Yesterday I wrote about the formidible challenge of keeping Christmas from losing all real meaning in a secular world. But, even assuming that we agree to keep the baby Jesus rather than an orgy of commercialism as the "reason for the season," does it even then sometimes seem as if the story is — well — sometimes a bit rehashed? I mean, yes, it’s all warm and fuzzy and babies are cute and all. And we love to welcome babies into our midst. They are great cause for celebration. But I mean really, at Christmas, for the umpteenth time, and the same baby? He never even grows, he’s always just a newborn in a manger! Do you ever feel that those same old same old sermons sometimes just get a bit, well, worn?
If so, boy do I have a solution for you to spice up your prayer life! It’s called "lectio divina," which in Latin means (more or less) to ponder the meaning of the word. Though it’s most famously associated with and propounded by St. Benedict, this technique is actually not unique to Christianity. I believe it is a form of meditation called by many names by thoughtful people all over the world, widely used by most major world religions. I would like to share it and offer it as a technique that can be used by a person from any religious tradition. It can even be used to spice up your prayer life where the Nativity is concerned.
The technique is to take one verse of scripture and then to meditate on it. Not just read it. Meditate. Dwell on the idea, imagine it, think about it from various aspects and angles. From the web page of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gertrude, I quote:
The actual process of lectio is as simple as it can be transforming. Traditionally lectio is taught as four steps. The first is lectio or reading. Take a short passage of Scripture and read it over slowly and carefully. What word or phrase seems to catch you or make you stop? Take that word or phrase and repeat it slowly to yourself several times.
The next step is meditatio or meditation. Ponder the word or phrase that came to you. How is it speaking to you? Where does it lead you? What does it remind you of? Spend some time listening to where it takes you.
Next, let your meditation become oratio or prayer. Turn the insights of your meditation into a prayer. It may be a prayer of thanksgiving, a plea for help, a request for the strength to change. This prayer is simply offering to God whatever came from your insights in meditation.
Finally, from prayer move to contemplatio or contemplation. This is a simple, wordless resting in God’s presence. God knows our needs, our wounds and gifts, words are no longer needed. Simply spend some resting under God’s loving gaze.
I have to confess, lectio divina is my favorite prayer technique. Perhaps that’s because something so simple is all I can manage, or perhaps it’s because it suits me well. Even as I go about my ordinary routine, washing dishes perhaps, I can still think and meditate.
I also like it because it seems particularly fruitful for me. When one follows the same passage of scripture mentally, or prayerfully, for many days on end, it’s amazing what different insights emerge. Sometimes the twists, turns, and eddies that one follow through extended meditation can lead far from where one might have imagined. The Order of St. Gertrude writes, “[t]his encounter with scripture will not leave us unchanged, in God’s revealed word we receive strength and guidance for our continuing journey.”