Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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The prayerful reading of the Bible has a long history. It goes back to the Fathers of the Church who called it “Lectio Divina,” literally divine reading. Reading the Word of God in the Scripture is a personal encounter with God similar to, but different from, the personal encounter with God in the Eucharist. The text is not just seen as containing a message, doctrinal or moral, and once we get the message, the text has achieved its purpose. It is also a personal encounter with God, which leads to contemplation.

Scripture began with an experience of God, Who always takes the initiative. This experience was first transmitted orally and then later written down. The Scripture therefore is a record of Christian religious experience. But it is not only a record of Christian religious experience; it is also creative of it as the disciples on the road to Emmaus testify. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way, and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

LECTIO DIVINA consists of reading the text, mulling over it, praying about it, and then going beyond it into contemplation where we are content just to be in the presence of God and enjoy being possessed by his love. Or as the monks called it: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplation. These four acts, reading, meditation, affective prayer and contemplation were interwoven into one prayer experience.

The Scripture is READ not so much for information as for formation and union with God. We should read the Scripture slowly and listen carefully, and be receptive. We do not supply the content, we let God reveal his truth. We should be especially attentive to what strikes us, and what happens to us when it does, whether we are consoled or disturbed, inspired or challenged. We should read with faith and commitment. If we wish to understand the Scripture we must believe. We do not believe after we understand.

We must remember that the Scripture is a mosaic; no part is complete in itself. We cannot take a text out of its context to confirm some preconceived idea. We cannot box God into a predetermined schema in which God is not free to surprise us. God has a sense of humor and we should not be afraid to appreciate the humor when we recognize it. It has been said that if we wish to live a responsible Christian life, we must read two things every day: the Scripture and the daily newspaper. And we should never read one without the other, never the bad news without the Good News or vice versa.

The MEDITATION was the reflective part, the pondering upon the words of the Scripture text. We chew it up intellectually. Christianity is not an intellectual pursuit but it does have an intellectual content which distinguishes it from Hinduism, Buddhism and any other religion. It is necessary to be convinced of these Christian truths, in order to keep our prayer authentically Christian. We live in a counter culture so the conviction of these truths is necessary also so that we do not lose our identity and forget who we are. Knowledge is also a necessary step to love. We cannot love what we do not know.

Knowledge precedes love but it is the knowledge that comes from love which is the wisdom of the mystics. So we move from the head to the heart in AFFECTIVE PRAYER and acts of faith, trust, gratitude, contrition, and adoration.

Finally, CONTEMPLATION is the fruit of reflection on Scripture. The mind and the heart are no longer actively seeking God but are beginning to experience, to taste what they have been seeking. In contemplation we let go and we let God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. There are no words, images, or concepts, we are content just to enjoy being in the presence of God.

Thus READING, MEDITATION, AFFECTIVE PRAYER and CONTEMPLATION are all woven into one prayer. To compartmentalize them into different units and separate them from one another leads to the false idea that contemplation is an extraordinary grace reserved for the few. The truth is that contemplation, the experiential knowledge of God that comes from love, is the normal fruit of a genuine spiritual life and hence open to all Christians.


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