Lectio Divina — Take Another Look

A spiritual practice that has stood the test of many centuries ­­­­— some say it goes back as far as the second century AD — ­­is lectio divina, which means “divine reading” or “holy reading,” and which is intentional in inviting God to speak to us. The intentionality comes in how we approach the scripture or whatever text we are using for the purpose. Most think of using the Bible, but some use poetry or passages from the sacred writings of other religions.

Rather than a once-through reading, followed by closing the book and going about our business, lectio divina is a prescribed approach that asks us to first settle in and pray for understanding and insight into the text and what it might hold for us. Then we read the text (lectio) a few times, both silently and aloud, with special attention to any words or phrases that stand out to us. After this, we reflect on the text (meditatio) and how it applies to our lives. Oratio, the third step, involves consciously opening our hearts to God and contemplatio is resting in God and listening in stillness. The four-part practice is transformational in deepening our spiritual lives.

A friend of mine once worked her way through the Gospel of Mark, taking a few verses at a time, for an ongoing lectio divina practice. My tendency has been to take a single short verse, such as “Be still, and know that I am God” (a portion of Psalm 46:10) and “live” with it for a few days, returning to the awareness of it many times a day, until it begins to return to me when most needed as an offering of divine rest.

For an especially effective presentation and discussion of lectio divina including numerous suggestions of passages for the practice, I recommend the book Lectio Divina — The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer by Christine Valters Paintner, published in 2011 by Skylight Paths Publishing.

       

How’s Your Relationship with God?

  Various places in the Bible make it clear that God wants to be in relationship with us. It isn’t only we who reach for God and try to come closer to God. In fact, the common thinking is that we would not have the idea in the first place of getting close to God if God had not first reached out to us.

A short passage that has a lot to say about our relationship with God is Jeremiah 29:11-13. Most people are familiar with verse 29:11, which reads (NIV): “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” But if you carry on to the following verses, you find that God has more to say: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The context is God speaking to the people who were in exile in Babylon and reaffirming the promise to take them back home. Because elsewhere in the text the Bible claims that God is not a “respecter of persons,” the promises to one group are understood to be available to all.

Promises inherent in a relationship with God, according to this passage, include: 1) assurance that there is a Divine plan for your life and God isn’t forgetting about it, 2) the plan includes a way for you to succeed and be strong and healthy, 3) not only is there a future ahead of you, but it is a positive one in which you can feel hope, 4) your side of the relationship includes calling upon God and praying; God’s side includes listening to you, and 5) your side of the relationship includes seeking God with all your heart; God’s side includes being available for you to find Him.

The promise of relationship continues from there into verse 14: “I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

You may not be in Babylon, but you might, even so, be in one form of captivity or another. These promises are for you.

       

Why Should You Seek Peace and Serenity?

An underlying premise of this blog is that peace and serenity are available to every one of us if we can only stop long enough to let them surface from within us, where we have buried them under the clutter of our daily lives and our constant rush of thoughts and activities. As wonderful as our gadget world is today, it has made it only harder to still our thumbs, take our eyes off our tiny screens, and go within ourselves to rest for a while in the abundance of quiet available there.

“Why would I want to do that?!” – some people will ask.

Why would you want to rest regularly in infinite peace and quiet within yourself? Because that’s where you find the answer to every question you can have about your life; it’s where you discover who you are and who you can count on yourself to be; it’s where you form an enduring relationship with God.

This is not meant to decry the busyness of lives today or the hunger to stay constantly in the information loop. Instead, it is a reminder and an assurance that your life can be richer, more balanced, more peaceful, more stable, more contented, in spite of your social and work structures. You can discover that within you is a warm, spacious place where you are always welcome and always at home.

       

Love in a Broken World

The firebush photo commemorates Pentecost, June 5, which celebrates the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Our best hope is always to turn toward the Spirit.

Last Sunday my pastor’s message was titled “Love in a Broken World.” She gave a fine sermon, a response to the violence especially in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. She spoke about brokenness and referred to the congregation as the “raggedy, worn-out, tired … committed to a better world.”

The truth is, we were already broken before the May 14 and May 24 shootings. And we will remain broken after all the so-recently-killed have been buried. It’s just that for the families impacted by those events, the brokenness is now unbearably intense.

“Everyday Spirituality” has not, as a rule, attempted a response to the cruel catastrophes of life, the moments when the entire nation rallies at the horror of another unspeakable event. Rather, this blog is about spirituality in the everyday times—not so much the peaks and valleys but the flatter expanses of ordinary life. Even in those times there is pain, and that is the pain of brokenness.

Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, said recently in a TBN interview that we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” because in Heaven God’s will is done “perfectly, completely, instantly, and continuously.” But on Earth, Warren said, none of that is true; everything is broken on this planet.

It is into that reality of brokenness that we bring love. If we believe that God is love, then love has to be our response to brokenness. Anything else would only deepen the pain.

The challenge is to turn always to the Holy Spirit, not just at Pentecost but everywhere we see the need for love in our world.

       

Tune In to National Day of Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image is a bit fuzzy, but the interview isn’t! Tune in to this National Day of Prayer broadcast on May 5 at 12:00 Noon (ET).

Dr. Angela Chester, host of Daily Spark TV, interviews Rev. Ronald Perry, Prophetess Katherine Free, Trish Atkinson, and me on prayer themes related to government, military, media, business, education, church, and family.

Broadcast options include Roku, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and DRANGELACHESTER.COM.

Praising in prayer is the theme for the 2022 National Day of Prayer, and the verses chosen as the basis for the day are Colossians 2:6-7 (NASB):

Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

I welcome your comments about the National Day of Prayer broadcast!

       

National Day of Prayer, May 5

Our National Day of Prayer, here in the United States, is coming up on May 5. It will be an opportunity for all of us to take some time and think about what prayer is, what it can be for us, and how it saves us.

As I have been thinking and praying about the messages appropriate for this day, it occurs to me that a foundational point is that we never have to beg when we pray to God.

We’ve all heard people pray heartbreaking prayers in which they beg God… maybe to save a sick relative… maybe to pull them out of financial despair… maybe to forgive them for something they haven’t been able to forgive themselves for… or a hundred other things.

I’ve even heard pastors in the pulpit pray begging prayers. Probably you have too. (Pastors, after all, are just as human as the rest of us.)

But if we stop to remember that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son in order to save us, can we really think that we have to beg for anything?

We can, instead, live from a place of thanksgiving. We can lift up our concerns, trusting that He cares, trusting that He hears us. We can praise Him for what He’s already done and live in faith that our lives have His attention, that nothing of what occurs escapes his notice, that we never fall outside His love.

What will be the focus and content of your prayers when folks all over the nation join their hearts in prayer on May 5?

       

Dominant Thoughts

If you allow a thought to dominate your mind, it will rule your life.

Imagine what it will mean for you if that thought is worry, preoccupation with an illness, carrying a grudge, the urge to pay someone back, or any other negative thought you can name.

Your entire life will eventually become an expression of that dominant negative thought. But it’s just as true on the positive side, and it’s critical to remember that.

Maybe your dominant thought is how to help other people and you’re constantly on the lookout for opportunities. Or maybe your children are uppermost in your mind and you’re on alert for the best thing you can do for them.

Maybe you have set a goal for your life, and your mind is dedicated to whatever steps will move you closer to the goal.

“Your thoughts are a catalyst for self-perpetuating cycles,” wrote Amy Morin in “This Is How Your Thoughts Become Reality,” an article in Forbes, June 15, 2016.

She went on: “Creating a more positive outlook can lead to better outcomes. That’s not to say positive thoughts have magical powers. But optimistic thoughts lead to productive behavior, which increases your chances of a successful outcome.”

Amy Morin is a psychologist and author of the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, 2017.

What occurs to you about dominant thoughts to avoid?

       

The Prayer of Being With

We know the four kinds of prayer: we can praise God, we can make petitions to ask God for what we feel we need, we can pray in thanksgiving to express our gratitude for what God has done in our lives, and we can pray in intercession to lift up others to God’s care.

But there’s a fifth kind of prayer that may be the most important of all: the prayer of “being with.”

This is a simple kind of prayer. It asks only that you be present and open to God. Matthew 6:8 tells us that God already knows what we need before we even ask. So, it’s not all that necessary to tell Him again. It’s really not as though He needs to be reminded.

What may be vastly more meaningful is to sit with God, with our hands empty and our hearts open, and say, “God, I’d just like to be with You for a little while. I have nothing to ask of You except that I hope I will feel Your presence. In any case, I am going to sit here with my heart open to You. If You have something to say to me, that’s all the better. But if not, maybe we could just be with each other for little while.”

Over time, you may find the “being with” prayer your most blessed kind of communing with God, and it may become your favorite time of each day.

       

Stories We Tell Ourselves

You tell yourself stories constantly. And too often those stories are not in your best interest.

It might be an incident with someone at work or a passing remark from a family member. You interpret the incident as a slight, even as an insult. Already that beginning interpretation is the start of a story as you try to make sense of the situation.

No problem that you don’t know the motivation or intention behind the incident. You make up what seems to account for things. Then you retell the story to yourself over and over, creating a plot that fits what you believe happened. Soon enough there are plenty of feelings stirred up, usually hurt, sometimes anger, even outrage.

But, there is another way to go.

What if, as a spiritual practice, you chose to deliberately tell yourself a different story? It would have the identical characters and the same opening scene. This time, however, you find another interpretation. What else could the incident mean? What else could the motivation and intentions have been? What story, from that same beginning incident, would empower you?

Most important, what is the story if God is at the center? In that context, how does the initial incident look? What might it mean from the perspective of the Holy Spirit?

Look for the God-centered stories in your life that will inspire and strength you.

       

Dreaming about Dreams

Blogs like this one talk a lot about the sort of dreams we have for our lives—the goals, aspirations, and ambitions people think of when someone says, “Livin’ the dream.”

But the reference in this post is the other kind of dreams, those visions that appear to us while we are sleeping and that we tend to dismiss as “what a crazy dream that was!” We blame the food we ate the night before or the terrible thing we saw on television. The last thing that occurs to us is that the dream was actually a spiritual experience.

The worst thing about these dreams is how ephemeral they are. If you don’t write them down or take some other measure to purposely capture the dream, it is gone from you as completely as though it never happened.

And that would be a terrible shame because there is always a chance that the dream has an important message for you. You can call the source of the message your own subconscious or the universe or God. Doesn’t matter. It’s a source that has a clearer viewpoint on your circumstances than you do.

Sometimes it pays to ask for a dream that will hold a guiding message for you. Just the asking puts you in a frame of mind for receiving. It indicates willingness to take direction, to be open, to listen. Then when the dream comes, don’t edit it. Just be sure to put down on paper every single aspect of it you can recall, especially the ones that you cannot immediately interpret. And this writing down must be done as soon as possible after waking because, like snowfall on a sunny winter’s day, the edges will melt away fast.

I could give you examples from my own life, but much more effective for you are examples from your own.

Ask for the guiding dream, be open to whatever comes to you no matter how little sense it seems to make at first, write down every detail, ask God for the interpretation, act on what you learn.

Now that’s livin’ the dream.

       


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(Author photo by Mark Bennington.)