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Lectio: A Way To Transformation

[AN EXCERPT FROM Seeking His Mind: 40 Meetings With Christ. REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION.]

A shrinking global village with its increasingly mobile population often gifts us with very interesting and enriching neighbors. This has been our experience at St. Joseph’s Abbey. Among our neighbors are a Hindu ashram and a Buddhist meditation center. Swami Satchidananda established to the south a large, prosperous monastery, which his disciples refer to as Yogaville East. To the north there is an Insight Meditation Center of the Theravada tradition. I am happy to say that relations with these brothers and sisters are the very best. We mutually share by invitation in each other’s special festive celebrations. The Buddhist center especially has encouraged Christians who come there to learn meditation to visit the abbey to get help to integrate their new practice into the context of their Christian life and practice.

Periodically there are persons who make the rounds. They go to the ashram and learn what they can of the eight limbs of Yoga. They spend some time at the meditation center learning insight meditation. And then they knock at the monastery door and ask, "What is your method?"

My usual answer is that our whole life is our method. As the early Christians expressed it, we have entered into "The Way." Our Master and Lord, who spoke of himself as "the Way and the Truth and the Life," coming from the fullness of the Jewish tradition, summed up His way in the two great commandments: "The first and greatest commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole strength. And the second is like unto this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." He went on to modify the second, saying: "I give you a new commandment: You shall love one another as I have loved you." Making it clear that "greater love than this no one hath than one lay down one’s life for one’s friend." He went on to do just that: He laid down His life for all of us, His friends.

This is the way of the Christian: that we love the Lord our God and one another, even to the point of laying down our lives for each other. Actual physical martyrdom may be the exception, though it is more common today than in any previous period of Christian history. But we are all called to take up our cross daily and follow our Master. "Unless the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains itself alone. But if it dies, it will bear much fruit."

This response, that our whole life is our method, usually does not satisfy insistent inquirers. They have found among the Hindus and Buddhists a seemingly rather concise method or practice, and they are looking for the same among the Christians. At this point, insisting always that the practice must nurture a full pursuit of "The Way," and that outside of such a context it may well be fruitless in the deepest sense of that word—we are to judge a tree by its fruit—I tell our inquirers that our method is lectio. "What is that?" is the usual response to such a statement.

I deliberately leave the word in Latin, for the simple translation "reading" certainly betrays the meaning. More important, lectio, or lectio divina, always connotes for the Christian coming out of our tradition a whole process summed up in the four words lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. This process is geared towards a transformation of consciousness and life. "Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus," says St. Paul. Our aim is to have the "mind of Christ," the nous Christou, to see things, to evaluate all things, to respond to reality in the way Christ our Lord and Master does—to see things as God sees them, to share in the divine consciousness.

Let me develop now this Christian way or process. Lectio cannot simply mean "reading," even though that is its literal translation. We are speaking of a way of Christian spirituality that prevailed through many centuries when the vast number of Christian people could not read. I think lectio here can most properly be understood as meaning "to receive the revelation." It can be perceived immediately that this is a way most consonant with Christianity. We Christians, sharing this in part with our Jewish brothers and sisters, are sons and daughters of the Book. God, who of old spoke first through the creation and then through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us through His incarnate Son, our Lord Jesus.

Lectio most properly resides in hearing the word of God. We do this as a Christian people when we gather in our communal worship. The Reformers of the sixteenth century quite rightly laid great emphasis on this. The recent liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic church have also emphasized this. In an earlier period, memories seem to have been sharper, or were used more. It was not uncommon for an average Christian to know by heart extensive passages of Scripture, perhaps even the whole of the Gospels and the Psalter. Men like the venerable Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux were reputed to know the whole Bible. These Christians, then, always carried the Scriptures with them and at any moment, drawing on memory, could hear the word of God. The word of God revealed itself in other ways, too: in the shared faith of sisters and brothers. The Reformers laid great stress on the sermon, as did the Fathers, whose great sermons have come down to us. Faith is also shared in less formal settings, in small groups, or in the one-to-one encounter. Out of our experience of the word, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we speak the word to one another.

The word can be heard through other media. Music, certainly. Powerful hymns repeat themselves insistently within us: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound." Art, the frescoes, icons, and stained glass windows. The earliest Christian assemblies, gathering in homes and catacombs, adorned the walls of their meeting places with scenes from the Scriptures. Our eastern Christian sisters and brothers find a real presence in the icons and enshrine them in their homes as well as in their churches. The whole of the Scriptures is depicted in the windows of the great medieval cathedrals, such as Chartres. The Master Artist does not cease to reveal himself in His masterpiece, the creation. As St. Paul reminded the Romans, for the mind that would see, God has always been there to be seen. Bernard of Clairvaux is noted for the saying that has been rendered into rather trite English: "I have found God more in the trees and the brooks than in the books." Above all, God reveals himself in that which is greatest in all creation, His own image and likeness, the graced person. In others, and in our very selves, we can experience the goodness and love of God, God himself, if we would but be still and know that He is God.

In colloquial English we have the expression: "I read you." It implies that I fully get what someone is trying to convey to me. This is perhaps a good translation of lectio, to "read" in this sense: to get God and all He is saying in all the many ways He is speaking.

See Also

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