Every now and then, more so now that I am 77 years old, I get an idea that sends me flush with excitement. For an old, broken-down temple of the Holy Spirit, that can be extremely important. Just returning from my annual Lay Cistercian retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, I was all aglow with the slow burn that comes from trying to remember what was said by Brother Cassian, OSCO, and Brother Emilio Rafael, OSCO, to name two of our retreat instructors who taught us about the Psalms. What follows is their handout for various Psalms and my personal reflections on them. The richness of that moment will not be duplicated, since it is only the recollections of a poor, broken-down temple of the Holy Spirit and not the whole community doing Group Lectio Divina, a first for me. The theme this year’s retreat was Prayer, and the Holy Spirit, as always, is the Retreat Master, assisted by Brother Mark OCSO, and his staff.
When I think of praying the Psalms, the words of the Preface at the Eucharist come to mind. “Lift up your hearts to the Lord!” and we all proclaim, “We have lifted them up to the Lord!” Indeed, we did lift up our hearts to the Lord, quite literally. To life up the heart is a sign of love, not just of one individual, but all those present, a palpable, tangible lifting of our poor efforts to seek God, and God’s gracious, ever-patient response of love and his energy in return. As I wrote in several blogs ago, and maybe plan to write a book about it, there is only one Catholic Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) but there are definitely two realms, or spiritual dimensions, i.e., that of the mind and that of the heart. Many of us always begin, and some even remain in, the church of the mind, where knowing something is power, exclusivity, and certitude and holding onto traditions and customs takes on the same value as doctrine and dogma.
There are those of us who only live in this church and only tip our toes in the swimming pool of the heart, to see how cold it will be. With all the distractions that the world has to offer and the Devil facilitates, it seems to me that I have to have a combination of both the mind, with dimensions of authority and governance, plus knowledge and truth, and then the church of the heart, which contains elements of service and discipleship plus love and service (communicating with the Mystery of Faith).
It would look something like this, if I diagrammed it out on a piece of paper.
(Triumphant, Militant, Purgative
(One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic)
CHURCH OF THE MIND CHURCH OF THE HEART
ELEMENT ONE: Authority and Governance ELEMENT THREE: Service and Discipleship
ELEMENT TWO: Knowledge and Truth ELEMENT FOUR: Prayer and Worship
Here are some points that I have come to realize, based on Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5).
It might seem strange to speak of the Church before launching into my Lectio Divina results, based on the Psalms. I assure you, there is method in my madness, and, believe me there is madness in my method. A big reason to introduce Church, especially the two realms of the head and the heart, is to share with you my reflections from the retreat on both classes on the Psalms and Lectio Divina. Brother Michael, OCSO, taught us the one on Lectio as prayer and it was a WOW class, even though I had heard Brother Michael’s presentation twice before. Third time was the charm, it seems. As the collective Body of Christ (those in Heaven, those on earth, and those awaiting purification) careens down the road of time, it has not always followed a straight line, more like a wavy route. Imagine a road with big ditches on either side. The center is save and there is a line down the middle. At the edge of one one side is the Church of the Mind, on the other side of this road is the Church of the Heart. In the middle is a balance of both of them, a balance that Christ refers to when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
SWERVING DOWN THE PATH OF LIFE
Prayer gives those willing to look introspectively the ability to have balance between mind and heart. The Catholic Church contains both mind and heart, using knowledge and service as ways to move from self to God. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Catholic Church is that pie-in-the-sky Church made up of virtual believers who get doused with water and they just wait until they die to claim their reward. The Catholic Church universal is made up of sinners (except for Christ and his mother). As it moves down through time, many times it has swerved almost off the edge of the Church of the mind side and then is pulled back to center with emphasis from the Church of the Heart. Individuals always pull us back to what is real and not from the world, such as all the early martyrs, the Apostles, the Prophets, the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Augustine, St. Lucy, St. Bernard of Clairveaux, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, St. Thersa of Lisieux, St. John of the Cross, St. Hilda, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Pope Saint John Paul II, and now Pope Francis I, plus the countless hundreds of thousands of indivuals who have espoused the challenge of The Master, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It is when we have lost sight of taking up our cross daily that we begin to swerve more to the mind side of Church. It is when we think that saying five rosaries makes us a better Catholic than saying just one Hail Mary. It is when we dump responsibility for our behavior to “have in us the mind of Christ Jesus” in favor of just getting on the conveyor belt of belief and riding it out until we die. Finally, it is prayer that allows us to balance our minds with our feelings and our hearts. It is in being present to the Holy Spirit in others, instructor and participants, that makes this Lay Cistercian retreat valuable. It is Lectio Divina and recitation of the Psalms in Liturgy of the Hours and in Lectio that move our hearts to sit on a park bench on a cold day and wait for Our Savior to pass by. It is by feeling the humility and obedience of Christ to the Father that we have any balance between our mind knowing God and our hearts loving God to the glory of the Father.
First I will share with you some observations about Lectio from Brother Michael, then I will move into my recollection about what Brother Cassian and Brother Emilio Rafael taught about the Psalms. Brother Emilio Rafael was not present for the class itself but we felt his presence with the Lay Cistercians because of the time he took to prepare the text selected and the prayer he offered on our behalf.
Brother Michael always begins his Lectio presentation by tell us how to pronounce it. It is not pronounced Lec-tee-o, but LEX-see-oh. Divina. He outlined four stages or steps, In his former life, he was a travel agent and teacher, so he is very precise about his subject and call things as they are. For example, he says, if you want to be a Lay Cistercian so you can tell others you belong to the Monastery, you are in the wrong business. The reason you do Lectio is not so other will think you are holy, but for you to convert your self to be more like God and less like you.
LECTIO EXAMPLE OF BROTHER MICHAEL
I Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense.” (New Jerusalem Bible)
Four Steps of Guido II, Cathusian Prior
LECTIO (Reading) is taking a short passage from Scriptures (not a spiritual book, unless you have been doing his for some time) and say it S-L-O-W-L-Y (Brother Michael’s emphasis), over and over in your mind. You want to keep doing this until you can feel what is behind the word in your heart. This movement from the mind to the heart is at the center of Lectio. Take your time with each word. If you find yourself thinking about a meaning of the word, stop. Come back to this saying over and over or many times during the day, “Love is patient and kind.” Resist the temptation to read it through in a minute or two. Savor the words. Move from the mind into the realm of the heart. Resist the temptation to seek instant gratification and results. Your purpose is not to understand the meaning for the word but to move that word into your heart based on your life experiences and to convert renounce yourself and move ever closer from self to God.
MEDITATIO (Meditation of Reflection) is pondering over the word you just thought about and digging deeper into the meaning. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you, when you place your heart next to the heart of Christ. I ask myself, am I patient and kind? What does that behavior look like? Is God like that with me? Then, I need to be that way to those around me, especially if they don’t like me or get on my nerves. Do I want Christ to be patient with me when I sin or fail to love God with all my heart, my mind, my strength? Meditatio moves the words from Scripture to me and how I act. It is about the heart more than the head, the way Christ would use the words patience and kind, not as words to be said but part of his very essence and being. Being patient and kind to others as Christ is being patient and kind to me. Personalize it. Savor it. Take one or to days or weeks to keep this is your focus.
ORATIO (Prayer). Brother Michael told us that prayer should be simple and from the heart. To be more like Christ you would probably not say more Rosaries, Our Father’s and other prayers, but try to feel with what Christ wanted us to do with the word. Oratio is not saying five Our Father’s rather than three Our Father’s because you want to be holy. As Father Francis Michael, OCSO, says, Praying is not the same as saying prayers. Praying is your heart waiting to be next to the heart of Christ. In praying you want to be with the one you are praying, in the same way a husband feels the love for his wife and wants to be with her as much as possible, in her presence, holding her hand, sharing silly little faults and failing, being patient with each other because you love them more than mere words can describe. This is Lectio, moving from the head to the heart, and applying it to how an invisible God and a visible Christ want to be with us. Baptism is when God wants to be with us; Confirmation is when we, with the help of the Holy Spirit wan to be with God. Lectio, especially the prayer part, allows us to at least place ourselves in a position where God can speak to us and we listen. The first word in St. Benedict’s Rule tells us about what love is. It is...”Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.” If you are a monk or nun, then you realize how important listening is in love and how obedience to the Abbot or Abbess is the same as Christ speaking to you. If you are a husband, you know the importance of listening and how important it is to have obedience to your wife and do what she says (apologies to Scripture).
CONTEMPLATIO (Contemplation) means, as it does for the previous three steps, slowly moving from the mind to the heart. In the first step, lectio, we just took a small bite from Scripture. In meditatio, we chewed on it for a long while, savoring the flavors, the texture, the slight nuances of meaning. In oratio, with silence and solitude, we made our prayer to “let all of it go and let the Holy Spirit come into our hearts”. That prayer led us to contemplatio, where there are no words, no thoughts, no distractions. I like to think of contemplatio as sitting on a bench in the dead of winter, all alone and with all the distractions of a winter snow fall to watch, and just waiting for Christ to stop by and sit down with me. I know he is with me always, but in contemplatio I invite Christ to come and sit with me and let me heart just be next to his heart. Contemplatio is the level of being, and this is the level of “I am who am”. Lest I fly under false colors, I must tell you that I have never reached contemplatio, but, and I do say, but, I had a tremendous sense of peace and a flow of energy that I could not describe in words. If Lectio is converting those little parts of me that don’t believe to those that do, to become what I read in the lectio, then I may have approached, but not fully reached what is meant by contemplatio. St. Thomas Aquina said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Prayer has the power of God behind it and does not necessarily depend on the faith of those present. Read Mark 9.
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26 After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28 When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
When describing the wonders that surpass all knowledge and earthly experiences, St. Paul says: “But, as it is written, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9) Contemplatio is the deepest and purest level of spiritual awareness. In prayer of Lectio, we begin to enter into the realm of God, processing slowly toward perfection. We may never reach this level in this lifetime, but it is like playing a game of darts, we just have to keep trying until we hit the bullseye.
ACTIO (Doing What You Pray) The most difficult part of prayer is conversion, or as the monks and nuns say, conversion of life. It is not only the reason you pray Lectio Divina, it is the reason why people become monks and nuns, and, might I add, Lay Cistercians. In taking that one or two-word phrase in the lectio stage,”love is always patient and kind”, the reason for prayer and contemplation is to love with not only the mind (you say you are going to be patient and kind, but also with the hear, where you become patient and kind). This is the lifelong conversion and why we must take up our cross daily. We need to have in us the mind of Christ daily. Each day is a lifetime where we try to seek God with all our hearts and mins, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. The fact that we fall short so very often means we need to keep praying to convert our self to God. Daily! Imagine only eating once a week or drinking once a month. Pope Benedict XVI was indeed correct when he suggested we use Actio as the fifth step in our Lectio Divina.
Why use Scripture for the base of Lectio Divina? Scripture is not just a bunch of words or ideas but are holy and sacred words. This means they have the power to do what they signify because God has touched them as ways to help us with conversion of life. Remember that daily conversion of life to Christ we just talked about? Where else can you get words from God, filtered through authors and authorized by the Body of Christ? What sounds like a no brainer is sometimes a stumbling block because of the obstacles that we use to deny, scoff at, belittle, befuddle, and block our attempts to convert our selves from the world to The Spirit. (See Galatians 5). Having obstacles to find Christ within us is not unusual. What is unusual is that we must make the effort to pray (that is, carve out time with Lectio Divina and praying the Psalms to be with Christ). And why wouldn’t wanting to be with Jesus be our heart’s desire. If you are a husband, do you not want to spend time with the one you love? Do your thoughts not move to them frequently during the day and your heart beats a little faster when you think of them? Wanting to be with the one you love is a sign of authentic love.
The retreat instructor, Brother Michael, OCSO, gave us many great insights into why we need to read Scripture, but the one that struck me the most was his question, “What is Scripture and why does God consider it so important that we use it to help us love Him with all our hearts, our minds, and our strength plus our neighbor as ourselves? Based on how you answer this question, you can tell if your primary orientation is the Church of the Mind or the Church of the Heart. If you say, “Scriptures are books that teach us about what God wants us to know,” you are more on the “mind” side than the “heart” side. That is not good or bad, but may not be as catholic as you could be. If you say, “Scriptures are the love letters God sends to those he loves,” then you probably tend to think of “heart” more than “head”. God send us love letters to help us overcome obstacles to loving with all our hearts and minds and our soul. What do you do if you receive a love letter from someone? You save it and put it in a place of reverence and honor.
ACTIVITY FROM LECTIO
If God sends you love letters telling you how much he loves you and wants you to be with Him, why not put those love letters on a special table, like a mini-shrine. You could put the Scriptures, a candle, and pictures of the one you love on that table. When you read the Scriptures each day, light the candle.
Prayer helps us be with the one we love and to focus on removing those obstacles that keep us from moving from self to God. Again, remember what Father Francis Michael, OSCO, says about prayer: Prayer is not the same as saying prayers. Consider this: just saying prayers in the sense of, the more you say the more you are spiritual, but rather prayer should come from the heart and allow your heart to meet the heart of Christ. Converting your life to Christ means reducing the obstacles to love, but it also has the effect that you will love your spouse more, your children more, your family more, your spiritual brother and sisters more. Eucharist and Reconciliation are just the gifts we need from Christ to help us remove obstacles to our love. In Eucharist we take the very life of God into ourselves. In Reconciliation, we take the very life of Christ into ourselves to replace those behaviors with those of Christ. St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4, Tools for Good Works, contains a wonderful list of behaviors into which we can convert our life. http://www.ben.edu/center-for-mission-and-identity/resources/rule-of-st-benedict.cfm
WHAT MRS MURPHY TAUGHT ME ABOUT PRAYER AND LOVE
Mrs. Murphy is the archetypal woman used by the late Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B. to make a point about communicating with God. Mrs. Murphy, as I understand what Father Aidan was trying to tell us back in a Sacramental Theology class in 1962, was that Mrs. Murphy had more wisdom than all the other theologians and pundits on Scripture put together and more authority than all the priests and popes combined. http://liturgicalleaders.blogspot.com/2008/09/aidan-kavanagh-osb-april-20-1929july-9.html I have been puzzled by what he meant by that statement until this last retreat, Sunday, February 2-3-4, 2018. The answer came, as I am noticing more and more, from some seemingly insignificant class or a chance remark by someone. In this case, Brother Michael, O.S.C.O. said, “Scriptures are God’s love letters to us and we respond to them with the heart more than the head.” Valentines and love letters are cherished by the one who receives them and kept in a special place of reverence and honor. When we see that love letter, we think of the person who was so thoughtful as to give us a gift, but not just any present, one that links our heart to theirs. That is the answer to my Mrs. Murphy puzzle. Mrs. Murphy was not talking about God but was allowing her heart to be near the one she loved, the one she wanted to be with as she prayed silently and alone in the back of her church, head bowed, hands clasped in prayer, refusing to look up. It is total openess to the totality of all that is real, the ontic possibility of the manifestibility of all being encountered, contemplation’s final completion, loving others as Jesus loved us, sitting on a park bench in the cold and waiting for Jesus to pass by. Lectio Divina and praying the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours, reading Scriptures, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, are all means to an end, to love Christ with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength, and our neighbor as our very self. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37)
The very center of what Christ came to tell us is the purpose of human existence, to love God with all our heart, with all our souls, with all our strength, and “to do” love for others as Christ did for us. In order “to do” love, we need Lectio Divina, and all forms of prayer to move us from the head to the heart.
“4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.[“
Saint Paul, in Galatians 3-4 writes about being under the Law and keeping the rules for the sake of keeping the rules, thinking that keeping the rules means you love God. the more you keep the rules scrupulously. I have always had a discomfort with the writings of St. Paul as it refers to the Law and the Spirit. Keeping the Law or doing the rituals associated with Jewish purification is the same as what I considered going to Mass on Sunday. You are Catholic, you go to Mass. It is what you do. During the last twenty years, I have come to a deeper understanding more than a different understanding. Now, I see that Saint Paul is talking about the observance of the Law as being limited, such as the offering of holocausts of animals, such as the unblemished Lamb. It is more like God teaches His people to move from animal sacrifice to those of the Heart. Read Jeremiah 31:31 where the Prophet speaks of a new covenant written in their hearts. The Law is not changed but morphed from sacrificing animals, which all the people around the Hebrews were doing, to ones written on the heart. What interested me the most was St. Paul taking using this authentic concept and moving it to what Christ did to take it to the next step.
Prayer, communication with God, relationship with the Sacred, is not a repetition of mental prayers, even Scriptures, but moving from those prayers into the deeper level of the heart. It is classic Church of the Head and Church of the Heart duality. The Old Testament is not destroyed but fulfilled. Christ becomes the pontifex maximus who leads us from doing pagan things like offering animal sacrifice because they want God happy, to beginning to see that it is mercy and behavior that makes God happy. Of course, the greatest behavior of all is Christ emptying himself to take on the nature of a slave, our nature) Jesus comes to free us from the tyranny of the Law (thinking that doing repetitious prayers will save us). Faith (God’s energy not ours) saves us because Christ reestablished the Covenant that now allows us to be adopted sons and daughters. Thanks to Christ and God’s love, we are heirs of the Kingdom, not merely humans. We are spiritual apes. See my three volumes on Spiritual Apes in the Store section of this blog.
Like Father Aidan’s allegory about Mrs. Murphy, the novel of Antoine de Saint Exupere, The Little Prince, has been in the heart of my spiritual heart for many years. I used my time in Lectio Divina to ponder the meaning of Philippians 2:5 using the allegory of the fox and the Little Prince. I will offer the text first, followed by my reflections on the story, as it pertains to prayer using the heart more than the mind.
“Please–tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:
“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”
I recommend you read the above passage two or three times and then ask yourself how it might apply to you and Christ. There are three ideas in that quote that caught my attention and against which I laid down my thoughts about Scripture as being God’s love letters.
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . . I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember. ” (Chapter 21, The Little Prince) When I used Phil 2:5 as a guide to thinking about responsibility for what you tamed, I thought of John’s Priestly Prayer in Chapter 17. Christ says, “I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realize that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me. I want those you have given me to be with me where I am so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (21-24) Christ has tamed us. We are the rose. Being responsible for the ones he tamed, he wants to take care of us, and he is exicited to take us to meet the Father, to write them love letters to us, to have his heart be next to ours. Christ asked only one thing of us, that we love one another as He as loved us. It is the time we take to love others that is prayer. It is the time we take to be responsible for those around us whom we have tamed in Christ Jesus. Jesus is responsible for us…Forever. And here is a question to ponder: If you were Christ and knew you had to go to the Father and leave your followers by themselves, what would you leave your trusted disciples (twelve of whom are the Apostles plus St. Paul) to help them carry on your mission? What armor or protections would you want them to have to be able to overcome the Evil One? We are not left orphans, but we are left as adopted sons and daughters.
A LAY CISTERCIAN REFLECTS ON PSALMS AS PRAYER OF THE HEART
Another retreat session at our Lay Cistercian’s retreat was on the topic of Psalms. Remember the theme is prayer and the emphasis is on growing deeper into prayer using both the head and the heart. Brother Cassian, OSCO, and Brother Emilio Rafael, OSCO, selected the following Psalms to use as a basis for reflection as we look at the Psalms as prayer. Here are my thoughts about these passages, as much as I remember.
Psalm 37:4 Find your delight in the Lord, who grants your heart’s desire.
What does the word, delight, mean? It means at least making us happy with someone, some event. We do what delights us, rather than what makes us angry and frustrated. What delights our hearts? It could be having power, making lots of money, having friends to tell us how good we are, having a house bigger than we could ever possibly use. The verse of the Psalms said we should find our delight in the Lord. What does the Lord do for us that fortune and glory will not? The answer is, the Lord grants our heart’s desire. And what is our heart’s desire? Ultimately, it is to love God with all our minds, our hearts and our strength and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37). St. Benedict has this desire as the first of his tools for good works in Chapter 4 of His Rule.
I just completed writing the final manuscript of a book entitled, Sentinels of the Dawn: Waiting for the Lord. A Lay Cistercian reflects on how to prepare for the coming of Christ in our hearts. The book is a collection of my blogs found on this very site. I bring this up because I thought of being a watchman at a factory, nothing much going on, trying to keep awake, waiting for those first rays of the Sun to pop above the horizon. I can not only visualize it, I can feel what I felt when I was a actual guard, thirty years ago. When praying the Psalms or any other prayer, it is not the fact that you say the words that is the prayer, but how you heart touches and is touched by the heart of Christ. I actually experienced Group Lectio Divina, a first for me, in our class with Brother Cassian, OCSO, on the Psalms as Prayer. I never even considered Lectio as having a group component, but there it was and it was inspiring. When Brother Cassian asked us to ponder on the word delight, not just intellectually, but to get in touch with the feelings associated with that delight, it was as though the Holy Spirit blew the lid off the place. So many Lay Cistercian retreatans were volunteering words and ideas about what the word delight meant in their past and current spirituality.
We all discussed what it means to have delights in the Lord and how doing so bring someone closer to Christ., the source of our delight. Some spoke about their longing to be with Christ; other mentioned they were happy to do Lectio Divina, and Eucharist because Christ was present and made them happy. We must have spent nearly one hour on that one sentence in the Psalms. It was delightful. It is a foretaste of Heaven in our midst.
LEVELS OF SPIRITUAL AWARENESS
Some time back, I wrote about five levels of spiritual awareness because I want to explore how we grow deeper in Christ by taking time, gaining attention and focus, and keeping our spiritual attention span fixed on waiting for Christ. I used the concept of the Word as found in John 1:1. to move through five ever more spiritual levels of awareness.
LEVEL ONE: Hear the Word. First, to be spiritually aware, you must be present to someone to hear what they say to you. At Eucharist, you hear the word, transformative because they come from God. You may just hear the word in the same way you hear all words and do nothing.
LEVEL TWO: Pray the Word. Once you hear the Word, you have two options. You may listen, as St. Benedict says in his first words of Prologue and the Word falls on rocky ground (you don’t pay attention, you only go to Eucharist because your spouse nagged you to go, you go to please someone, or you have nothing better to do and want people to see you at Church on Sunday. The point here is you hear the Word with your Mind but nothing happens in your heart. The second way is to listen with the heart, or lift your heart and mind to be present to God. St. Benedict gives a wonderful laundry list of behaviors that come from praying the Word with your heart. They are called good works, precisely because they are good for you. You don’t want to do bad works, do you?
LEVEL THREE: Share the Word. You are here to love your neighbor as Christ loved you. This level means you join your faith with those of others to give glory to the Father through the Son in union with the Holy Spirit. Where two or three are gathered in my name, says Christ, there I am with them. Some people realize this with their minds and some with both their minds and their hearts.
LEVEL FOUR: Contemplate the Word. Growing ever deeper in knowledge and the heart, moving towards being with Christ, approaching the Sacred.
LEVEL FIVE: There are no Words. This is a level beyond words, beyond thoughts, beyond experience. It is a level of pure being, pure energy, one with the One who is, sitting next to the heart of Christ on a cold day, warm as toast from His Real Presence. I don’t ever expect to reach this level, this side of Heaven. I think I got close enough to feel the warmth of Christ’s presence, but I am not sure. Maybe that is what is meant by experiencing the Mystery of Faith.
Praise to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen.