with God. The intention is to clear one’s mind of all distractions and just focus on the message impressed upon your mind during the second phase. I frequently struggle to quiet my mind and not have it wander off into thinking about my day or tasks I might have outstanding. To combat this, when I notice my mind wandering from the topic at hand, I repeat the word or phrase that was impressed upon my mind in the second phase. Some days, it may take multiple repetitions to get my mind back on track, but my goal is to move from the dialogue-like prayer of the third phase to a quiet contemplation where I clear my mind of distractions and simply listen to God.
So, those are the essentials of the meditative practice of Lectio Divina. It is a pretty simple process and can be easily integrated into the typical practice of LDS scripture reading. It may take as little as five or so minutes, to as long as one has time. I find that some days are more fruitful than others, but the fruitful days can be amazing, where I simply don’t want to stop and move on with my day. However, I believe the call of the Christian is not to be holed up like a hermit in meditative prayer all day, but to go out to the world and be the hands and legs of God in our communities. Lectio Divina helps me to clear my mind of distractions and center myself on God. It has been a beneficial spiritual practice in my life, most critically as I underwent a faith transition many years ago. I hope it can be as useful to you.
What about you? Do you have any spiritual or meditative practices you’d like to share?