Spiritual reading is a discipline of openness to encounter God through Scripture, the writings of the mothers and fathers of the church and other spiritual writings. The text becomes a means of grace through which we encounter God who speaks in many ways and draws us more deeply into Godï¿½s own triune life. The Spirit speaking through the text opens us to Godï¿½s love, Godï¿½s call and Godï¿½s purposes. This is a radical reversal of the way we normally read. It radically reverses the dynamics of our informational culture in which our possession and use of information enables us to impose our purposes upon the world through our activities.
Since the earliest days of our education we have been trained to be informational readers not spiritual, formational readers.
• We seek to exercise control over the text instead of letting the message of the text control and shape us.
• We read with our own agenda in place knowing what we expect to receive or what problems we want the text to solve for us.
• We read with a functional orientation not a formational orientation.
• We read to acquire information, knowledge, techniques, methods and systems.
Characteristics of Informational Reading
1. Seeks to cover as much as possible as quickly as possible to separate the wheat from the chaff and to do what must be done. Speed-reading classes and techniques became popular at the same time our culture became increasingly technological and functional in orientation.
2. Informational reading is linear. It moves from point A to B on to point Z. Hence, it has problems with visions, prophecies, metaphors and forms of speech that do not follow a linear path.
3. Informational reading seeks to master the text, to grasp it, wrap oneï¿½s mind around it, bring it under oneï¿½s own control and to interpret it oneï¿½s own way.
4. Informational reading makes the text an object out there to be sliced and diced, controlled or manipulated according to our own purposes, intentions or desires. We are at a distance from the text focusing upon it.
5. Informational reading is analytical, critical and judgmental. We read and evaluate for our own purposes.
6. Informational reading is characterized by a problem solving mentality.
7. Informational reading makes me the master and the story or text the mastered.
8. Informational reading reverses the appropriate relationship between believers and Scripture. Scripture invites us into a transforming encounter with God to destroy old understandings, reorder our world and priorities, to enable us to see and experience ourselves and the world in transformed ways and live as transformed people. We are invited to be the mastered not the masters, the shaped not the shaper.
9. An informational approach to Scripture and spiritual writings helps us to protect our false self, that illusory reality that is not rooted in God's unspeakable love but in our own desire to maintain the illusion that we are or should be in control. It avoids transforming encounter with Godï¿½s great love for us.
The Scriptures need to be read in the same spirit in which they were written, and only in that spirit are they to be understood. You will never reach an understanding of Paul until, by close attention to reading him and the application of continual reflection, you imbibe his spirit. You will never arrive at understanding David until by the actual experience you realize what the psalms are about. And so it is with the rest. In every piece of Scripture, real attention is as different from mere reading as friendship is from entertainment, or the love of a friend from a casual greeting.
William of St. Thierry (1085-1148)
1. Formational reading avoids counting. It is unconcerned with the quantity of reading of how much material is being covered. It is concerned with quality. The point is attending to God who desires to speak to us through the text.
2. Formational reading is open to depth and to multiple layers of meaning in our encounter with Scripture. It allows the Spirit through the story to probe us and hidden layers of our own being, our flaws, our warts, our fears and our deepest hopes. It goes slowly. It takes time.
3. Formational reading does not seek to master the text. It allows the story to wash over us, overwhelm us, making us realize that we cannot master the One who comes to us through the story. It allows and surrenders to the mastery of the loving Spirit of God.
4. In formational reading we are the objects being shaped, being molded, being conformed to the image of Christ our Lord. One way to think about spiritual formation is to consider it a process of being drawn more deeply into the love of God in Jesus Christ that we may be conformed to Christï¿½s image and share more deeply in the flow of divine love within the blessed Trinity, being transformed for the sake of the world that God loves. We are not the masters of this process.
5. Formational reading requires humility, a receptive loving orientationï¿½willingness to yield before the penetrating address of God who will both love us more profoundly than we can imagine and reveal our resistance to that love, our distortion of the image of God that we are created to be.
6. Formational reading is open to mystery. It does not need to find a solution for every problem and question that appears. It is open to God who is the Incomprehensible Mystery for whom we have longed since our earliest days.
7. Formational reading develops, grows and deepens over a long period of time, a lifetime. It grows into a more contemplative vision and savoring of life in which we are more open and willing to receive that which God gives through all the circumstances of life.
8. Formational reading is iconic. It pays attention, savors and meditates upon images, metaphors and pictures knowing they are windows into reality. We receive and look through them with the hope that some of these windows may indeed be windows for us, through which we see and know ourselves in Godï¿½s love. In this relationship, illusion falls away and our true self appears, that person we are as we know ourselves in Godï¿½s unspeakable love for us.
9. Motive is primary. We need balance between informational and formational reading. We do need to pay attention to the information, a text, a story relates. There is an essential interplay between these two approaches. But in spiritual formation, we ultimately need a disciplined development of a formational mode of attending to Scripture.
The flow and movements of lectio divina
1. Lectio: Reading and listening to Godï¿½s
The manner of reading is more accurately a listening and hearing, a divine hearing attuned to the Speaker. We quiet ourselves becoming silent and ready to receive, perhaps imaging Godï¿½s great love for us. Having previously chosen a text, preferably a short one, we read it slowly, listening to it interiorly to see what it might move in us, giving it our full attention.
Hear the story, the textï¿½the words Jesus or Paul or Maryï¿½speaks as personalized words spoken to you and for you. The words may leave you cold. If so, you might peacefully let your mind run over one phrase or a few words, or go through the text again, turning it over in your mind. But always pay attention to what moves you, what grabs your attention, what words seem to shimmer or draws an emotional response in you. See what the Lord gives you here. Donï¿½t make it happen; let it happen. Allow yourself to be drawn to a particular phrase, thought or idea, perhaps one not in the text but evoked by the text.
2. Meditatio: Reflecting upon the word
If you are drawn to a particular phrase that seems to shimmer, you have already begun to enter the next step, Meditatio. If lectio is like coming to meet someone with the intention of sharing time together, Meditatio is openness to learning more, receiving more, welcoming God into your life with greater trust and confidence. We want to learn who God is and what God wants to reveal to me, in me and for me.
So in our mind and heart we turn over the words, the story, the images and metaphors, perhaps repeating a particularly pregnant phrase over and over to see how it affects us, what it shows us, what it calls to mind and heart. The Spirit of God is not just beyond us but is also within us in prayer. As we turn the story over, the Spirit within us seeks and speaks to the Spirit beyond us. The Spirit beyond us speaks and seeks to call our lives to greater transformation through the Spirit dwelling within. We pay attention to what we see, hear or notice in the storyï¿½and in ourselvesï¿½as that story evokes movements within us that we neither create nor call forward.
Meditatio is essentially an interior movement. Its authenticity depends on our being spontaneous and real which, of course, involves being honest with whatever we notice in ourselves or the text. This includes our desire to fight with it, argue with it, deny or resist it. Prayer is destroyed by ï¿½making nice.ï¿½ In this process, we learn to know God more deeply and ourselves more fully. Lectio Divina is not so much a method but the normal flow of what happens when we place ourselves in true dialogue with God through Scripture. Through mutual revelation, God reveals Godï¿½s self to us and we reveal ourselves to God. We are drawn into and fall more deeply in love.
3. Oratio: The word touches the heart
Meditatio increases and enriches our familiarity with the life and teaching of Jesus. It draws us more deeply in love for our Lord and leaves us to reflect on how we should respond to Godï¿½s call in love and service. But the One who speaks to me through the images and metaphors, through the text, is also mysteriously hidden in me, as my deepest and truest self. As we listen to God, turning the text over in our heart and mind, the leading of Godï¿½s Spirit spontaneously move our heart.
In Oratio we speak from the depth of our heart as the Spirit moves us to give praise, to seek blessing, to pour out our love, our sorrow or whatever is deep within us. The Spirit prays in and through us. Through Oratio we make and keep our hearts open to God and put ourselves at the disposal of Godï¿½s Spirit. We speak the desires of our heart and often are startled to find among them the desire of Godï¿½s own Spirit working to draw us more deeply into Godï¿½s love and to live in love for Godï¿½s glory. We are drawn more deeply into the loving mystery who is God.
4. Contemplatio: Entering the silence too deep for words
Contemplatio is the natural development and progression of prayer. It is not intended only for spiritual elites, something for rare and chosen souls who are the spiritual athletes. We have all been moved beyond words, where we are intensely aware of Godï¿½s love for us and our love for God. We have been moved to where there is nothing to say, nothing that can be said.
Contemplatio might be compared with an old couple sitting in silence on the porch on a gorgeous fall day. They know each otherï¿½s presence intimately, not needing to say a word because they feel such love and unity with each other with the scene before them. No words need to be spoken. Is immense love and joy known? Profoundly.
In contemplatio we are moved to a new way of beingï¿½to be, not simply to do. We are moved beyond thoughts, concepts, imagination, senses and, I think, beyond most of our feelings. Although feelings remain, we become simply aware, wordlessly so, of Godï¿½s great love for us, knowing ourselves to be utterly surrounded by love even as the air embraces us. Utterly immersed, as if floating in a great ocean that bears us, God holds us, carries us gently, touches our whole self. We are wholly willing to entrust ourselves to this God because we so intimately know Godï¿½s love for us. Our false self, which seeks to impose our will upon the world, falls away. No, it evaporates, and our true self appears, that person who knows herself utterly and totally loved by God beyond all measure since before the birth of time arises.
Contemplatio is a quiet, peaceful, yielding and resting in the sea of Godï¿½s love. It is an experience of the reality that we live and move and have our being in the environment of Godï¿½s love. It is an experience of utter unity with God. The unity given in baptism isï¿½I thinkï¿½experienced in contemplatio as fully as we can in this life. In that unity, we begin to become the love that God is. We are willing to consent to whatever God would do with us. We become content to rest in Godï¿½s arms, even as a weaned child at its motherï¿½s breast (Psalm 131:2).
Lectio divina is not a method. It describes the normal flow, the progression of falling more deeply in love with God as we make ourselves available to God in prayer. The four movements of lectio donï¿½t necessarily happen the same way each time we pray. Sometimes contemplatioï¿½restingï¿½comes quickly, easily, like breathing, sometimes not at all.
The four movements of lectio may all happen in a single prayer period, but they also happen over a course of years of praying so that our prayer becomes simpler and more oriented toward resting in Godï¿½s love.
We are not in charge of this process. If we are in charge of it, it is not prayer. Prayer is always a gift of the Spirit calling and moving us into deeper communion with the Spirit beyond us. Lectio divina disposes us for the development of such prayer. It awakens in us a love that is awakened by Love itself, Godï¿½s love and desire for us. It is a practice of making ourselves available to and attending to Godï¿½s great love for us.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers