It is true that, once you begin to abandon your will to allow the Holy Spirit to move at will, you are never the same. You may be older or wiser, but encountering the Sacred is an awareness that you can’t describe with mere human words or emotions. Yet, there are several layers of depth, neverending ones, that I find myself paddling down the river of life on my unique journey as a Lay Cistercian. I had always prayed what is called the Lectio Divina prayer, on and off (mostly off) since 1962, and I did not have the intensity nor the focus that becoming a Lay Cistercian provided me. I will confine my reflections to the conversion period of a professed Lay Cistercian, nearly eight years now if you count the discernment phase.
I remember Brother Michael Lautieri, O.C.S.O. telling us about Lectio Divina. He told us that being a Lay Cistercian means constant or daily conversion to become more like Christ and less like us. If you want to be a Lay Cistercian, he said, you must do Lectio Divina daily (one or more times). It is not easy, he said, but if you want to be a Lay Cistercian, this is the center of contemplation.
The challenge for me, as I would imagine for all those not monks, is discipline to set up a schedule to keep, using the four or five steps of Guibo II, the Carthusian Prior who taught the Ladder of Lectio Divina (lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio).https://blog.theprodigalfather.org/lectio-divina#
Lectio Divina, like any contemplative practice, thrives on consistency and habitual exercise. The habit of contemplative prayer is a key to The Art of Contemplative Practice. Ironically, so is anything labeled “The Art of…” The Art of Love by Erich Fromm comes to mind when discussing how we must acquire love by loving others. How we do that determines if we love authentically or unauthentically. I took Fromm’s comments and moved beyond them by applying them to the Christ Principle and How to Love as Christ Loved Us. We are talking about mastery of a process, which varies with each individual. The vagaries of Original Sin mean we go through periods of calm and rough patches. The habitual routine of prayer often brings us through such “dark nights of the soul,” and those always present doubts that what I am doing makes any difference to me, much less to change my world from self to God.
This past Sunday, the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) had their monthly Zoom gathering where they reflect collectively on topics that will form the basis of their meditation and prayer for the remainder of the month. One of the topics presented by Father Cassian Russell, O.C.S.O, our Monastic Lay Cistercian Advisor, was Lectio Divina.
My reflections are not centered around what Lectio Divina is nor even how to conduct this prayer. I am conscious of the stages, the phases, the morphing to a deeper awareness of the effects of Lectio Divina on me. I term it the movement from self to God, the steps in Lectio. You might have a different way to describe it. All said, it is a definite movement from self to God, although sometimes diffuse and difficult to grasp.
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who was, who is, and will be at the end of the ages. –Cistercian doxology