I only recently learned how to read scripture.
It’s embarrassing to admit that, but it’s true. Sure, I’ve been reading scripture my whole life, but I was never really reading. It has only been in recent years, with the help of my little sister Susan, that I was introduced to the practice of Lectio Divina and I finally understood how to read scripture.
Before this I read scripture very differently. In college, when my faith was being changed seriously for the first time, I started to read the Bible in earnest. In fact, I read the entire thing, cover to cover. But I’m not proud of why I read scripture, or the way in which I did it. When I picked up the Bible it was not to commune with God or find direction–it was prove I was right. I spent a lot of time gathering verses to defend my faith. A lot. In fact, that’s all I was really doing as I read scripture. But that isn’t really reading. It went more like this: skimming, skimming, oh, faith and works! yes! skimming, skimming, skimming, oh, defense of the real presence of the Eucharist! yes!
Reading scripture like that left me feeling confirmed in the Church and right, which I loved, but that’s about it.
In later years, after college, I used the daily readings as the way I accessed scripture. I was pretty dedicated to getting through the reading each day but most days it was just that, getting through them. A hour after I read the readings I would have struggled to recall very much about them.
I guess I knew there was more to reading scripture than this, more than just facts to gather, arguments to defend, duties to fulfill, but I had not idea now to access this deeper level when it came to scripture.
And then my little sister showed me how.
Susan is my youngest sister. About 7 years ago Susan joined a French order of nuns. Every day she wears a blue habit, sleeps on a board, lives in community and begs for her food. It’s an extreme life, but she is one of the absolutely happiest people I know. And one of the funniest.
My sister’s happiness is a warmth that seems to come from deep within her. If you have spent much time with contemplative nuns, maybe you know what I mean. When I’m with my sister it is evident that she communes with God daily, that He speaks and she listens. He seems to be just under her skin. Don’t get me wrong, my sister is no saint (a sister can always see the faults) but the way in which she prays has brought peace and happiness to her life in a remarkable way.
The Little Sisters of the Lamb, my sister’s order, sets the Gospel as the very heartbeat of their lives. They spend a significant amount of time with the daily Gospel reading each day, several times a day practicing Lectio Divina with those sacred words. When I first experienced the way they pray through the Gospel I had never heard of Lectio Divina. And because of that I had no idea what I was getting in to.
Although Lectio Divina can be practiced in different ways, it boils down to this: deliberate, slow, contemplative reading of scripture that allows time for prayer, time with God and resolutions to act.
The first time I practiced Lectio Divina with my sister’s community was in my parent’s living room. My brother was sick with cancer that year and my sister, along with a couple other nuns, were there to be with our family. I was told we were going to pray the Gospel. Cool, I thought.
So, one of the sisters read the Gospel, slowly. Then she read a line and we repeated it, another line, we repeated, working our way through the Gospel again. Then we did that again. And again. Then we chanted it. Then we chanted it again. Then we read it again. Then we paused. Then we read it again.
About half way through I thought, “dear Lord, what did I get myself into? Is this going to go on all night? How many times can we read these 15 verses?”
But we kept reading, and chanting and sometimes amazing started to happen. This familiar Gospel started to look totally new. Verses I had read and dismissed without a thought before were suddenly stinging my heart, mingling with my memories and the faces of people I love.
At the end my sister and the other Little Sisters put away their Bibles quietly but I was bursting. I grabbed my sister and said, “Did you have any idea how powerful that Gospel was going to be? I never thought about this! I am so glad I was here to do this with you tonight. I gotta write these verses down.”
“I’m glad you were here too,” Susan said.
I was still bubbling with excitement. “Seriously, wow. The way you guys did that.”
Susan gave me her knowing grin. “It didn’t have anything to do with us, Nancy. It’s the Word of God. Of course it’s going to be powerful.”
And, duh. Little sisters sure do have a way of putting you in your place. At least mine does.
So in my own small way I started to put Lectio Divina into practice. I tried it out here and there and was always amazed how this simple practice of slowing down, looking deeper, taking time and finding the quiet brought be before me God. Every time.
But, I am sorely disorganized, undisciplined and distracted. I don’t live in community like my sister. I live with 3 wild children and prayer (and quiet) are not as easily found.
For all of these reasons I am so excited to find a way to bring Lectio Divina into my life in a structured, supported way. And, it is my deepest wish that you will consider joining us this Advent season. Find all of those details HERE.
Thanks for being here!