First off, Happy St. Patrick's Day! One of the priests here at Ciszek Hall, Fr. Rich Zanoni, shared this prayer of St. Patrick during his homily today that I really liked.
Now, one of the methods of prayer that I learned in the novitiate is called Lectio Divina. It is the art of praying with sacred writing. Typically, Sacred Scripture holds the primacy of Lectio Divina, but other forms of spiritual writing may be used as well. Many religious use the breviary in this way.
This form of prayer, as the name implies, involves the practice of reading. Typically, when we read, we do so in order to gather information. Or, we may read for pleasure, immersing ourselves in a captivating story.
Praying using the method of Lectio Divina, however, requires a mental shift in how we read. We are not reading merely to obtain information, to analyze the text as a scholar. Nor is Lectio Divina merely casual reading. Lectio Divina is meant to be prayed in a relaxed, rather slow manner. We approach the text as if God is speaking directly to us. It is not merely reading the text; we must also inwardly listen. We should seek an inner disposition of silence which is necessary for Lectio Divina to be an effective prayer.
Let us take, for example, Psalm 42. The first line goes: "As the deer longs for streams of water,/ so my soul longs for you, O God."
Personally, I could spend a good 5-10 minutes on that one line alone, if not longer. Perhaps that is the only line I use for prayer. I may sit with that image of longing, that God provides the water that nourishes my soul. I dispose myself to experience that nourishment, that grace of God, at work within me. Perhaps I repeat the line to myself like a mantra, allowing the meaning of the line to sink deeper and deeper into me. I may have an inner conversation with God about some inner struggle, and this line may be what brings me comfort.
One could approach and be touched by this text in many different ways and yet would only have tasted a small bit of its richness. The text embodies the great Mystery of God's Word, that mystery which we can never fully grasp. I may return to this line tomorrow, next year, ten years from now, and the meaning I gleam from it today may be totally different in the future.
As I have mentioned before, prayer should change us for the better. The examen, in its practice, grounds us with greater thanksgiving, propelling us forward through the sacred review of the day. Lectio Divina should also create positive change within us, transforming us to be better children of God and better brothers and sisters for one another. We cultivate our growing relationship with God and rejoice in His presence.
Allow me, then, to offer you some steps to pray using the Lectio Divina, yet inviting you, as always, to make the practice your own.
1) Quiet yourself down, placing yourself in God's presence. Foster an inner disposition of silence and of listening.
2) Pray for God's guidance, that God may help you to pray faithfully at this time, that you may be open to His word, to His grace at work.
3) Turn to the text. Move through it slowly and allow the words to sink deep into you. Stop when a phrase catches you and stick with it as long as it is fruitful. It may be that you repeat the phrase as a mantra, or that the words form a scene in your mind, or you may use it to have a conversation with God. Pray as the Spirit inspires you.
4) When you are finished, end in a prayer of thanksgiving.