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.

  1. Saying Lectio Divina (my LECTIO has always been Philippians 2:5, since 1962) and being conscious of the four (five steps). Lectio Divina is wanting to be with the one you love and share in that person’s essece or spirit.
  2. Like any habit, we move from rote phases to just doing it without much thought. An analogy is driving a car. I get it the car and just drive. Lectio Divina becomes more and more about being present to Christ and seeking His love in my heart and less and less about HOW to go through the stages of Lectio Divina. When I am conscious that Lectio is a way that I communicate with the heart of Christ, I have moved from self to God.
  3. As I continue to reinforce my habit by using it consistently and with consciousness of my longing to sit on a park bench in the middle of winter and wait for Christ to come by, I divest myself of mundane thoughts in favor of seeking God.
  4. My contemplatio phase is when I wake up to the fact that I am not waiting for God to be present, rather, God is waiting for me to show up. I do so with silence and solitude and sink ever deeper into the waters of the Holy Spirit that envealop me with the pause that refreshes.
  5. I notice that I skip around from meditatio to oration to contemplatio and add actio (Pope Benedict XVI added this one) to do something with what is in my heart. I mix up the order. It doesn’t matter. I choose to SHARE my thoughts with you, not that they are from God as much as they are what God shared with me and told me to pass it on (actio).
  6. I can do Lectio when parked outside Trader Joe’s or Publix or when I am before the Blessed Sacrament. The scope of my Lectio is my whole day, pledged to God in my morning offering when I trace the sign of the cross on my forehead and say, “That in all things, God be glorified.” (St. Benedict)
  7. Father Cassian suggested that we consider illuminatio as a step of Lectio Divine. I think I have already done that step and incorporated it into what I understand as contmplatio. This is a new concept for me which I will try to assimilate into my ever growing spiritual enlightenment that comes from illuminatio. The key is awareness. Once I am aware, I am never the same old person but living out ahead of myself anticipating the movement of what comes next. Again, these ideas come from my gathering day and my becoming more and more open to the Holy Spirit in others with whom I gather in the name of Christ Jesus.

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

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