There is much to be learned by reading, reflecting and praying with scripture. Scripture will only come alive for us today, remain relevant in today’s world, (with all its darkness, and all its grace) by us being open to the dialogue that is created in the mystery.
These words were posted by ‘Pati’ in response to comments made on an NCR Today blog post I wrote, Blame Mary for the role of women in the church today.
The post caused a bit of a heated discussion. (I wish that I could call it a dialogue.) The responses on this catholic dialogue blog are almost always well-thought out and respectful. The occasional attacking voice sticks out because it is a rarity.
The National Catholic Reporter discussion boards are a different beast all together. You hear from a diversity of voices, which is wonderful. You also hear from voices that don’t shy from criticizing, judging and condemning others. This is not so wonderful. It is disheartening and depressing.
Pati’s response speaks powerfully to the living and breathing word of God. It speaks of a faith seeking understanding with the holistic approach of mind, heart and soul. It speaks of going deeper than the black and white world of apologetics, where the words of Scripture and church documents are used merely to defend our own view or condemn the view of another.
There is an inherent laziness in embracing the world of black and white, where right and wrong are clearly laid out and unchanging. It bypasses the need to prayerfully discern God’s word, to contemplate it from all angles, to seek the message for our here and now, to embrace it as a true guide for our actions and not just our words. It avoids the messiness of entering into the many grey areas of life, where the black and white answers lose their clarity and simplicity.
There is also an inherent laziness in arguing merely around opinions. There is always the danger of rationalizing our own thoughts to answer the needs of our own personal agendas. Fruitful and effective dialogue requires careful reasoning and reasonable thought processes from all. And it requires a prayerful and discerning heart.
(See also, An informed conscience…please!)
The practice of a group lectio divina opens up the dialogue between person and God to the whole community. As wisdom and insights are shared, the diversity of inspiration is recognized and celebrated. Enriched by this diversity, we marvel at the richness and depth of the Word of God – speaking personally to each of us, in our own place and time.
Here is one example of a group lectio divina format. It works well in small faith communities, RCIA groups, or as an opening prayer to a meeting or gathering. It requires little preparation, though gentle facilitation is sometimes needed so enthusiastic souls don’t jump onto the homiletic or lecture wagon! A wonderful way to end the process is for each participant to say a prayer for the person on their left. The prayers often reflect a real listening and understanding of what was shared. And it’s such a blessing to hear your own intentions offered in prayer by another.
One of my most surprising experiences of a group lectio divina came during a confirmation class for grade seven and eight students. I was invited as a guest to give a presentation on prayer. The class was on a week-night evening, in the church basement. About ten students slouched around the table in varying degrees of consciousness. I recognized the look and attitude – and lowered my already small expectations.
I went ahead and introduced the process and we began. The reading was read for the first time, and a simple word or phrase was shared by all. This was easy and not too threatening. The second reading required them to listen and share on what they saw or heard in that word or phrase…what was God saying to them? One by one they began to share the most wonderful insights. The third reading required them to listen to what God wanted them to DO with the inspiration. What action were they called to? Again, the honesty and depth blew me away. The prayers offered for each other showed that they ‘got it’!
A group lectio divina allows us to spend ‘heart time’ together in a mutual listening to God’s Word. It allows us to balance out the head time that too often rules our religious education classes and meetings. As St. Benedict so wisely teaches, we need both ora et labora….prayer and work.
Filed under bible, prayer
In our fast-paced, cyber-connected world, we’ve grown accustomed to speed reading through mountains of information each day. The competition for our short attention span is fierce. We are no long satisfied with the written word. We need graphics and pictures and links to YouTube videos to keep us interested.
Lectio divina is a counter-cultural prayer form for our over-stimulated minds. The term means holy or sacred reading. Its roots are in Benedictine spirituality. The method is simple and flexible. You begin with the Scriptures, or any other spiritual reading. As you read (Lectio), you stop and focus on a sentence, phrase, word or image that pops out for you. Then you stop and meditate. (Meditatio)What does this word or phrase mean to me? What is God trying to say to me – today, in this place and time? What am I being called to do, to bring this Word of God alive in my actions this day? This leads to a moment of prayer, a dialogue with God. (Oratio) Finally, we take a moment to silently rest in the presence of God. (Contemplatio)
As Catholics, we are used to hearing the Word of God proclaimed in our liturgy and explained or ‘opened up’ in the homily by the pastor. Some homilies are inspiring. Some homilies are mind-numbing, and this is a shame. We cannot and must not depend on one person to give us a week`s worth of scriptural reflection on a Sunday morning.
Lectio divina nudges us all to slow down, be still and pray with Sacred Scripture. It opens up a space in our mind and heart for a personal dialogue with God.
Filed under bible, prayer
Praying and pondering with the bible in one hand and a newspaper in another provides a much needed balance for personal meditation, small faith community sharing, or preaching. For persons of faith, the bible is not merely a collection of historical books. It is the living Word of God. It chronicles God`s loving providence throughout salvation history. But, it also points us to the presence of the living God in the here and now.
Prayer is an encounter with God. Praying with the bible grounds that encounter in God`s Word. But the purpose of this encounter is not solely to seek personal consolations or spiritual fulfillment, though these are both blessings and grace. The purpose is for us to give life to the Word that we hear, to put into action that which is received. In order to know what action is needed, we must be tuned in to the signs of the times.
Reading newspapers or listening to the news is depressing. It is a challenge to maintain the virtue of hope when so many hopeless events unfold each day. The signs of our times are too often shouting of violence, hunger, natural disasters, wars, persecutions and death. Of course we cannot respond to all needs. We cannot solve the problems of the world in one fell swoop. But, by praying and pondering we can perhaps glean wee bits of wisdom. Perhaps we can be instruments of peace and reconciliation. Perhaps we can help a specific need by sharing our time or money. Perhaps all we can do is offer a prayer.
The bible alone can keep our head and heart too much in the clouds. The newspaper alone can keep us grounded in despair. But together……
Filed under bible, prayer
English-speaking Catholics use different versions of the bible for their Lectionaries – the scriptural readings used in the liturgy. In Canada we have been using the New Revised Standard Version since 1992. In Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, The Jerusalem Bible is used. Our American sisters and brothers use the New American Bible. The gospel reading from Matthew 4:12-23 shows an example of translation variations. The NAB reads `Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.` The NRSV reads `Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.`
Debates continue between national conferences of Bishops and the Vatican over which bible can and should be used. Permission was first given by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship for liturgical use of the NRSV. By the time the week-day Lectionary was published in 1994, it was objected to by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because of worries about its inclusive language and theological integrity. But, our Lectionaries had already been printed and distributed. While the discussions continue, Canadian Catholics still use the NRSV and I think we are the only English-speaking country to do so. (I am happy to be corrected.) Canadians aren`t often the rebels!
The Lectionary debates reflect two larger debates going on in the church. Who holds the right to approve local translations of the Lectionary – Bishops or the Vatican? And is inclusive language necessary in our worship?
The first issue, one of collegiality and subsidiarity, is being played out on many levels at the moment. This includes the soon to be released new translation of the Sacramentary, or Missal. For some, it is another example of top-heavy leadership from the Vatican. For others it is a question of universal unity in all things liturgical, and a belief that all these decisions should be overseen by the Vatican.
Inclusive language, unfortunately, is often perceived as a liberal agenda promoted by feminists yet it is important to many men and women alike. For others, there is no issue since words like man and mankind already include women. What`s the big deal? (For the sake of transparency, I think it IS a big deal and we must continue working to make our language more inclusive without losing its integrity.)
Politics aside, some translations just sound better than others. I used to love the reading from Proverbs 31: 10, about the `perfect wife – who can find her.` Each time it was read in church I happily reminded my husband of his good fortune. The NRSV now reads `A capable wife who can find`. I`ve been down-graded!
Filed under bible, liturgy
I’m old enough to have seen the comings and goings of several versions of the bible. In the 1970’s, The Jerusalem Bible was the source for the Lectionary in Canada and became the bible of choice for many of us. Its size was imposing even in the soft cover version. The hard-cover edition, complete with commentaries and references, was almost as thick as it was wide. It was hardly a bible to keep in your pocket, but I loved the poetic beauty of The Jerusalem Bible, and still do to this day. It`s my comfort bible!
Bibles in contemporary language were also popular in the 1970`s. The Good News Bible was a small pocket version with charming, simple line drawings throughout. The Way used modern photos to emphasize the timeliness of the scriptural messages. Scholarly types criticized these `dumbed down` versions, but they were affordable and made the bible accessible to many people. I think that having a bible that is actually read is more important than having a scholarly version sitting on your shelf collecting dust.
In catechetical and theological studies, I had to use the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version Bible. I never warmed up to the two column layout and phonetic marks of the RSV. Somehow the pages weren`t as pretty, or have the same comfort in my hands as my old Jerusalem Bible. I realized what a creature of habit I had become.
Today, the bible of choice for Canadian Catholics is the New Revised Standard Version which became the Lectionary bible in 1992. It retains the same layout with phonetic markings as the RSV version, but has the bonus of inclusive language. This is the bible that is now handed out in our parishes for sacramental presentations and catechetical classes.
One other bible that I own but was never able to read, is my father`s old Biblia Sacra: Juxta Vugatem Clementinam. I can`t read Latin, but there is something special about holding a well-worn, much read bible in your hands and wondering about the hours of study and prayer that it holds!
(next: Lectionary debates)
Historically, Catholics are late arrivals to the scripture reading party. Our Protestant friends can usually dance circles around us in the scripture quoting department. Memorizing scripture passages was not on my catechism agenda. Plus, I have a horrible memory. I can’t remember names. Don’t ask me to remember chapters and verses.
I was a voracious reader as a child and loved big, substantial books. I felt smart just by holding them in my hands. When I asked my parents for a Bible, they promptly bought me one – a Catholic edition of course. I loved reading that bible. But, it wasn’t until a grade 12 retreat that my eyes were opened to its inner treasures.
Two wonderful nuns directed the retreat for us. The highlight was when they sat us down and guided us through a session of praying the scriptures. I remember the passage well. (Okay, I remember the passage but not the citation. Thank goodness for online bible searches!) It was from Isaiah 55, “Come, all you who are thirsty….”
Sister guided us through each image and nudged us to sit and ponder each one. What did we see? What did we hear? What did it mean? All of a sudden the scriptures became more than a book to be read. Aha! The scriptures were meant to be prayed! The bible became a stepping stone into a more meditative and more personal prayer. So this is what they meant by the Word of God! This was a real turning point in my faith life. A real conversion experience.
What is your bible story?