In keeping with my Top Ten Favorites theme, here are my top ten photos with a twist. They are the focus of contemplation in various Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5) sessions I have used. Photos add richness and a touch of realism to my Lectio Divina meditations. They allow me to use more of my five senses to access my mind and, through my mind, my heart. Using photos and video clips in my Lectio, I can begin my meditations on Philippians 2:5 with a theme and tie all of my thoughts together.
PHOTO ONE: CHRIST IS THE ONLY TRUE CENTER
Blessed Virgin Mary– In the window of the Abbey Church at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, there are no pictures of saints or statues. In the back wall, there is only a stained glass window.No statues of Saints or inspirational pictures are founds in the stained glass windows. Look at that same photo of Mary below. What do you see? Nice colors? What else? Where is Jesus in relationship to Mary? Notice that Christ is her center, not the other way around. The Church honors Mary because of what she taught us: do what he tells you. Christ is always the center for Mary. Mary chose Christ as her center, just as we have the opportunity to do. Mary tells us she is a poor center but points us to a good one. My soul magnifies the Lord, she says.
What do you see? Look at this photo for ten minutes. What do you see? Certainly stained glass. What images are contained in the glass window of the Blessed Virgin Mary? This is the picture on the back wall of the Monastery Church, Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery.
I usually close my eyes for a minuto, then open them and look at the photo once again. I keep doing this for ten to fifteen minutes. What comes to mind is the result of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to do anything but let the photo speak to your heart. No words are needed, and no images need to be remembered.
PHOTO 2: TWO DIMENSIONS OF MEANING
Animals don’t seek what is meaningful in their life. They seek to follow their nature and survive. Their nature is animal. Humans have a reason for a reason. My contention is that we alone, among any sentient life, possess the ability to ask why, when, how, what, and when. Humans share animal nature with animals, but with a big difference. We know that we know. We look at what it is and ask how it all fits together. We look around at what is and ask how we fit into what we call reality.
VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE MEANING
I suggest that we humans seek the answers to how it all fits together in two dimensions: one is external, such as using the sciences, literature, and what is outside of us to find meaning, the visible realm of the mind. This approach seeks to use the mind to answer questions of meaning, the results of which are appropriate to the physical and mental universes. The second way is contemplative, which is going within ourselves to discover what is meaningful and of value. This approach seeks to use the heart to translate what the mind discovers, the results appropriate to the physical, mental, and spiritual universes. When we use the heart, we are in God’s realm, and love is the measurement of what is of value. You don’t have to be a Lay Cistercian to be contemplative, but what makes us different (not better) from Agnostics, Atheists, and Pagans is we live in three universes (physical, mental, spiritual).
EXERCISE THE MIND: To probe deeper into reality, I will ask you to answer three seemingly innocuous questions, all of which are the same but may be monumentally different in how you answer them.
This question uses your mind to probe deep into the physical universe, the realm of matter, time, and energy. Go to a place of solitude in your life. Look at this photo for five minutes. What do you see? In the space below, write down onlywhath you can see with your eyes.Don’t editorialize. Don’t go any deeper than what the photo displays.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
QUESTION TWO: This second question uses your mind to probe deeper into both physical and mental universes, the realm of the mind.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Go to a place of solitude in your life. When you look at this photo for ten minutes, what do you see? In the space below, write down what you can see with your eyes, but now add this question,”“What is in the cup? Whom does the cup represent? What is the significance of a cloudy window? How does this photo help you contemplate your inner self? How does your mind help you to see associations and probe questions about meaning that Question One does not address? Write your ideas down in the following space.
QUESTION THREE: This third question uses your mind to probe ever deeper into reality, penetrating the physical, mental, and now spiritual universes within the realm of the heart. In the first photo, you just saw physical reality. You used the first photo to ask what it could mean in the second photo. Now you add the spiritual universe to whatit is and its meanings. Remember, spiritual means looking for the meaning of life within you.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Go to a place of solitude in your life. When you look at this photo for fifteen minutes, what do you see? This third photo is the same as the other three butdifferente. Look at this questionwith your mind ando focus on your heart. For Questions One and Two, you have been asked to look deeper into your inner self. When you look at the photo now, what is the cup you see? How many of the answers you gave to the purpose of life, what your purpose in life is, are in that cup? Who is the cup? With what do you fill the cup? What does the foggy window remind you of in the Mystery of Faith? Let your mind just be present to the cup. Does your first and second threshold or questionappearp in the spiritual universe? Write down your thought when you are ready.
When using contemplation, I use LectioDivina’ss five steps to help bring me to where I can actually rid myself of all thoughts, agendas, cares of the day, and false self and move to just waiting for Christ to come and sit with me awhile. I am not so presumptuous to think that if I command, Christ will drop everything and come. Even though I know He told us to ask anything in His name and He will give it to me, I don’t want to be like Adam and Eve and make myself into God. In silence and solitude, I prefer to ask God for mercy, humility, and the strength to be obedient to the signs of contradiction in my spiritual journey. This story is one I wrote for my latest book, The Place Where No One Wants to Look. I offer it as one of my favorite photos to help with your Meditation on seeking God.
WAITING FOR THE MASTER
You are seated on a park bench in the dead of Winter. Jesus has told you He will be passing by the bench sometime soon. You seat yourself and look down the path, straining to see Christ as he comes around the bend of the trees. You don’t know what he looks like, but you have an invitation to meet with him today, and all your senses are at their peak. You don’t want to miss him.
The first person to come to the trees is an old woman pushing a cart full of what looks like bottles and rags. You smile as she passes and wishes her a good day. She turns to you and asks if you have a water bottle. She says she has not had water in two days. You only have half a bottle of water left, but you give it to her, asking her to excuse your germs. She trudges away, smiling.
You look up, and there is what looks like a teenager. He asks if he can sit on the bench with you. You do not know him and are reluctant to let him sit down but he has on only a thin T-shirt, and it is freezing outside. “Thanks,” he says. He talks about how he is homeless, the Shelter kicks them out at 7:00 a.m., and he has no place to go. Again, you look to the pathway straining to see if Christ is coming. No Christ. The teenager says he is twenty-seven years old and out of a job with no family and nowhere to go. You get out your cell phone, call the local Catholic Charities, and speak to someone you know about helping the young man. You help out there once a month with packing food for the homeless, so you are familiar with their services. It happens that the City has a long-term shelter for people who need job skills and a safe place to stay until they get a job. You give him the directions to the shelter about eight blocks away. He gives you a hug and trudges away.
It has been going on for two hours now, and no Jesus. A dog comes up to you, a Weimaraner, tail wagging, happy to see you.”“Hey girl”” you say. “Where is your Master?” She sits down and offers you one of her paws to shake? Friendly dog, you think, but who could be its owner? It has been going on for three hours now, and it seems to be getting colder. Just you and the dog are there, which you have named Michele. As you wonder once more if you have been stood up and inconvenienced, an older man approaches. He has a long, gray beard, somewhat matted together, and uses a cane to help him wobble down the path. His clothes are neat but certainly well-worn. His face has a gnarly look about him as if he had weathered many hardships, and they had taken their toll. He asked if he could sit down since he was tired. You say, “Of course, I am just waiting for a friend to come by. “You look cold,” he says. “Here, take this scarf my mother knit for me; it will keep you warm.” The dog sits next to the man as if he was its owner. All the while, he kept stroking the dog’s head and petting it on the head. “Oh, by the way,” the old man says, ”this is my dog. Thank you for finding it for me.”
Two more hours went by, but you did not notice because the conversation was so warm and intimate. You tell the kind gentleman about your trials and successes and how you want to seek God wherever and whoever it might be. The gentleman tells you he must go home to see his father; he lives with him. You think of how lucky the old man is to have such a loving Father. The old man gets up and smiles at you.”You are a good person,” he says, “and I look forward to seeing you again in the future,” his face just beaming with kindness. Turning to his dog, he says, smiling,” Coming” The dog jumps up and down a few times, wagging his tail fiercely, and they both set off, trudging slowly away from the bench. You look at your clock and see that five hours have passed, but they passed so quickly. You are a bit disappointed that Christ did not stop by. You think maybe you got the time wrong and left to go home. As you are going, you remember you have the scarf the old man gave you as a gift, knit by his mother. You are shocked by what you see. On the scarf is embroidered your name in the gold thread. You think to yourself, he said his mother made it for him.
Another thing you noticed. You felt your heart burning as the old man talked to you on the bench. “I wonder, ” you think,“…I wonder.”
The only prayer you can think of comes into your mind. Praise the Father, 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.
Now, look at the park bench photo for a few minutes. Think about the story you just read while focused on the park bench. What thoughts does the Holy Spirit place in your mind? Write down what your heart tells you about the story you just read. How does this relate to where you are in your Lay Cistercian or another spiritual journey?
ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS:
PHOTO FOUR: Is that all there is?
Ask yourself this question: Is there a beginning to time? Is there an end of time? In terms of three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual), I would say.””I don’t know about physical time. I do know about spiritual time. Time has no beginning nor end in the spiritual universe. Time is” Time is essential for our comprehension of the world around us. For those who accept the Resurrection of Christ, time is Forever; it is the relationship we seek to achieve, our inheritance for keeping true to the command of Christ to love one another as He has loved us.
PHOTO FIVE: Photo of how I feel about being in the presence of Jesus.