Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lectio Divina--Day Two

[Here is a follow-up to an earlier post on Lectio Divina.]

A few months ago I encountered an interesting concept in Larry Crabb’s The Pressure’s Off.  In the book, Crabb describes what he calls “the Papa prayer,” which is a series of prompts to use for reflection and (of course) prayer.

I’m not really comfortable with turning a sacred practice into a step-by-step process.  But Crabb's suggestions continue to linger in my mind, and I’ve found it meaningful to revisit them from time to time.  And as I’ve spent time in Matthew 14, one part of the Papa prayer seems particularly relevant.  So I thought I’d pass it along:

“Attend to where you notice God’s presence or absence in your day.”

Lately, it seems like I’ve heard lots of people talk about instances where theyve perceived Gods presence.  They often refer to such experiences as “God moments   

What about you?  Do you know someone who has talked about a “God moment” in his or her life?  Have you perhaps used it to describe an occasion in your life?

Crabbs suggestion has caused me to think more about what determines a “God moment for me.  And I think my definition involves times when life seems to be “working out.”  A prayer is answered.  A realization occurs.  An illness is healed.  A child (finally) begins to fall into step. 

The problem with this definition of a “God moment,” though, is this:  how, then, do I view the (many) instances when things arent “working out?”  What about when a prayer seems to go unanswered.  When I continue to feel confused.  When pain or illness lingers.  Whendespite my most sincere effortsa child isnt responding the way Id like.

What Crabbs question is helping me see is a long-nurtured tendency to see such occasions as evidence of God’s absence.  And I have a really (really!) hard time believing (much less perceiving) that God can be—and often is—right there in the midst of a challenging, painful, devastating circumstance.  Unless, that is, He makes it all better.

And this is where Matthew 14 comes into the discussion.  

If I’d been one of the disciples in that boat, there’s a pretty good chance I’d have felt like God was “absent” from my circumstances.  Its the middle of the night—sometime between 3 and 6 a.m.  The waters are rough.  My companions and I have been rowing awhile—maybe hours—laboring our sleep-deprived muscles against relentless waves.  We’ve been in storms before, we know the danger, and we are anxious.  We’ve also just seen Jesus work a massive miracle only a few hours ago.  We know what He can do, and we are probably hoping (maybe even praying) He will meet our need like He responded to all those hungry people.

If I’d have been one of the disciples, I would have wanted a “God moment.”  Maybe a supernatural ending to a frightening storm.  Or super-human strength to move us quickly and powerfully to the more predictable shore, where I’d be safe.  Or at least Christ showing up to row with me, or to offer encouragement.

And when Christ did make his presence known, I would have been right there with the others:  I would have mistaken Him for a ghost—an eery, supernatural being even more terrifying than the storm itself.

Yet, like the disciples, I would’ve been smack dab in the middle of a “God moment.”  And I wouldn’t have even realized it.

The storm, the fatigue, the doubts, the darkness . . . all of this would’ve caused me—like the disciples—to be afraid.  To cry out in terror.  To think I was seeing a ghost.

To completely miss Christ’s presence.  

Which is why His words are so powerful:  Take courage.  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.

As I’ve reflected on this passage, these questions have emerged: 

Do I label the circumstances when life “works” as moments when God is present?

Do I have the tendency to see times of fear, confusion, or weakness as instances from which God is somehow absent?

I’ve also been challenged to consider this: 

The experiences when I’m most exhausted, most overwhelmed, most confused—those are occasions when I most often doubt God’s presence. 

Then anxiety takes over:  I can’t see Him.  I’m unable to muster the strength to muscle through. I worry that evil will overpower good, or that maybe my ultimate fear—His abandoning me—is finally happening.

In those moments, I can lose the ability to trust that He is coming.  Or I mistake Him for someone or something else.  Something unwanted, frightening, or even threatening. 

And all this happens even though He is right there.

The rain pelts.  The lightning flashes.  My muscles strain. The waves crash. The boat rocks. 

And my eyes fail.

Yet there He stands, in the midst of it all.  And He says this: 

Take courage. 
It is I. 
Don’t be afraid.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lectio Divina--Day One

As I mentioned in a recent post, Im beginning the year by inviting shadowwonder readers to participate in what may be a new practice for some of you:  lectio divina, or sacred reading.  

We'll focus on the narrative in which Christ walks on water.  But before we begin, here's a brief word about preparing . . . .

When I’m planning to spend time in sacred reading, I find it helpful to think ahead—to make sure I’ll have 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time, and that there’s a comfortable, quiet place available.  Coffee is great too.  J

Then, because I’m such a “do-er," I usually need to begin by decelerating.  Often this means writing down—and then setting aside—the list of “to-do’s” spinning in my head, turning off my phone, putting the laptop out of reach.  Then, it helps to close my eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths.   

According to scripture, the very Spirit of God lives inside the Christ-follower’s heart and mind, so I try to say a simple prayer inviting Him to renew my ability to perceive His direction and guidance.

Then it’s time to begin reading, contemplating, praying, listening, responding.

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One way to spend time with any kind of text is to simply take in its main ideas.  For a narrative, this happens when I become familiar with the storyline and the people who appear in it. Today's exercises are designed to help you study the passage in this way.

Christs miraculous walk on water is recorded in three of the gospels.  We'll begin with the account in Matthew 14:22-32. 

While reading, you may wish to go over the selection more than once.  Sometimes I skim it, then read it more slowly and perhaps even aloud. 

After an initial reading of the passage, look through the questions below, and see if any triggers your curiosity.

If you’re a “big picture” person (like I tend to be), you may find it helpful to look briefly at the sections before and after this passage.  What events have occurred just prior to this scene?  What follows?

Where does this scenario take place?  Think about the physical location, the time of day, and other aspects of the setting.  Can you get a sense of what a person might taste, touch, see, smell, or hear if s/he were part of this event?

What is the basic “plot” being described?  If someone asked you to describe its beginning, middle, and end points, what would you say?  Does the opening raise any questions in your mind about what will happen later?

Who are the people appearing in the text?  What do you already know about them?  What is each one doing, saying, or perhaps thinking and feeling during this particular part of the narrative? 

In my literature courses, my students and I often discuss conflicts occuring in a text.  If its been awhile since your last English class J, here is a little refresher: a conflict is some kind of struggle or tension that exists, often increases, and many times resolves as a narrative unfolds. 

Some conflicts are external, which means theres tension between two groups of people, between an individual and a natural force, between an individual and a social force, or perhaps between two people.  Can you identify any external conflicts in this passage?  Is any person or group struggling against another person, group, or natural force? 

Other conflicts are internal and involve a struggle between two forces within a single person. Does anyone exhibit signs of two impulses or desires warring within?

What would you identify as the high point of this passage? In other words, where do any of the narratives questions become most pressing?  Or when do any of the conflicts seem most intense?

Are any of the narrative's questions answered?  Do any of the conflicts find resolution?

Thats a pretty long list of questions, isnt it?  Instead of tackling all of them, allow your attention to hone in on what seems pertinent to you today.  Then, as you continue, you may find it meaningful to jot down your observations or annotate the passage in some way.  Maybe it's just my own preference and personality, but I tend to get more out of such experiences when I keep some kind of record as I go.  Plus, it helps me remember thoughts I may want to share with a friend or family member later on.

Regardless of whether or not you write down your observations, spend some time exploring the text again in light of your selected focal point(s), and reflecting on what comes to mind.  

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In her 2011 On Being interview with theologian and scholar Walter Brueggeman, NPRs Krista Tippett asks Brueggeman to comment on a practice of approaching the scripture in a way that's very different from memorizing Bible verses or reading the Bible.  She describes this experience as dwelling with the images that occur in a text.  Dwelling with the images . . . . I love that phrase.

Brueggeman's reply resonates as well:

What the Bible does is invite you to keep walking around it and looking at it another way and noticing something else.  You respond to this invitation when you take time to sit with these images . . . relish them . . . let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame."  

Though he doesnt refer to it as such, Brueggemans words capture a bit of what happens when we practice lectio divina.  Instead of reading the biblical text and being done with it, sacred reading can include other activities:  

Walking around a biblical text. 
Looking at it. 
Noticing one thing.  
Then something else.  
Sitting with it.  
Relishing it. 

Hopefully, that is a little of what you've experienced today.

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You may want to close your time with this question:  has any idea, image, character, statement, or action emerged as particularly relevant to your own life?  If so, you can invite God to speak to you over the next few hours and days about why you might be drawn to that particular piece of this narrative.  If nothing seems especially significant, that is okay too. As you go about your daily activities and tasks, you may find your mind returning to one or more parts of this text.  If so, it may be worthwhile to notice and reflect on those thoughts.

By participating in this practice, my intent is to experience a bit of what Brueggeman describes. My hope is that part of the biblical textan image, a character, a question, an actionwill somehow integrate itself into my heart by becoming part of my prayers, part of my vocabulary, part of my conceptual frame, part of my life.  

I'm hoping that the very word of God will knit itself into my being.

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Blessings.  And here is the link to Day Two.

Friday, January 3, 2014

An Invitation

As the daughter of a minister, I’ve been reading, hearing, and learning about the Bible for literally my entire life.  It wasn’t until I reached my thirties, though, that I was introduced to lectio divina (or sacred reading).  This practice—based on the idea that the biblical text is “living and active”—involves not only reading a passage of scripture for literal understanding, but contemplating it, and even inviting God to speak through the text to me, perhaps in a way that is immediately relevant to current struggles, joys, tasks, or season of life.  Descriptions of lectio divina can be found easily online or even at the public library; one of my favorites is here.

Because I’ve found sacred reading to be a particularly rich practice, I thought shadowwonder readers might enjoy it as well--especially if you're not familiar with it.  So, if you’d like to give it a try, the next few posts are for you. In them, you'll find a series of activities and questions which center on what may be a very familiar narrative. 

More on that soon.  But in the meantime, if you choose to participate, my hope is that you might be renewed and encouraged.

If you're ready for Day One, here it is.


P.S.—Feel free to let me know if you plan to follow along . . . I'd love to know.  :-)