A Spiritual Practice for Lent

A 12th c Carthusian French monk, Guigo II, described the spiritual life as climbing a ladder. The steps were Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation. Or lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.

This “ladder” evolved into a spiritual practice called “Lectio Divina” or “Divine Reading” of scripture. It is still practiced by both Catholics and Protestants today and is something I commend to you for the remaining weeks of Lent.

Lectio Divina is about reading passages from the Bible in a way that lets them dwell in the heart. It’s not about parsing some theological meaning or historical context out of the passage, but instead is about directly experiencing it.

The passage is read aloud four times, each followed by a time of meditation. This is followed by a prayer asking God for inspiration. This is then followed by contemplative prayer in which the focus is on listening to God.

“Contemplatio” is the goal: A state of mindful Christian prayer in which one has an awareness of the union of one’s soul with God.

Here is an opportunity to give it a try! First, find a bible and a quiet place to sit. Begin by reading the following passage:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” Matthew 4 (NRSV)

Lectio: Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly. Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio: Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes. Sit with the passage. Hold it lightly–don’t force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio: Pray aloud: “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio: Pray in the desert with Jesus. Go to a quiet place–a metaphorical desert–and get into a physical position in which your body will be comfortable but you’ll be unlikely to fall asleep. Close your eyes, and in silence, observe whatever arises to take your attention. The object of your observation can be anything at all. A thought. An idea. A sensation–something your body feels, something you hear. A memory. An urge to get up and do something. Just watch it all. Let it be. Watch all that arises and passes, observing with non-judgmental, caring attention. Be a quiet presence, like a friend who stays close in silence with a loving attitude toward you. Do this for ten minutes.

I will be providing additional texts here to practice this ancient spiritual discipline to aid in our shared journey toward the crucifixion and the resurrection.

See you in church