SPIRITUAL GROWTH THROUGH PRAYERS
Part I – Learning About Lectio Divina (Spiritual Reading of the Bible)
In Part I of this BCBP three-part formation series we invite you to learn how to make Spiritual Reading (Lectio Divina), praying with the bible, a regular habit. You will surely find it a great help for your faith life.
1. Take time to relax and bring yourself into the presence of God.
2. Slowly read the text aloud.
3. Mark a continuous line any text that moves you or pleases you.
4. Slowly read the text again silently, watching your reactions to the text, especially to the text already marked.
5. Quietly think about the marked passages of words. Why are you comfortable with some texts and uncomfortable about others? Think how the marked texts relate to your life situations.
6. Pray about the message that God’s Word has brought to your life. Talk it over with Jesus.
7. Take some time to silently sit in his presence. Open your heart to him and listen to what he has to say about his word and about your life.
8. End by thanking the Lord.
II. UNDERSTANDING LECTIO DIVINA (SPIRITUAL READING)
The following are very important preliminary considerations that help you understand what Lectio Divina, Spiritual Reading, is all about, what attitudes we need for it, the discipline required, and the external circumstances that make it possible.
A. Spiritual Reading is different from ordinary reading
Lectio Divina or spiritual reading is entirely different from ordinarily reading and requires another style and set of attitudes. Ordinary reading is directed to study, gathering information or filling the time pleasantly in your free time. It is mainly concerned with learning whether this learning is theological or literary, sacred or secular. Spiritual reading on the other hand is not concerned only with the taking in of ideas or concepts but to receive the messenger and his messages to which you are called to respond. This response is made to a call to communion with the Word of the Father through the Spirit.
Spiritual reading brings you into a interpersonal relationship while ordinary reading leads you to a subject-object relationship. The principal reason for spiritual reading is transformation and growth rather than learning. To allow this transformation to take place you have to make connections between the text being read and the life situation in which you find yourself. Spiritual reading then has to be clearly distinguished from ordinary reading even when the latter is concerned with material which is labelled spiritual.
Since ordinary reading is usually a process of acquiring facts and knowledge, you will tend to approach the text in an aggressive manner. You will try to dig out facts, get the guts out of the book, pull out the information you require, you will remain with the text only long enough to master it, to analyze what it is saying or to accumulate the facts. Indeed, the quicker you can master a text, or drag out the relevant information, the more effective you are. It is the world of speed reading evaluation, judgement, criticism, distinguishing, data analysis in which you are dominant.
Now in spiritual reading there is another approach to the text. You bring yourself humbly before the text and submit to its guidance. You do not set out to master the text but to become a disciple eager to learn. To become spiritual reader you have to slowdown your speeding-mind and take time to dwell peacefully with a text. You seek guidance from the text for your journey to God. Through the text you come into contact with the Word behind the words. He is present leading you to reconciliation, healing, forgiveness.
You have to be sensitive to the messages you receive. Do they affirm your present way of behaving? Do they challenge your life style? Listening to and waiting upon the Lord, you allow the light of Truth to illuminate the Way you must take if you are to come to the fullness of Life, Spiritual reading bonds us with God making us one with Him who is the Way, the truth and the Life. Spiritual reading is never done in an aggressive fashion but rather with a docile, receptive spirit open to all the messages that direct your journey into God.
III. ATTITUDES NEEDED FOR SPIRITUAL READING
A. Seeing the Inner Depth
First, you have to learn to see not only the obvious into the text but its inner depth. You have to penetrate beneath the time bound formulas to the timeless truth behind these culturally and historically limited presentations. You have to bring a prayerful presence to the Word behind the words which will lead you to proclaim, “It is the Lord”. Then you no longer desire to be anywhere else.
You become to content to dwell with the text in faith. Gradually becoming aware that in the most ordinary appearances, in the light of faith, God is speaking. Therefore, you have to train your ears to hear what is being said by God behind surface manifestations that make no sense from the human perspective alone. Then you will no longer look ahead impatiently the the time when your expectations are fulfilled.Then you will no longer look back nostalgically to the way things were. You will come to rejoice in the presence of the Master hearing his voice, allowing him to affirm and challenge you.
B. You need to give up Control
You need to give up control and allow the truth of who you are to emerge. You are nothing but a gift of God’s love. In the first creation he gave you to yourself and in the recreation He gives Himself to you. You are a finite gift present to Someone infinitely greater, wiser, more loving than yourself. You have gratefully accept the gifts God shares with you. You have to affirm your utter dependence on God, taking a grateful, receptive, rather than an aggressive, manipulative stance towards the text.
You must learn not to dominate but obey; not criticize or condemn but allow the text to criticize you; not downgrade but savor each word. As a disciple you can only ask questions that will lead you into more profound depths. You must allow yourself to be formed by the Word of God, detached from all that might be a personal programming of the Word of God.
To achieve this you must learn to listen attentively. You must still the mind and grow in faithful attention to the master even when there is darkness and dryness. Sometimes you might try to avoid being attentive to spiritual reading because you fear the implications of the master’s message or because you are so involved with what you are doing that you cannot “let go” and allow the message to reveal itself to you.
But gradually as you strive to overcome your needy, greedy love and desires, through the practice of daily dying to self gratification, you will begin to see the text not as a dead letter but as a current message to be assimilated. You will then opt for repetition rather than constant newness and excitement, savoring each message of the Be loved.
D. You need patience
You must stay patiently with a text whether you get results or not. This patient dwelling with the words of the Bible deepens your power of concentration so that even in dryness and aridity you will allow the Word of God to pierce the marrow of your being.
IV. THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER
You can only become a man or woman of prayer, if you are prepared to submit to the discipline required for it. Disciples does not mean regulations, but developing, the attitude of a disciple namely, doing things that dispose yourself towards being attention to a spiritual master. Discipline is necessary because ordinarily it is possible to sustain the movement towards “life with God” without support and direction from others who are more experienced.
The Word of God, contained in the sacred scripture offers you a most reliable guide, for He is the Way. However, if initiation into a life with God is to go beyond mere sporadic enthusiasm, it demands a daily or weekly pattern of life which supports this kind of experience. Time must be taken to establish a new rhythm of life which will foster a reflective approach and an extended pondering of the scriptures.
You need first a period of withdrawal from the hectic pace of life. This withdrawal to a place alone is necessary, because without it we can fall to realize how much we have surrendered the direction of our lives to other people. Everyone expects a feverish pace of work and involvement from you. Your liveliness and attractiveness are judged often by your activities. Without solitude and a relaxed presence to the Master, we fail to provide the graced conditions for prayer. You fail to ever be alone with the Word who is life.
Without silence you can not hear the word that emerges out of silence. To procure inner silence you must learn to center yourself to still your speeding mind, so full of so many things. Later in this course, you will learn some helpful methods or hints of how to grow or enter into this inner silence.
C. Put Aside Productivity
At times you will find no message, no satisfaction from praying with the Bible. This is the time when you have to put aside productivity as a criterion and allow the slow process of growth to take place. Seeds often lie dormant for many years before the conditions are right for its bursting into life. Coal lies black and uninviting in the storage pin, before it provides fuel for the fire. Learn to await the fire of the Spirit who will inflame your hearts. Then you can keep that fire alive by feeding the coals you have laid aside by persevering prayer with the Scripture.
V. WHEN, WHERE, AND HOW TO PRAY
A. A Set Time and A Set Place
The first condition for a disciplined approach to praying with the Scriptures and to any type of prayer is a set time. It is necessary to set aside a fixed period for praying daily. This period should be fifteen to thirty minutes initially. It should take into account your own inner clock, your own rhythm of life. There are times when you are at your best and certain times when you are at your worst. Some are morning people. For others the day only begins at noon.
If possible, you should pick a period for prayer when you are at your best. The time chosen should be a regular period. There is a danger that if we are not regular our structures we will soon forget our prayer. Sometimes you may be longer at prayer other times you may spend less time, but always at the beginning you should be regular in regard to the time for starting.
The second requisite for prayer is a set place. It is essential that you choose a place where there is a chance of silence and solitude. The external silence is for most people a prerequisite to internal silence, the stilling of the mind. Certainly there cannot be attentive listening when there are there constant interruptions. The place should also be comfortable, lest your bodily discomfort subdues the spirit. It should be a place of relaxed dwelling which provides time for the spirit. Be still and know that I am God.
B. Keep a Spiritual Journal
The third aspect of the discipline needed is to record the messages of the Master. Either get a notebook or a cheap Bible, you can annotate and mark up. You can then record the difficulties you experienced in accepting the text and the questions that arise from the text. You can record the phrases or words which have spoken to you affirming you in your direction on your journey to God. It is important that you mark the words that attract you as well as those which repel you. Only by recording your responses to God s Word can you begin to build up a profile of your own spiritual state.
I would recommend to you the recording of all messages received from the text because writing has the power to focus experiences so that you can put them within the total context of your life with God. Writing also gives you an opportunity to move forward slowly and when you are ready in exploring with God s grace some of the painful revelations. By just recording memories or feelings too painful to deal with at the present time, they remain available to you when you are ready to deal with them.
Often as you write there will be reflections, insights and awareness which you have not articulated before. Writing will often move you beyond the level of awareness you possessed as you sat down to write. Writing is itself another creative and self-generating force given to you by God.
Once a month the marking should be investigated to allow you to see where you are cooperating with God s Word and where you are resisting it.
C. Additional Comments:
In the actual reading of the text, read it first aloud. The first reading means that your body is involved, lips, tongue, eyes, ears, etc; this help you to be bodily present to the Word, as well as acting to slow you down.
The second time you read the passage read it silently paying attention to the emotions it evokes. Record those reactions that have elicited a response from you and silently reflect on how God s word has challenge or strengthened your life. Try to make connections between the text being read and your life situation.
Such reading enables you to see your past, present and future in God’s own light, shining through his Word.
VI. SOME QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
Are you open to new meaning and direction in your life?
Have you the patience to persevere with the text?
Are you prepared to take time to discover yourself, to receive the gift of yourself?
Do you feel guilty, when you take time for yourself?
Are you able to relax and wait, in patient expectant love before God?
Are you prepared to lay aside your desire for productivity and surrender to the pace and grace of the Spirit?
Are you listening to God in faith or merely to your own expectation?
Are you present to this moment or are you locked in the past or the future?
Are you prepared to give up control and submit to be being formed by God?
Are you waiting in patient expectancy to meet the Lord and Master in the text?
Are you prepared to face your own limits and face the pain of being drawn out of your complacent living?
Are you really communicating with your Master, the Lord our God?
Are you allowing the text to touch your heart not merely your mind?
Are you using the text for your own purpose or submitting yourself to its wise guidance?
Are you prepared to submit your spiritual journeying to its message to see if you are going the right way?
Are you prepared to do something about the obstacles in your spiritual life that the text reveals? Are you prepared to follow the conditions for the spiritual journey that the text reveals?
Are you able to relate the message of the text to your own situations?
One thing is very clear, without a restructuring of attitudes one cannot become a person of prayer.