Last year the bishops of New Zealand published a pastoral letter entitled ‘Prayer in the Busyness of Life’. We received very positive comments about this letter and were asked many times to reprint it. What this tells me is that people want to know about prayer, about how to pray and have as a goal in their lives to meet the Lord.
I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges we have today is to help one another to be caught up in the wonder of God. I share a few thoughts with you which I hope will help 2010 to be a year of listening intently to the Lord and waiting for the Lord to speak to us.
An ancient art, practised at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina – a slow, contemplative praying of the scriptures as a means of union with God. This practice of the Christian monastic tradition has been encouraged by John Paul II and now Benedict XVI and by many others who know this as a simple way to meet the Lord.
Lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life a spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm we develop an ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the father and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of Jesus.
The art of lectio divina begins with listening deeply “with the ear of our hearts” as St Benedict encourages us in the Prologue to the Rule. When we read the scriptures we should try to imitate the prophet Elijah – listening for the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12); the “faint murmuring sound” which is God’s voice touching our hearts.
The reading or listening which is the first step in lectio divina is different from the speed-reading we use for newspapers, books and even to the bible. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, listening for a word or phrase that is God’s word for us this day.
Once we have found a word or a passage in the scriptures that speaks to us, we must “ruminate” on it. Christians have always seen a scriptural invitation to lectio divina in the example of Mary “pondering in her heart” what she saw and heard of Christ (Luke 2:19). We take in the word – that is, memorise it – and, while gently repeating it to ourselves, allow it to interact with our thoughts, hopes, memories and desires. This is the second step in lectio divina – meditatio. Here we allow God’s word to touch us at our deepest level, to change our lives.
The third step is oratio – prayer as dialogue or loving conversation with the one who has invited us into his embrace. In this prayer we allow the word that we are pondering to touch and change our deepest selves. Just as a priest consecrates the elements of bread and wine at the Eucharist, God invites us in lectio divina to hold up our most difficult and pain-filled experiences to him and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase he has given us in our lectio and meditatio.
Finally we simply rest in the presence of the One who has used his word as a means of inviting us to accept his transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are unnecessary. It is the same in our relationship with God. Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the one who loves us has a name in the Christian tradition – contemplation. Once again we practise silence, letting go of our own words, this time simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God.
Lectio divina teaches us about the God who truly loves us. In God’s word we experience ourselves as personally loved by God; as the recipients of a word which he gives uniquely to each of us whenever we turn to him in the scriptures.
Finally lectio divina teaches us about ourselves. In lectio divina we discover that there is no place in our hearts, no interior corner or closet that cannot be opened and offered to God. God teaches us through lectio divina what it means to be focused on him – to be a people called to consecrate all of our memories, hopes and dreams to Christ, to do and say everything ‘through him, with him and in him’.