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.

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