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Excellent helps for meditation!

From Thirsting for Prayer by Fr. Jacques Philippe

Here we are in touch with the very ancient tradition of lectio divina, reading Scripture with the aim of finding God and opening ourselves to what He wants to tell us through it here and now.

Lectio divina can take different directions and various forms. At present I am speaking of it as a method of prayer.

Times and the Best Time

The best time for lectio divina is the morning if that is possible. One’s spirit is fresher and better disposed then, normally less loaded with cares and concerns, than at the end of the day.

Psalm 90 says, “Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

And the book of Isaiah says, “The Lord … provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple” (Is 50:4).

Another advantage of doing the lectio divina in the morning is that this testifies that the most urgent thing in our lives is disposing ourselves to listen to God. This practice also establishes us, right from the start of the day, in an inner attitude of listening. That enables us more easily to preserve the attitude of availability throughout the day and so perceive more readily the calls that God may make to us.

That said, this advice is obviously not set in stone. Clearly, many people do not have the opportunity for it in the morning and can only do it at some other time of day. That won’t prevent God from speaking to them if they are thirsty for Him.

Which passage should we take for meditation?

There are all sorts of possibilities. We can meditate on a text continuously (one of the Gospels, a Letter of St. Paul, or another book from the Bible) day after day. I know a married layman with a family who, every morning, spends time in prayer based on the Word of God. He has spent two or three years on St. John’s Gospel.

However, the advice I give people who are beginners in this field is, on the whole, to do their lectio by taking the passages that the Church gives for the Readings of Mass each day. That has the advantage of putting us in harmony with the life of the universal Church and the liturgical times and seasons, and preparing us for the Eucharist if we are going to participate in it.

Furthermore we will have three different well-chosen texts (the First Reading, the Psalm, the Gospel), which reduces the risk of being confronted with passages that are too dry or hard to interpret.

It is very rare for at least one of the three passages not to speak to us. Often, too, doing lectio divina while looking at several different passages together helps us grasp the profound unity of Scripture.

When reading the Bible it is a great joy to discover how often passages that are very different from one another in style, date of composition, content, etc., can, when brought together, reveal new harmonies and shed light on one another.

When interpreting passages of Scripture, the wise men in the Rabbinic tradition loved to bring out the richness of their meaning by “stringing necklaces” whose pearls were verses taken from different parts of Scripture— the Torah, the Prophets, Psalms, and Wisdom literature.

This is what Jesus himself did for the disciples after his Resurrection, as we see in St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk 24:27, 44). The tradition of bringing together different passages to illuminate one another has been continued by all the Fathers of the Church and spiritual commentators up to the present day.

How exactly should we go about it?

As I have already emphasized, the fruitfulness of lectio divina depends on our inner attitudes and not the effectiveness of some particular method. Therefore it is important to not begin by starting straight in on the Scripture passage but only after having taken sufficient preparation time to enter into the appropriate dispositions of prayer, faith, and desire.

Following are some steps that might be taken in doing that. As with every time when we start to pray, we should begin by recollecting ourselves, putting ourselves in God’s presence. We should leave aside our worries and concerns; the one thing necessary for us, as for Mary of Bethany, is to sit at our Lord’s feet and listen to His words.

To do that, we need to situate ourselves in the present moment, which we sometimes have great difficulty doing. When necessary, we do well to use the resources of our body and sensations for this purpose.

Sometimes it is beneficial to begin with a physical preparation before starting to read: close our eyes, center ourselves in our bodies, relax (loosen our shoulders and any tense muscles), become aware of our breathing and breathe gently but deeply; feel the contact of our bodies with the material world around us—the contact of our feet with the ground, our bodies with the seat, arms with the table, hands with the Bible or missal we are going to use for our reading.

The first contact with the Word should be a physical contact. Touching it is already a form of listening. St. John speaks of “That which … we have … touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1).

Once we feel relaxed, connected with our body, centered on the present moment, we should turn our heart toward God, to thank Him in advance for the time He is granting us in which He will contact us through his Word.

We should ask Him for light, beg Him to open our minds to understand the Scriptures (Lk 24:45) as He did for his disciples, and, above all, ask Him that this word may truly visit us in depth, convert our heart, lay bare the ways we compromise with sin, enlighten us and transform us where we need it today, so that we may be more fully in tune with God’s plan for our life. We should ask Him to stir up our desire and will for all this.

When we are ready—and do not hesitate to take time over this, because it is essential—we can open our eyes and begin to read the passage we have chosen for the lectio divina. Read slowly, applying mind and heart to what is read and meditating on it.

But realize that “meditating” in the biblical tradition (e.g., Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night”) means not so much reflecting as murmuring, repeating, ruminating.

To begin with, it is more of a physical activity than an intellectual one. When a verse attracts our attention we should not fear to repeat it over and over again, because it is often through such rumination that it will release its deep meaning, what God wants to say to us today through that verse.

Of course, the intelligence also has a part to play. We can question the passage. What does it tell me about God? What is it telling me about myself? What good news does it contain? What specific invitation for my life can I find in it?

If a verse seems obscure, we can consult notes or a commentary, but we should avoid turning the time of lectio into a time of intellectual study. We should not hesitate to dwell at length on a verse that takes on a particular savor for us and to enter into dialogue with God based on what it is saying to us.

The lectio should become prayer—giving thanks for an encouraging verse, invoking God’s help when a passage invites us to a conversion that we find difficult, etc.

At certain times, if the grace is given us, we can stop our reading and remain in an attitude of more contemplative prayer, simple wonder, and admiration at the beauty of what God makes us discover through the text.

A verse may, for instance, convey a deep sense of God’s gentleness or his majesty or his faithfulness or the splendor of what he does in Christ, and it invites us to contemplate that and give thanks for it.

The ultimate goal of the lectio is not to read miles and miles of texts, but to lead us as far as possible into the attitude of contemplative wonder, which nourishes our faith, hope, and love. That is not always given, but when it is, we should be able to interrupt our reading and content ourselves with a simple loving presence before the mystery revealed to us in the text.

In what has just been said, we can see the four stages of the lectio divina in the tradition of the Middle Ages: Lectio (reading), Meditatio (meditation), Oratio (prayer), and Contemplatio (contemplation).

These are not so much successive stages to be followed in just that order as they are particular modes of doing lectio divina. That is all the more apparent from the fact that, while the first three involve human activity, the fourth is not something we can do at will: it is a gift of grace, which we should desire and welcome but which is not always granted.

Moreover, as I said earlier, there may be times of aridity and dryness, as in any kind of prayer. We must never get discouraged—one who seeks will always end by finding.

It is difficult for a child to be better than his home environment or for a nation to be superior to the level of its home life. -Fr. Lovasik, The Catholic Family Handbook

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