So far in this series on Lectio Divina I've looked at reading, thinking about and studying the text. I don't want to say a great deal about the final stages of the process, meditation, prayer, contemplation and work, but for the sake of completeness, a few comments nonetheless.
Our Lady as a model of meditation
The first thing to say is that Our Lady is generally regarded as the ultimate model for lectio divina. Meditation in the Benedictine tradition follows that idea of Our Lady treasuring all those things in her heart, turning them over and over, and reflecting on their meaning.
In the post on study I suggested the kinds of things one can look for flowing out of the words of the text, but in reality there are many different methods of meditation, and I think you just have to find one that works for you. I prefer the idea of keeping going back to the text, and seeing what you can draw out of it. But the Ignatian idea of putting yourself into the Biblical scene and engaging each of the senses, for example, can be equally helpful depending on your personality!
Why we meditate
The key point to bear in mind I think is the purpose of all this.
First we have to be actively listening to what God is trying to say to us - open to having our view of ourselves and the world changed by imitating Christ and accepting the implications of the truths Scripture and Traditional reveal.
Secondly, seeing how we fall short of the Gospel ideal, seeing the cracks in our worldview when it is held up to the mirror of the Scripture is a necessary start.
But we also have to genuinely want to change, to constantly recommit ourselves to strive for perfection - and that means looking to Scripture for the reasons why we should embark on this path. Meditating on the joys of heaven, the happiness we can achieve now, the rewards Our Lord promises can be helpful too!
Finally, we need to look at Scripture to find the tools we need to change - through Advent, many of the readings have focused on the need for repentance and confession. There is a lot more there to be found and utilised though, if, for example, we look at how Our Lord taught the disciples, and not just in words!
Meditation really should take up the bulk of the time you set aside for lectio divina - or at least the work you do in that time should set you up to meditate fruitfully on the text as you do other things during the day. Think about leaving the radio (or Ipod) off as you are do housework, drive to work, or go for a walk for example, and taking one of the lines of thought you have identified as you pursue these activities!
Closely related to meditation is prayer. In this schema prayer comes a fair way down the list, but in reality it has to be part of every stage of lectio - as the part of the preparation we make before starting (as with every and any task!), to guide our thought and study, and of course our meditation. St Teresa of Avila described prayer as just like a conversation with a friend, and that is a concept to keep in front of our minds all the time.
At the same time, it will be pretty evident by this point I hope, that the kind of prayer that should emerge from lectio divina in my view is not just some spontaneous charismatic-style thought to 'share', but something considered. And it can often be helpful to try writing out your prayer, using it to summarise what you have taken out of the reading and linking it to the request for aid.
If you are looking for models on how to do this, go to the Masters! The psalms for example, particularly, those that reflect on the history of Israel. Or St Augustine's reflections on Genesis in the last few books of his Confessions.
Some of my most favourite Lectio style prayers though are those of Dame Gertrude More (a seventeenth century English Benedictine nun) and those of St Anselm. The latter for example says things like:
"St Mary Magdalene,
you came with springing tears
to the spring of mercy, Christ;
from him your burning thirst was abundantly refreshed;
through him your sins were forgiven;
by him your bitter sorrow was consoled.
My dearest lady,
well you know by your own life
how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its creator,
what counsel a soul in misery needs,
what medicine will restore the sick to health....
herefore, since you are now with the chosen
because you are beloved
and are beloved because you are chosen of God...
Ask urgently that I may have
the love that pierces the heart; tears that are humble;
desire for the homeland of heaven;
impatience with this earthly exile;
searing repentance; and a dread of torments in eternity..."
Our poor efforts won't be as worthy of preservation as these of course, but the discipline of writing them down - and being able to go back to them for reference purposes - can be useful at times!
The hope, of course, is that this active form of prayer will move to wordless contemplation infused by God. This is, however, a gift to be freely bestowed on us, not something we can achieve for ourselves unaided. What we can do, though, is seek through our prayer to find an inner stillness where we push away all the distracting thoughts that pull us down, seeking an inner stillness that can be filled by God.
The last stage of the schema I’m advocating for Lectio Divina is Work, or putting it all into practice.
Today it is popular to focus on acceptance – of ourselves and others. But this runs directly counter to our tradition, which recognizes that humans are imperfect and inclined to sin, and urges us to struggle for perfection. We should recognize and even worship God present in others – but we also have to recognize and struggle against everything that makes us unworthy temples of the Holy Spirit.
In essence we read Scripture not just because it is interesting or entertaining – not because it ‘validates’ us - but because of its potential to change our lives, fostering our ongoing conversion. So as we do our lectio, we should be listening out for the ways of putting what we have learnt into practice in our lives.
Models of behavioural change
One of the more useful models of behaviour change points to a five stage process – the first is seeing our undesirable behaviour or flawed worldview for what it is. Most of the time we look at the world through the lens of a set of beliefs about what we are seeing and an image of ourselves. But it is not for nothing, that the psalmist urges us to pray that our secret sins might be forgiven: seeing the mote in our eye can be the hardest step in changing.
The key to making major or minor changes in our lives is to realize that the costs of not changing are greater than those of staying as we are. And in this spiritual life this has to be a continual process, since we know we must seek perfection, even if we can never achieve absolute perfection in this life.
The third important factor in making changes is finding the tools to help us. Scripture provides us with both models and injunctions about how we should behave. You can compile up sets yourself as you do your lectio, or look at the distillations in both Scripture and the tradition - the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament, for example, can be particularly useful here. So to distillations of key precepts from Scripture such as the fourth chapter of St Benedict’s Rule, his tools of good works, which start from the commandments, work through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the injunctions from the Sermon on the Mount, and other key sources.
Equally important of course is prayer, and God’s grace!
The point to keep in mind is that making any change is hard work – it won’t necessarily come naturally. The challenge is to keep at, picking ourselves up and trying again after every lapse, until it does come naturally and is fully incorporated into our lives, needing only a brief review from time to make sure we are maintaining the standard.
And in conclusion….
So that wraps up the process: Read-Think-Study-Meditate-Pray-Contemplate-Work.