Oct 15 2016

Praying the Text

Day 15 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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The fourth item I intentionally brought into my new home on the first day was my bible, an NRSV I’ve been using since 2001. It represented my commitment and hope that God’s Word would be foundational to my life in the Contemplative Cottage.

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My life has been deeply influenced by the monastic practice of lectio divina (Latin for divine reading), a four-movement pattern of prayerful reflection on scripture dating from the early church and codified in the 12th century by Carthusian monk Guigo II. Used by Benedictines for centuries as part of their daily prayer practice, lectio divina has enjoyed a rediscovery in the past 20 years, especially among Protestants from mainline and non-denominational congregations.

A short scripture passage is read repeatedly and deeply. Words and phrases that capture heart and mind are meditated upon more intentionally. The meditation on the passage at some point turns into a conversation with God about the passage. Finally, one would rest in a contented contemplation of God, sparked by the reflection.

Another way to understand the movements, according to Guigo II: reading is akin to putting food in the mouth; meditation is chewing; prayer is digesting it; and contemplation is the satiation after a delicious feast.

Models of lectio divina place the movements in ladder or circular relationships, but I prefer a tetrahedron. It allows for the connective nature of the practice to be visualized 3-dimensionally. Each movement can shift to any of the other three movements and back, allowing for a complex relationship between the four modes of engaging the text:

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I take a psalm or short passage of scripture from the larger book or epistle I’m studying, print it out and then use multicolored pens and pencils to highlight those words and phrases that are calling for deeper meditation. Sometimes, a song, person, scripture, or memory might tug at my attention while I’m reading. This may seem unconnected to the passage, but it may be a Holy Spirit nudge toward the word the passage has for me in that moment.

Prayers can be written in the margins, allowing the scripture to form the foundation of prayer. Contemplation might be expressed by simply sitting with the text and annotations as a whole, letting the yeast of the Word do it’s work in my life. Often, my meditation will include looking up Greek or Hebrew words and engaging commentaries to sharpen my own understanding of the text.

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Practicing lectio divina on scripture over the years has seeped into the rest of my life. I find myself reading other texts, such as novels and poetry, art objects, songs, and visual stories in a similar, though less intensive, way. Using the pattern of lectio divina has also affected the way I read situations, conflicts, and contexts, informing the theological method I teach and use for research (my students will recognize this!). Anything can become a “text” to read, reflect, and pray through to God’s wisdom.

If lectio divina is new for you, or if you haven’t practiced it in this organic way, a great place to start is by choosing a favorite scripture passage or psalm and spend 30 single-tasking minutes coloring, highlighting, and praying through the text.

If you’ve practiced it on scripture, I encourage you to try it on a favorite poem (I’ve included one of my favorites below). While I believe that the study of scripture takes a privileged position in God’s formative work in us, I also believe God can use stories, poems, even movies, as means of communicating truth–if we would take the time to enter deeply into the work of art.

Love (III) – George Herbert (1593-1633)

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be s/he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Aug 24 2012

Friday Florilegium

I’m hard at work on the next chapter of the dissertation, focusing on lectio divina (divine reading). Here are some highlights from my reading:

[Lectio divina] is, above all, a daily, personal, intimate contact with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a contact with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Brother, which takes place in Holy Scripture. As its name indicates, it is  “reading God.” [It is a] reading with faith–God speaks, God speaks to me here and now–and with great attention; a slow, meditative, savored reading; a reading that seeks primarily the literal and precise meaning of the text in order then to seek and discover what the Spirit of God deigns to manifest to the readers; a reading so active that it engages the entire person; yet at the same time, it is passive, that is to say, a reading in which we (the readers) permits ourselves to be influenced by the Word of God who speaks to us personally, who speaks intimately heart to heart; a reading made in the bosom of the Church, the body of Christ, “with the loving eyes of a spouse”; an assiduous reading made every day without exception; disinterested reading, [meaning] to read for the sake of reading and not for having read, reading in which we seek nothing else than the reading itself.—-Garcia M Colombas, Reading God

From the quality time with the Word required by lectio divina one learns “reading” as a way of life, not just an exercise for a set number of minutes each day. Becoming adept at lectio is like mastering a language. It opens up communication with an even larger world. Reading the Scriptures is a springboard to reading the larger world that surrounds us.  For while the scriptural texts are the first material of, or prime matter for, lectio, reading them trains people to read the other texts life provides. The God who speaks in the Scriptures speaks in human experience as well.  Lectio that begins with the Scriptures speaks in human experience as well.–Raymond Studzinski, Reading to Live: The Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina

[In practicing lectio divina,] we tend at the same time to rediscover the value of the otium (leisure) of the cloister, that is, the importance of “free time” to dedicate to God and affairs of the soul…We need to react valiantly against anxiety, against the inordinate urge to produce, against the habits which our consumer society imposes on us and which oblige us to devote extraordinary hours…to mental or physical labor. It seems indispensable that in the daily monastic horarium (a schedule of work, prayer, and free time), leisure must be allowed for slow… reading, penetrated by prayer.–Garcia M Colombas, Reading God

And for another Friday literary bouquet, join Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

Photos: St John the Evangelist Monastery library, Cambridge; Proverbs 31; a Wordle of my dissertation prospectus


Aug 2 2012

Every Thursday, Thanksgiving

Counting thanks to 1000 and beyond…

784. Meerkats at the Woodland Park Zoo. I love this one, surveying her domain!

785. Visiting with my friend Heidi and her daughters in a Kenyan hut (at the Zoo!)

786. Hydrangea  blue and pink glory.

787. A reorganized prayer room. The great things about this room are it’s comfy couch and peaceful silence. So grateful for my friend Julie, who took me to Ikea for lamps and candles!

788. Jack’s amazing creativity and detail: a set of miniature weapons. The sword even has a sheath made from the hollow quill of a feather.

789. Candles and icons encouraging me as I work on my dissertation.

789. Pink amazingness!

790. A blueberry picking adventure.

791. While Kimberlee and the kiddos picked berries, I read about the medieval approach to reading: lectio divina. In between words, I saw a hummingbird, a noisy hawk, and lots of young bespeckled robins. The air was scented with eau d’fresh-cut-grass.

792. But the highlight, of which I have no photo, was 2 year old Ben, full of joy as he fed the  goats at the farm. A wonderful day!

What are you thankful for this week? Might you share with us 1 or 2 gratitudes in the comments so we can rejoice with you?

Join Kimberlee and I as we give thanks together.

And the inspiration for counting gratitudes:


May 11 2011

Resurrecting Hope

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The past couple of months, as the trees leafed out and the wildflower seedlings poked their tiny heads through the soil, I felt the chill of winter.

It could be that Seattle had it’s coldest, grayest April on record.

But as the joy of Easter seeps slowly in, I realize Lent just lasted a bit longer for me this year.

I planted my blue morning glory seeds over four weeks ago and kept checking for signs of life, even as I checked my own heart.

Hope had gone into hiding.

Is anything growing?

Will anything ever grow?

And if it does, what’s its purpose?

I wait in hope that the lifeless seeds will one day bloom. It’s seemed to take forever, just to get this far, and I can’t see the end.

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This morning, asking my questions, I picked up a book by Richard Sterns, The Hole in Our Gospel. Sterns is the president of World Vision.

I  randomly opened it to an amazing story of seed planting.

Edward Kimball taught Sunday school in Boston and invested in the lives of boys and young men. One of these teens was particularly challenging, so Kimball visited him at his family’s shoe store. He spoke about the love of Christ (actually mumbled it nervously, not sure what to say), and surprisingly the young man committed his life to Christ then and there. This teen, Dwight L Moody, would ultimately share the gospel with over 100 million people during his life, as well as start inner city ministries and a college in Chicago.  In 1879, F.B. Meyer was influenced by Moody’s witness and became a minister, he in turn mentored J.W. Chapman, who ministered to professional baseball players. One of those players, Billy Sunday, became one of the most known evangelists of the early 20th century.  Sunday’s ministry of preaching led Mordecai Ham to follow Christ,  and Ham became an evangelist as well. Ham’s preaching and invitation to follow Christ was heard by a young teen, Billy Graham.

Richard Sterns writes: “Do you sometimes feel that you have nothing worthwhile to offer–that you are a nobody when it comes to doing great things for God? I wonder if Edward Kimball felt the same way. He never did anything spectacular or particularly newsworthy. He just showed up out of faithfulness to God, an hour or two each week, to teach the boys in his class. And yet Edward Kimball’s dedication to teaching Sunday school faithfully and caring about those boys changed the world.”

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Our daily work of love is a seed. Loving one person near us cannot but unleash God’s love in some unique way into the world.

And that amazing transformative Love will sparkle and spiral and twirl as it touches the lives of countless others down into the future.

We may never know to where and to what just showing up and sharing God’s love will lead.

But knowing that God’s Word of Love created the universe and raised his Son from the grave, we can hope for a garden of abundance to spring green.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

–Psalm 130:5-6


Jan 28 2011

Friday Florilegium

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As the birds build nests, as the furry catkins bud on the willow, new bright green leaves open in the sunniest places, and cherry blossoms begin to pink-tinge the trees, I begin this Florilegium with my most favorite quote, from the book Christ the Tiger by Thomas Howard:

“Here from this stable, here, from this Nazareth, this stony beach, this Jerusalem, this market place, this garden, this Praetorium, this Cross, this mountain, I announce it to you. I announce to you what is guessed at in all the phenomena of your world. You see the corn of wheat shrivel and break open and die, but you expect a crop.

I tell you of the Springtime of which all springtimes speak.

I tell you of the world for which this world groans and toward which it strains. I tell you that beyond the awful borders imposed by time and space and contingency, there lies what you seek. I announce to you life instead of mere existence, freedom instead of frustration, justice instead of compensation.

For I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done.

I restore the years that the locusts and worms have eaten. I restore the years you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheel-chair. I restore the symphonies and operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massif your blind eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder and the identity lost to you because of calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your own foolish mistakes have cheated you of.

And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.

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If you would like to contribute to the Friday Florilegium, please share a quote or scripture verse that has been meaningful for you in the comments or in a blog post.

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Jan 28 2011

Florilegium, Latin, “a gathering of flowers”

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I just finished rereading a fascinating book by a monastic historian and classically-trained scholar, Jean LeClerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.  He details the educational system and literary culture of 9th-12th century monasticism, which deeply influenced Christian life and education during that time.

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Back in the day, as in 10 centuries ago and earlier, monks wrote on sanded-smooth animal vellum, painstakingly copying and illuminating manuscripts.  This page will give you an idea of the process. For a modern example, the breath-taking St John’s Bible is being crafted using the techniques of the medieval scriptoriums.  Below is an illustration of St Mark from the Lindesfarne Gospels (7th-8th C).

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Writing was a mentally and physically demanding process, and that was in addition to the actual composition of the prose.  The monks didn’t just copy religious or specifically Christian texts either. To the monasteries we owe the continuity of historical records, as well as the preservation of Greek and Latin literature and philosophical texts. Why? The monks were educated through these texts, they found them beautifully written and believed many were inspiring for living life well–a truly classical education, enjoyed and used in the love of God.

While copying manuscripts required time and expense, there were often left over scraps of vellum available for the monks to copy down quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally.  These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather).

A bouquet of literary flowers. The monks were such romantics.

Florilegium--Rothschild Canticles 14th C

We have examples of these quote collections which helps historians know what people were reading and who were the well-loved authors of that day. Above is a 14th century florilegium called the Rothschild Canticles.

Each Friday, I’m going to offer a digital florilegium of a few quotes from books I’m reading.  These texts could be from scripture, contemporary and historical authors, dissertation reading on prayer and education, or just some random yummy-quote-goodness!

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