Saturday, 27 December 2008

Praying and contemplating Scripture - Lectio divina part 6

So yesterday I talked about meditation. Today, to the next stages, prayer and contemplation.

The first and perhaps most important point to make is that we are not Pelagians, believing we can do it all ourselves, unaided by grace! Rather, we need God's help to hear his message and in order to allow it to transform our lives.

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.

Write down your prayer....

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.

There are many books on this subject, so I won't attempt to say more on this here - my favourite though, which I would highly recommend, is the Cloud of Unknowing.

Read the next part in this series here.


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