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.
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.
We all have the freedom to follow our own conscience. But, please, let`s not do it blindly! Catholic moral theology promotes the necessity of having an informed conscience. This means more than following our gut on difficult issues. And it definitely means more than trying to rationalize our own preferences and choices.
Cultivating an informed conscience is work of the mind and the heart. If taken seriously, it can be hard work indeed. It requires the same skills as those needed in a productive dialogue.
First, we acknowledge that we are entering into the process with certain leanings and biases. These might be due to our beliefs or preconceived notions of right and wrong in this specific situation. Or, they might be due to what we wish was right or wrong in this specific situation.
Second, we listen. We seek out the current voices in the dialogue. Catholics look to scripture and the teaching of the Church. Where does the Church stand on this specific issue? And, more importantly, what reasoning is used to support this stand? Why is this the truth that I`m supposed to believe? If it is a controversial issue, what makes it controversial? What are other voices saying? What is their reasoning?
Thirdly, we bring our own voice and experience into the dialogue. How does this truth relate to my own experience? Can I embrace this truth in its entirety, not at all, or is there a large grey area that remains unanswered?
Finally, we must face the task of discerning what is right for us. Discernment requires balancing the head and the heart. And, yes, the gut too! Seeking wisdom in prayer allows for the voice of God to have an all- important vote in the process.
The blind obedience of the past must not be replaced with mindless relativism. The world has too many loud voices that claim to have the truth, while producing no substance. It is time to study issues carefully, and ponder them prayerfully. It is time to take on the responsibility of cultivating an informed conscience.