Friday, March 2, 2018

Lectio divina

In January, I read a blog post by Lynne Baab on Lectio divina, an ancient practise of listening to God through reading scripture.  It was part of a series on listening to God in prayer (you can see the whole series at the end of this blog post).

At the time, I was aware that life had been more complicated than usual for a wee while.  I'd realised that, in response, I'd been praying and asking God for help quite a lot, but I'd been neglecting listening to God and seeking God simply for the sake of knowing him.  So this blog post came at an opportune time for me :-)

As Lynne describes it, lectio divina is a four-step meditation that can be used on any Bible passage.  Firstly you read it through slowly, looking for a word or phrase that stands out or 'shimmers'.  Then you re-read it, thinking about what the meaning of the whole passage is in the light of that word or phrase.  Thirdly you respond to God in regards to what you have seen, and lastly you wait quietly for anything he may have to say to you.

I decided to give it a go, using the Anglican lectionary as a source of texts: each day I just bring up the first passage from the 'daily eucharistic lectionary' and try to meditate on it using this pattern.

The first time I did it, the passage was Jonah 3:1-5,10.  Jonah, rescued from the whale, is again told by God to preach to Ninevah; he does so and the people repent.

I read it through a few times, but nothing 'happened'.  Eventually I basically said to God that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and asked him to help me.  Immediately I was struck by how, at the beginning, it says that God spoke to Jonah a second time.  I then realised there were a number of 'seconds' in the passage.  Jonah is given a second chance to do what God wants him to do.  Through Jonah's message, the people of Ninevah are also given a second chance (something Jonah's not exactly happy about!), and I think there was another 'second', too, but I can't remember it now.

As I prayed about that, I realised that God gives me second chances.  In the complexity of recent months, I haven't got quite a few things as 'right' as I would like.  I realised that's OK - God gives me second chances - I don't need to be perfect all the time.  I also realised this applied to the people around me.  As Jonah was an (unwilling!) mediator of 'second chances', so I need to be, too - not expecting other people to always get things right, but to extend grace to them and not hold failures against them.

It spoke really directly to my situation - which was helpful in itself, but also encouraged me that lectio divina was something God was calling me to.  I decided to try and slot it into my daily routine.  This involved ditching my daily intercessory prayer slot (which I have mixed feelings about) but doing lectio divina feels more important right now and there's only so much time in the day!

Most days since, it hasn't been as dramatic as that, although there have been three other times where God used the text to speak really directly to my current situation.

The first of these was when I read James 1:1-11.  It speaks about having joy in your trials and also enjoins the readers that, if they have need of wisdom, to simply ask God for it and he would give it to them.  I was feeling quite burdened at the time with a number of things, and I realised that I was awfully far from 'rejoicing' in my trials.  So I prayed about that, and have continue to do so, off and on :-)  I was also feeling quite nervous about a conversation I wanted to have later that day and which I thought could be difficult.  Following the advice of the text, I prayed to God for wisdom :-)  Later, it became clear to me that my conversation would likely go better if I put one thing quite differently from how I had intended to.  I did and it did :-)  Praise God!

Next was when I read Deuteronomy 26:16-19.  It's talking about the covenant between God and Israel.  It's kind-of symmetrical and kind-of not: in particular, it says that what the Israelites will receive is a God to look after them, and what God will receive is a people to be his treasure.  The word treasure really stood out to me, and as I prayed I realised that that was why God has saved me, too: because he wants me to be his treasure :-)  That was super-special.

Then, most recently, was when I read Isaiah 1:10,16-20.  The phrase that stood out was 'cease to do evil, learn to do good'.  I've got several situations at the moment where I want to 'do good' but I feel like I simply don't know what that looks like.  All available options seem in some way harmful.  I found this phrase so encouraging.  Firstly it said to me that while what is evil is obvious, what is good is (or can be) more complicated.  That was reassuring, as that's my current experience.  Secondly it said to me that we can learn what is good from God.  So I have been praying that he will teach me what 'good' looks like in the situations I am talking about, rather than just being frustrated it isn't obvious!

Many other times, nothing has 'happened' as I've read, but these four instances are encouraging me to continue.

NB I've mentioned Lynne Baab's blog previously in my post on Separating thoughts from feelings.  I've found many of her posts helpful.  If you'd like to check them out, her blog is here.  She posts weekly.

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