15 June 2015

On Lectio Divina, "Bible Roulette", etc.

[[Hi Sister, I know Lectio is an integral part of monastic spirituality; especially for hermits. What do you suggest? Do you think the daily Mass readings should be the source of our lectio (thereby being in tune with the liturgy), or do you think it's better to work though the Bible systematically? How should one structure their lectio? I don't think "Bible roulette" is the way to go (just open it wherever) so there must be a system. What do you suggest? Thanks!]]

Hi again, I do agree that Bible Roulette is not the way to go. It strikes me as a singularly "uncontemplative" and inattentive way to choose what one uses for lectio. It always makes me think of the NT admonition, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" too. On the other hand I am not really sure what you mean by working through the Bible systematically. Some people believe they should read through the Bible starting with Genesis and then move on through every book as found in the canons. My sense is that most folks who use this approach tend to be confused by the mythical elements in Genesis and later get bogged down in the legal and history sections giving up before even reaching the New Testament.

Though the Psalms and Prophets may speak to the cries of their heart to some extent the rest tends not to do so. Culturally and in other ways it is simply inaccessible without real assistance (teachers, commentaries, lexicons, sociological and cultural commentaries, etc.). Thus, I don't recommend that any more than I recommend walking into a library, picking up the first book on the shelf nearest the entrance, and then reading through the library by progressing through the shelves one by one. For me that seems a particularly deadly way to approach or read in a library and so too, a particularly deadly way to try to read Scripture which itself is a library of many books and kinds of literature. In any case, like Bible Roulette, this approach seems to me to impose an artificial or arbitrary structure on lectio which does not pay adequate attention to one's own heart or the ways in which God is presently speaking to one. It is also blind to the riches and diversity of the library itself or to the myriad invitations it might offer us over time. It takes no time to gaze and wonder at all the library has to offer, to be grateful or intrigued or even overwhelmed with anticipation. That said, it seems to me that so long as one is spending time with Scripture in a way which does attend to one's own heart and allows God to speak to one every day, then that is what is called for.

Hermits, of course, have time for lectio as others may not so for them the approach that works may not be either/or as you have suggested but a kind of both/and. It will depend on the individual and their own responsibilities and personal inclinations. What I do and what seems to work for me is a combination of daily readings and in-depth attention to some aspect of Scripture. I use both approaches you refer to: 1) attention to the weekly readings, and 2) a second more "systematic" approach which focuses variously on one of the books being read, a particular theme (mercy, justice, heart, penance, conversion, the place of the desert in the formation of God's own People, etc.), some other book, or even a particular form of text (like the parables, the Lord's Prayer, the Passion Narratives), etc. I personally prefer using the second approach and I really miss it if I only use the daily readings. Even so, either one of these approaches can work for a reader; again, it depends on the person. Ideally they complement and reinforce one another.

I do both of these by using two periods of lectio each day (or one of lectio and another of related study and writing). This allows me to keep up with the liturgical readings and seasons but also focus on broader themes, literature, theological truths or positions, etc. It also allows me to do a reflection for my parish or a blog piece during most weeks. One of the tools I use in this approach is a white board where I keep random or disparate thoughts, insights, images, etc and brain storm reflections. This allows me to see various things that have struck me, pieces that might serve as seeds for further prayer, writing, study and so forth --- whether I am doing a formal period of lectio or not. The white board helps keep things "percolating". It means that generally, in one way and another, Scripture is working in my mind and heart. Besides this of course there is my regular journal where I write about what lectio has been for me, in what ways it challenges and consoles, speaks or fails to speak; I also I keep theological notes in separate books --- usually divided into themes, etc.

Regarding what is "best" though, let me say that I do believe it is important for the hermit to keep up with the liturgical year. This does not necessarily mean doing lectio with each or all of the daily readings. For instance you might find that the Sunday readings or those of another day are the source of an entire week's lectio and that this feeds you very well even as it challenges you in a way you particularly need. At the same time it may keep you in firm touch with the Church as she journeys through the year. For instance, I tend to skim the week's readings so I know what they are generally about and as I do this one or two texts in particular will catch my attention or "speak to me".

Those will be the "seeds" for lectio for the rest of the week. I will spend time with these "seeds", read commentaries, pray with them, journal about them, etc. Usually I will reread the contexts for these as well which is part of what the daily readings provide. Even so, I don't do lectio with or focus on every daily reading. I just can't do that; my mind and heart don't work that way. For the latter focus I really depend on the Mass homilies I hear. (One good way of allowing each day's readings some space when you are doing lectio with something else is to read them slowly once or twice before bed --- especially on the night before you will attend Mass. In that way you are ready to hear them proclaimed --- a different way of hearing them altogether because the proclaimed text is uniquely sacramental.) Otherwise, I personally do best by listening for the one or two texts or images that call out to me as I look over the week's readings and then living with those for at least the rest of the week.

Other things besides Scripture texts can be used for lectio as well. Last week, for instance, I referred to an image of a broken and mended piece of Japanese pottery along with a comment by Sue Bender on the way the repairs highlighted the cracks with brilliant silver making the mended piece more precious than it had been before being broken. Not only was that image (along with a related image from a poem by Jan Richardson) seared in my mind on Corpus Christi, but it became something that illuminated the texts from 2 Corinthians we were reading and let me reflect on the Feast of the Sacred Heart in new and fresh ways.

The idea I wrote about on the feast of the Sacred Heart --- the heart as the sacred space where all things are held together and reconciled in God --- is something I will be thinking and praying about for some time. Occasionally a movie, a painting, photograph, a piece of music, etc can serve in this way. In the past years I have seen perhaps four or five movies that might be used in this way including The Tree of Life, Of Gods and Men, The King's Speech, and the Life of Pi. The basic idea I think, is to allow God to speak to your mind and heart in ways which nourish, illuminate, and reshape them in whatever way God wills. I think part of doing lectio is knowing how this best happens in your own intellectual and affective life. If this means you need something new everyday, then okay; that can shape your basic approach. If you are like me and are fed by a single thing for a long time, then also well and good; you can allow that to be your primary approach --- though making sure you stay in touch with the liturgical year and the rich and varied menu it includes.

Thanks for being patient with me on this question. Thanks also for reminding me I hadn't finished answering you. I mainly dumped a lot of what I had written up until today as unhelpful but I do hope this is of some assistance. If it raises more specific questions I trust you will ask.