This week, in our journey of spirituality, we look at Spiritual Reading. It is, as Thompson writes in her book ‘Soul Feast’, an opportunity to look at ‘The Dance of Lectio Divina’; meaning, using the Scriptures as a means to deepen our prayer and spirituality. The practice of Scriptural meditation comes from the Benedictine traditions, but probably was common among the early reformers, and was anchored in the Judaistic tradition. Thompson, for example, invites us to think about Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways … This, says Thompson, rather beautifully is Scripture inviting us to consider the ‘comfort and discomfort of (our) nakedness before God’s discerning eye’.
Spirituality may be understood as a practice rather than a theory, life rather law, embodied faith rather than intellectual belief, experience rather than academic knowledge. I have mentioned Evelyn Underhill’s point that it encompasses all of our life, rather than something compartmentalized. And it can refer, too, to a way of responding to something: a message, a truth, a person, God! How we do ‘spirituality’ will vary according to our personality and leaning. There is no one formula. One’s spirituality, therefore, can be unique, just as we are all unique and process experiences differently.
Getting back to Lectio Divina, as one way of spiritual discernment or practice, we do the dance as Thompson suggests with Scripture combining four elements that weave back and forth in a rich fluid movement. Those four elements, drawing from the Latin, are as follows: reading the Scripture, meditating on it and letting the words sit and assimilate into our thinking and reflecting, responding to the reading and the meditations that arise from the immediate cries of our heart, and then contemplating on those responses and what they can be or mean for us. As Thompson writes, if our responding involves cries of fury or anger, the contemplation of that can guide us into self-knowledge or the background of those cries, and then into a sense of discovery of a place of rest in God.
Thompson gives us a practical example to help us grasp the nature of Lectio Divina by observing a cow: First, ‘the cow goes out and eats some good grass (reads), then she sits down under a tree and chews her cud (meditates) until she extracts from her food both milk (responds) and cream (contemplates). Now, not to suggest that Scriptural meditation is about cows, but it’s an example of the process where in this case, the process is a fluid cow-dance of food until it is fully digested. Chewing and digesting, reflecting and discerning until it brings forth new life and discovery.
So, in short, scriptural meditation using the technique of Lectio Divina is a way of discernment, and a lovely dance of illumination and care of the soul.