Saturday, November 9, 2013
Contemplative Prayer & Lectio Divina
This link provides a step by step method for practicing lectio divina. In this post I'd like to continue the conversation regarding the married contemplative vocation. Prayer is at the heart of Christian contemplative practice. On my journey to the Catholic faith, I discovered this idea of praying the scriptures. Last year, as Advent was upon us, I asked a Catholic friend what we do especially in this season as we prepare for Christmas. She told me that the Church provides a booklet of daily readings. These little books for particular seasons in the liturgical year give interesting information on Church history on one side, and on the facing page a verse from Sacred Scripture with a reflection.
The practice of praying the scriptures is much different than the more well-known study of the Bible. Verses are not chosen as proof texts to back up one's particular beliefs, or for memorization. It is not done to explore a religious theme or to gain scholarly knowledge, though any of these things may be an indirect result. Rather, lectio divina is a direct communication with God through the Word of God. My understanding is that one opens oneself to the divine Wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The passage is meditated upon, and perhaps a particular sentence will stand out. This is a personal message to carry throughout the day, so certainly it might be memorized as you repeat it over and over again. I am often inspired to journal my response as part of the process. Lectio divina allows a space for private revelation, which if it is truly from God, will not contradict the teachings of the Church. This interior experience of the divine through Sacred Scripture is then followed by spontaneous prayer.
The Rosary is the contemplative prayer par excellence. It was through the Rosary that I not only developed a personal relationship with Mary, but was led to a renewed relationship with Jesus. I felt a little uncomfortable in the presence of my Lord, understanding him with a greater reverence as I experienced the fullness of the Christian faith in Catholicism. Coming before him in the Rosary was facilitated through the maternal intersession of his Blessed Mother. Now I saw Jesus' life through the eyes of Mary, and my faith deepened with each encounter of the Mysteries, which are the stories of his birth and childhood, his saving mission, and his death and resurrection. When I was initially learning to pray the Rosary, I would read the entire Bible passage related to each Mystery, until I knew the story by heart. I still revisit those stories to keep them fresh in my mind, and I always use at least one piece of scripture for each meditation.
As a Protestant I had known Jesus as a friend and a savior, but not as Lord and King. I did not have the awe proper and necessary to worship of him. I was penitent in having been away from him for so long, and in treating him more like a genie that grants my wishes and solves my problems than with the honor that he deserves. That is not necessarily the fault of the Protestant churches I attended; it is simply my experience.
Another traditionally Catholic type of prayer is the Novena, a prayer said for 9 consecutive days, which may invoke the help of God directly (ie. Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit) or through the intercession of Mary or one of the saints. Novenas often reflect a particular devotion, such as praying to Our Lady of Consolation in a time of great sorrow. If I am remembering correctly, the tradition of 9 days comes from the story of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, when St. Peter led 120 disciples of Jesus in prayer for 9 days, leading up to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Having all of these modes of prayer available to me has enriched my prayer life inestimably. I have never before been such a prayerful, scripture reading person. Prayer is centering and comforting, it can be meditative, and it is ultimately transforming. Prayer defines relationship with God. There is no one, right way to pray, and in the Catholic Church I have found mediated such gifts and blessings as go beyond words. For those moments when I don't have the words, I can rely upon Sacred Scripture and those prayers of holy people of God whose inspiration echoes throughout the ages.