Monday, 29 December 2008

Acceptance vs the struggle for perfection: work!

And finally the last stage of the schema I’m advocating for Lectio Divina, 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 fourth 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.

I do hope that this series has been helpful to you in seeing that lectio is not an essentially anti-intellectual process, or something sounding dangerously charismatic in flavour!

More importantly, do try some! Consider making a New Year’s resolution to do a little Scripture reading each day, or at least each week.

You could consider one of the following possibilities for your lectio, depending on your tastes and the amount of time you have to devote to it:

  • If you don’t have much time, perhaps take the Sunday Gospels from the Mass; or work slowly and systematically through the psalms (a verse or two a day);
  • If you have a little more time, add the other Propers for the Sunday Mass to your program.
  • And if you are really committed, consider a Bible in a Year program!

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