The scriptures speak of the Good Shepherd who brings out his flock and goes before them. They follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:1-10) If many of us do not live on farms this image may not speak to us, but if we have ever had a family dog, we know that the sound of our voice is enough to call the pet to our side. This is the kind of listening we need to develop with God.
How do we listen to God? How do we pay attention to his heart, to his way and to his word? The ancients used a practice known as Lectio Divina or Sacred Reading. There are many ways of using this practice down through the centuries and it is described in many ways. Lectio is a reading of the Bible or other sacred texts like the Fathers of the Church in a prolonged contemplative prayer and dialogue. This is different from spiritual reading where one might read several chapters of a spiritual book in one sitting. In Lectio one reads a passage slowly in a way that enables one to “chew” the words, to taste them in much the same way as Ezekiel took the scroll on which the Word of God was written and ate it. (Ezek 3:3) Some find it helpful to read the text aloud and this was very common as an ancient practice. It may take an hour or so to read the Gospel of Mark, but with Lectio it would take several weeks or months.
The first task is to bring yourself, your life and situation to a place of prayer. Prayer is not about a life we imagine we might want to live, but about the life we are living. Then select a passage from a book in the bible or from another of our sacred texts. Read the passage over a few times. Maybe read the passage aloud. Try not to form any response to the text, but listen to what is being said. Go beyond to the text to the person speaking. Now sit for a few moments of silence with what you have heard. What was said? What did God say? Then read the passage again a few more times. This time ask yourself how the passage made you feel. What feelings did these words or this situation provoke in you? Try to avoid thoughts, opinions or judgments but stay with the feelings. What is the heart of Jesus saying? How does my heart respond to his feelings? Then rest for a time in silence with these feelings. Read the passage again a few times. This time ask yourself how God wants you to put his word into action. What is the invitation or the challenge? What must I do to see the Word made flesh in me? Select one concrete action that you can accomplish in the coming day or week. Make sure that it is something you can do, and commit to doing it. Close with a short prayer, maybe the Our Father or another favorite prayer.
Lectio is a reading of God’s word with the eyes and ears of a spouse. It is not a prayer to confirm my own understanding of life. It is a word that desires to break in, to upset my prejudices and lead to a fuller revelation. Lectio is long term activity, not a source of immediate gratification. Lectio is about vocation, the call of God. We are to hear God as he is and not as we want him to be, and we are called to respond. This is a prayer that is to be applied to my own life situation. This time of prayer is supposed to be purposelessness with a sense of gratuity, leisure, and peace. It is about a relationship of love and is not intended to be utilitarian. Reading and praying is not just for the mind. The body must be involved. At the end of the prayer take a passage, a sentence or a word to remember through the day and to bring us back to the encounter.
Because Lectio Divina is dialogue it is therefore reception, self-gift and communion. It is reception by attention and reflection; self-gift through our response; communion through encounter. Our companion on this journey is Mary who kept all these words in her heart.