I can’t believe what Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) has done for me over the past ten years. I have not had a miraculous revelation during anything, nor a flash of lightning (like St. Paul), but, reflecting back on where I was, in terms of loving Christ, and where I am now, I am not anywhere where I was when I started my journey as a Lay Cistercian. I can’t explain it except to say, doing Lectio has moved me slowly, almost impercibly , towards being more like Christ and less like me. All of this movement is none of my doing. I attribute it to the Holy Spirit energizing my Faith so that I can consistently and constantly do Lectio every day. Here are some outcomes or products that I have realized as I sit on a park bench and wait for Christ to show up to talk to me, only to realize that Christ has always been there and I am the one who has not shown up.
DISCOVERING THAT SIMPLICITY CONTAINS COMPLEXITY
It comes as no surprise to me that my Lectio Divina is moving from simplicity to complexity. The simplicity part comes whenever I do Lectio Divina and recite my phrase over and over (Philippians 2:5). Growing from self to God as I seek God every day, has become more than an intellectual statement. The template for this growth is the Trinity of God (one nature yet three distinct persons). This revelation is so incredible that human reasoning alone could not conjure up this reality. It took Christ, the Messiah, to fulfill what had gone before and then show us how to love others. Scripture tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be given to you besides. It is this type of simplicity, the resignation that you don’t have to do anything but place yourself in the presence of Christ and wait, that makes Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, daily Lectio Divina, meditating on Scripture, adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, the foci for meeting God.
DISCOVERING THAT YESTERDAY’S STRUGGLES TO HAVE IN THE MIND OF CHRIST JESUS DO NOT COUNT TOWARDS SEEKING GOD TODAY
Dependence on God.*25n “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?o27 Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?*28 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin.29 But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. 30* If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ 32 All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides. 34 Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” https://bible.usccb.org/bible/matthew/6
I read this Scripture and thought about how I should not worry so much about me trying to reach God as much as I should be waiting for the Lord to speak and then respond. My Lectio sessions are not as formulaic as they were (four phases of Lectio Divina) but rather just letting go of all around me in silence and solitude and being present to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
This approach takes humility and obedience to what the presence of Christ shares with me in Faith, not just with Lectio meditations but also with all the Cistercian practices and charisms.
FAITH IS WHEN GOD CHOOSES ME AND BELIEF IS WHEN I RESPOND WITH THE ENERGY OF FAITH
My wife is convinced that I am a hypocrite in my practice because I used to go to Church every day and now, with COVID 19, I don’t attend anything except virtually. I respond that “I am Church” (not the Church Universal) and where I gather in silence and solitude to seek God every day, even if Tallahassee, Florida, I am still a part of the Lay Cistercians at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) who are in solidarity with One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism, with the monks, everyone linked to everyone else with Christ as the vine and we the branches or leaves. I have come to realize what it means to be an adopted son of the Father and try to speak and act as one who realizes my inheritance. St. Benedict encouraged his monks to be aware of their heritage in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
“46 Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.
47 Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.
48 Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do,
49 aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.
50 As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ, and disclose them to your spiritual father. 51Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech.
52 Prefer moderation in speech
53 and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter;
54 do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter. 55 Listen readily to holy reading,
56 and devote yourself often to prayer.
57 Every day with tears and sighs confess your past sins to God in prayer
58 and change from these evil ways in the future.”
EACH DAY IS A LIFETIME
I realize that seeking God anew at the beginning of each day, I ask for God’s mercy on me and those for whom I pray, then ask that I be open to the possibility of the manifestability of the Holy Spirit in all whom I meet, and not judge what they believe. I have a long way to go on moving from an intellectual consent of Faith to one where I just sit and listen with the “ear of the heart.”.
FOUR NEW WAYS I HAVE EXPANDED HOW LECTIO DIVINA ALLOWS ME TO BE PRESENT TO CHRIST
As I move down my journey towards Omega, as Teilhard de Chardin would say, I have developed new ways to do Lectio Divina to adapt to my unique environment as a Lay Cistercian. I share them with you in the hopes that you might find some of them helpful in your own spiritual path.
THE CORE LECTIO
Everyone needs a core against which they measure themselves. Christ is my core. If I apply this to Lectio Divina, then the four-steps (some say five steps) of Lectio Divina as set forth by Guigo II are core for me. Here is a Youtube video that explains it very clearly. Bishop David Walker talks on the Guigo II method of Lectio Divina. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqeBV3PC01g
Here is an excellent resource on the core of Lectio Divina from the monks of Collegeville, Minnesota. https://www.conceptionabbey.org/monastery/lectio-divina/
MY VARIATIONS ON LECTIO DIVINA PRACTICES
As I listen to Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, I am reminded of how the human mind always looks for better ways to do something. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EIE78D0m1g
I use the core of Lectio Divina but with five adaptations I have made over the last ten years.
VARIATION 1: ONE SCRIPTURE TEXT FOR THE PAST FIFTY-FIVE YEARS
Lectio is about being present to the Word of God in Scriptures in the mind and in the heart. Since I have had the only center of my life to be “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:) those the eight words are the only ones I have ever used as my first step, i.e., Lectio. Ten years ago, as I approached another conversion of morals in my life (Lay Cistercian spirituality), I dutifully recited this mantra over and over. Since this is the living Word of God, the effects on me went unnoticed, as I mentioned above, but with consistency and continuous practice on a daily basis, I began to think less of following the four-step formula (apologies to Guibo II) and more about just “letting go” and letting God do the talking. The results are absolutely astounding and produce great joy in my mind and heart, a joy that is not of this World but from just being present to Christ. Less worry about the externals of prayer (although I do them unconsciously) and more emphasis on the abandonment of self to just sit and listen with no hidden agendas on my part. This is how I do all my subsequent adaptations of Lectio in its various applications.
VARIATION 2: MOVING FROM SELF TO GOD IS NOT ABOUT SELF AT ALL
The purpose of my life is Philippians 2:5. It also happens to be the one Lectio reading that I recite over and ove in the hope that I become what I read. I don’t think about tying my Lectio to a specific time or place every day, although I actually do have a schedule with a time and place. I don’t worry about my going through the four steps of Lectio in turn or get out of sorts when I miss a step. Lectio can happen at any time, any place, any situation by my just beginning to recite my Philippians 2:5 sentence. I am not consciously aware of moving from self to God or even of the time it takes to long for the Lord. I try, some days are better than others, to open myself to whatever themes the Holy Spirit wants to send me, rather than trying to force something on my Lectio sentence that may or may not fit. Lectio is not about me nor is it up to me to do other than put myself in the presence of Christ and wait.
VARIATION 3: LECTIO IS NOT A PRIVATE PRAYER BUT SHOULD BE SHARED
Christ shares Himself with us in Lectio through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We must share our Lectio with others and allow them to glorify the Holy Spirit in us. When we share anything with others linked with the Holy Spirit, we open ourselves to the energy of the Holy Spirit to permeate our lives. My first step in this is not Lectio but “Scriptio”, writing. Several times per day, I sit down to my blog site and begin with my only Lectio (Philippians 2:5) and then sit silently and in solitude (unless I have chores to do from my wife) and wait for a meditatio. My prayer is always the same. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Writing is a way for me to share my Lectio thoughts, many of them based on the writings of others, but all of them inspired by the Holy Spirit, even if I don’t know how they fit in my view of reality.
VARIATION 4: SITTING ON A PARK BENCH IN THE DEAD OF WINTER WAITING FOR CHRIST TO COME
The scenario I use most for Lectio, even if I am at Trader Joe’s waiting for my wife to shop (with a mask, of course), is that of a park bench in the middle of winter, looking down the road for Christ to show up and sit with me in contemplation. This scene is one where I can see it in my mind or view it online as a photo to help me focus. The park bench is silence and solitude. Winter is my choice of environments because it is all the same color and allows me to look down the road for Christ. It is also cold, and somewhat out of the normal being uncomfortable. with the pain of winter. In this sense, it is like the condition we live in with the physical and mental universes, called the world. What the world cannot give and what I seek each day is to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit with the warmth of energy that is not of this world but present in the kingdom of heaven. I want heaven to be present to me as I sit on that bench and be saved from the cold of this world. Waiting for the Lord is a critical part of the Lectio process. It is the time that I take for waiting in humility and obedience to God’s will that makes my time worthwhile. Good thoughts begin to flow, such as the realization that Christ has been sitting next to me all along, in silence and solitude, just waiting for me to shop for Him and not the other way around.
That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict