LECTIO DIVINA: A WAY TO SUSTAIN AND INSPIRE MISSION AND VISION TODAY AND TOMORROW
by Sister Clarissa Goeckner
A compelling, shared vision has empowered religious communities throughout history to do amazing works in health care, education, and service for others. Founders and foundresses grounded their communities deeply so that their mission, drawing from the past, might reach out in new and creative ways to meet the needs of the future. Their core values provided a compass to guide their service and direct their generosity. These communities were sources of inspiration that moved their members to self-giving service and inspired other people to generosity as well. Tapping into the wellsprings of this foundational wisdom and strength deepens the commitment of present community members. It also invites a growing number of other seekers to be strengthened for service from this source as well.
How do we share this source of strength with those who minister with us? What are ways for them to draw from this powerful wellspring?
Each community has its way of making this connection; for monastics, one way of tapping into this source is through the practice of lectio divina.
Briefly, then, what is lectio divina?
Lectio divina has its roots in the Jewish synagogue where the haga, or meditation on the Hebrew Scriptures was practiced by rabbis and their disciples. They murmured the sacred words aloud to fix them in their minds. The fathers of the church took this further to include reading and speaking the scriptures as prayer. The desert mothers and fathers believed that they heard God speaking to them personally and immediately. In writing his rule in the early sixth century, St. Benedict used this tradition of immersion in scripture and expected his monks to spend at least three hours a day in lectio divina, holy reading. (Christine Valters Paintner and Lucy Wynkoop, OSB, Lectio Divina, Paulist Press, 2008.)
How do we use this powerful prayer tradition of the past today?
Usually lectio divina is centered around scripture and is prayed alone; however it can also be prayed in a group of about eight to fifteen and rather than scripture, it can be shared around a reading which draws the group together. For example, in a Benedictine community, sharing lectio on the Rule of St. Benedict could help those praying together to grow in Benedictine identity, be formed by its ideals and be moved by it spirituality. The community’s mission, vision, and its core values also invite a deep look at the community’s roots, its present works, and its call into the future. These documents are for reflection by the community members but can be inspiring to those who are not community members as well. It is also important to note that lectio divina is not read for information but for formation. It invites a way to allow God’s vision and values to take root and grow within.
In doing lectio, these are the steps traditionally followed:
Choose a leader, readers and a passage to be prayed. The passage should help the community be inspired, lifted up, and see who they might be as a community of faith. This calls for memory and imagination! The leader’s role is to invite the group to be comfortable, ask the group to settle into the silence, and then is mindful of the time —each session, depending upon the number participating, should be about thirty to forty minutes long.
Step One: Reading God’s Word (Lectio)
A short passage of scripture (or other writing) is read once or twice, depending on the length of the reading. If this exercise is done in a group, the reading is taken by a first reader. The participants listen attentively for a Word-gift from God. The period of silence following the reading provides a space for the Word or a few words to capture attention. As Sister Lucy Wynkoop and Christine Valters Paintner suggest in their book on Lectio Divina, “…notice what shimmers, beckons, invites, or speaks to you. Be open also to what unnerves you, disturbs you or stirs you.” In a group setting, after sufficient time has been given, all share simply and without explanation the transformative Word they have received.
Step Two: Reflecting on God’s Word (Meditatio)
The same passage is read again. In a group, this is done either by the same or a different reader. (There are advantages to the latter.) This time the question in the silence that follows is: Where is this Word touching you? Where is it touching into your life experience? Let the text interact with your thoughts, hopes, memories, and desires. This is a feeling question that moves the Word out of your head into your heart. This might at times be painful, but if you will allow it, it can be growthful. No one is obliged to share their feelings in the group after the silence, but, sharing can be a bonding and connecting experience among the participants.
Step Three: Responding to God’s Word (Oratio)
For a third time the same passage is read. It could be read by a third reader and is followed by another period of silent reflection. In the silence the question is: How is God inviting and challenging with this Word gift? This is a matter of how you will use the Word to DO something in your every day life. How will you make it practical and purposeful. Give yourself permission to be touched and changed by the Word of God. (Or a word from the reading you have chosen.)
Step Four: Resting with God’s Word (Contemplatio)
Contemplatio is a gift of awareness that helps us to break through the superficialities of life and see the world in a new way.” (Paintner and Wynkoop, p. 63.) In silence, thank God, pray for each other, pray for the needs of the community, the needs of the world, and for the Word’s fruitfulness in each one’s life. Perhaps make a mantra from your Word to carry with you until you do lectio again.
While lectio is the practice of religious communities, it is a practice that holds great possibilities for a community’s lay employees, oblates, volunteers, development staff, donors and fundraisers as well. Its practice would invite others into a deeper relationship with the community they serve. It has the power to gather around the stories of the past to be inspired, strengthened, and challenged; it also provides the opportunity to seek wisdom, to know the identity of the group more deeply, to be bonded in affection with members of the community, and find the joy of entering into the efforts of the community, in this case fundraising.
In the past, donors have helped religious communities build schools, orphanages, and hospitals through their financial gifts. The spirituality of fundraising invites donors to a much greater depth than just giving money to projects; it invites a deeper partnership with the community through prayer (lectio). The spirituality of fundraising empowers the donors’ growth in faith as they support the mission and present projects of the community to build the Kingdom; it invites fundraisers and donors to know that theirs is a God of abundance and to trust in that abundance; it also invites gratitude, gratitude especially for the donors as well as the gifts. For fundraisers, donors and communities, the spirituality of fundraising carries the wonderful elements of hope, surprise, and joy!
There are many more, but here are a few scripture passages that could be used for lectio with those engaged in fundraising:
-Jesus Feeds Four Thousand, Mark 8:1-9
-The Heart’s Treasure, Luke 12:32-34
-The Centurion’s Servant, Matthew 8:5-13
-Jesus Walks on the Water, Mark 6:45-52
-The Importunate Friend, Luke 11:5-8
-Effective Prayer, Luke 11:9-11
Consider also using passages from the Rule you follow and commentaries on it. Your community’s vision, mission, and core values also provide inspiration and invite a deeper bonding with the community’s spirituality.
The Rule of Benedict: Prologue
Listen carefully, child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to God from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mind is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience do battle for Jesus, the Christ.
Monastery of St. Gertrude
Our Vision, Prayer Awakens, Justice Impels, Compassion Acts. Thy Kingdom Come
Eager to welcome God’s transforming power in ourselves and our world, we, the Benedictine Sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, seek God together through monastic profession and respond in Healing Hospitality, Grateful Simplicity, and Creative Peacemaking.
Pray together and ask for the world!
from “Ask for the World: Catholic Sisters and the Spirituality of Fundraising,” Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, 2016.
Learn more about Sister Clarissa Goeckner…