Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal - Secular Carmelites of the ...

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Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal - Secular Carmelites of the ...

Lectio Divina and the Prayer JournalJerome Kodell, O.S.B.Father Kodell is’novicemaster in his community and teaches Scripture. His address is New SubiacoAbbey; Subiaco, AR 72865.The practice of lectio divina has necessarily received attention in the "returnto the sources" of monastic renewal.’ But wider interest in this spiritualmethod has been aroused with the current revival of study in the Church’sprayer traditions. Lectio divina practices are being promoted among religious,priests and lay people outside monasteries. 2 An attraction of this method is itscapacity for reintegrating the different exercises of prayer into a whole, after aperiod of itemization that tended to a rigid scheduling of the movements inpersonal prayer.Lectio divina is variously translated "holy reading," "prayerful reading,""meditative reading," or even "spiritual reading," though it is somethingquite different from the modern exercise known as spiritual reading? Theterm can be understood to encompass what we separate into reading, meditationand mental prayer. A good description of the lectio divina technique in’ Perfectae Caritatis, 2. See Wilfrid Tunink, Vision of Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1963),pp. 265-274; Claude Pellet, Monastic Spirituality (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), pp.392-405; Columba Cary-Elwes, Monastic Renewal (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967), pp.23 ! -245.2 George Martin, Reading Scripture as the Word of God (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1975), pp.81-90; Matthias Neuman, "The Contemporary Spirituality of the Lectio, ’" Review for Religious36 (1977) 97- 110; Basil Pennington, "The Place of Sacred Reading in Faith Building," The Priest35 (1979) 15-16.~ Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (New York: Philosophical Library,1952), p. 29.582


Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal / 5113reading is provided by George Martin in his book on the prayerful use of theBible:One successful way to use Scripture in prayer is to follow the ancient Christian traditionof "reading, thinking, praying": we first read a portion from Scripture, then think aboutit, then respond to God in prayer. In practice these steps become interwoven: not threestages so much as three aspects of what we do when we read Scripture to nourish ourprayer. It may be more helpful to think of the steps or aspects as "reading, reflecting,listening, conversing, adoring. ’’~Martin further breaks this method down into three practical methods: 1) Reada complete passage, set it aside, reflect on it, enter into conversation withChrist based on it; 2) Read the text very slowly, lingering over each verse,letting the Spirit inspire one whether to dwell on a text or word or move on; 3)Read a complete passage, marking key verses; then return to the selectedverses as the basis for reflection and prayer.’Martin’s second method is the most familiar form of monastic "holyreading," but it does not by any means exhaust its possibilities. Recent studieshave shed new light into a virtually forgotten stream of this tradition, the useof writing in lectio divina and the place of the prayer journal. The lectio journalis not identical with the modern spiritual journal, but its rediscovery at thistime of creative journal development by Ira Progoff 6 and others can meanmutual benefit to both.The Early MonksThe sixth century Rule of Benedict, which early became the normativelegislation for western monasticism, allotted two to five hours daily to lectiodivina, depending on the season. 7 If this sounds extravagant today, withmountdins of reading material heaped up around us, how must it have seemedwhen the local library was a modest-collection of handwritten codices. 8 ButBenedict is reflecting the common monastic practice of his contemporariesand predecessors. What did monks do with all this time when even the Biblemight be available only in fascicles? 9Neither Benedict nor the other legislators tell us much. The Rule ofBenedict customarily uses the phrase vacate lectioni (RB 48:4,10,17,22) when’ Martin, op. cit., pp. 81-82.: Ibid., pp. 83-85.b See Ira Progo ff, A t a Journal Workshop: The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal(New York: Dialogue House Library, 1975).’ See comments on RB 48 in Cuthbert Butler, Benedictine Monachism (London: Longmans,Green and Co., 1919), pp. 286-287; Adalbert de VogO~, La Rdgle de Saint Ben6it, Tome V (Paris:Les I~ditions du Cerf, 1971), pp. 589-604.~ In Aelred of Rievaulx’s monastery in the eleventh century, there were 225 books for 130 monks:Robert O’Brien, "Saint Aelred and Lectio Divina, ’" Hallel 3 (Spring, 1975) 41.9 Anscari Mundo, " ’Bibliotheca’. Bible et Lecture du Cat,me d’apr~s Saint Ben6it," RevueBdnddictine 60 (1950) 78-83.


584 / Review for Religious, Volume 39, 1980/4directing the monks to holy reading. This means to "set oneself free" fromother things for reading, to make room for it in space and time. ’° One mustwork at lectio divina, but as a leisurely, slow-moving exercise that can bringthe monk relaxation and re-creation.Another key-word is meditatio, which describes not the reflective processwe know as "meditation," but the ejaculatory repetition of prayers (usuallypsalm verses) over and over again." The Russian pilgrim’s practice of theJesus Prayer is this kind of meditatio.’2 Speaking of a recently departedfriend, St. Jerome commented: "By constant reading and continual meditatiohe had made his heart a library of Christ. ’’’3For the ancients reading was an exercise involving the body as well as themind. One did not fully experience a saying until it had been verbalized andsavored on the tongue. Another word used for ejaculatory prayer wasruminatio, chewing the cud. Leclercq shows how a sore throat could hamperone’s lectio." The practice is described by the desert Father, Makarios:Happy he who perseveres in the blessed Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does sowithout ceasing and with a broken heart. The monastic life knows no labor more pleasingto God. One should keep chewing this blessed food, like a sheep that returns its food tothe mouth, chewing it again and tasting the sweetness of it till the food, now finelyground, drops down to the inmost places of the heart, thence to spread its sweetness andits richness in belly and bowels. Behold what a youthful bloom there is upon the cheeks ofthe sheep, thanks to the sweetness of that which he has chewed and chewed again with hismouth. May our Lord Jesus Christ give us the grace of his sweet and fecund Name. ’~Much of the time set aside for lectio divina must have been spent in thisleisurely repetition of holy words. ’6Besides this, though, the monks wrote during their time of holy reading,and it is this exercise of writing that has often been overlooked in studies ofmonastic spirituality. The monks collected the fruits of their reading in stringsof quotations, grouping them, interweaving them in collections they called,o Ambrose Wathen, "Monastic lectio: some clues from terminology," Monastic Studies 12(1976) 207-215~ Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (New York: FordhamUniversity Press, 19742) p. 84." Heinrich Bacht, " ’Meditatio’ in den altesten MOnchsquellen," Geist und Leben 28 (1955)360-373.,2 R. M. French, tr. The Way of a Pilgrim (New York: Seabury, 1965). In Cassian’s ConferencesX:x, Abbot Isaac recommends the verse "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste tohelp me" as the ideal ejaculation: P. Schaff and H. Wace, eds. A Select Library of Nicene andPost-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. XI (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1969), pp. 405-406.’~ Epist. 60, I O." J. Leclercq, op. cit., pp. 19-20.’~ Quoted in Andr~ Louf, Teach Us To Pray (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, ~1975), pp. 47-48.’~ The application of this practice in Centering Prayer is described by Basil Pennington, Daily WeTouch Him (Garden City: Doubleday, 1977).


Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal / 585florilegia, bouquets or flower gardens. Hundreds of these collections exist inmanuscript caches all over Europe, but few have been published. ’7 We arereminded by this activity that the term lectio divina, besides describing a process,had an objective sense as well; the text, as the word of God, is holy (sacrapagina). Contact with the text is sanctifying. ,8 Hours could be spent sifting thetexts through one’s fingers.Ascetical FlorilegiaThere is a difference between the spirituai or asceticalflorilegia emanatingfrom monastic holy reading and the doctrinal florilegia of the medievalschools. The doctrinalflorilegia are collections of biblical quotes and patristiccomments arranged according to themes for apologetic or instructional purpose.Such was Lombard’s Sentences, which became the backbone of themedieval study of theology. The spiritualflorilegia, by contrast, were mostlyfor the individual’s own spiritual use. They might be compiled for the edificationof friends or disciples, but this teaching purpose was a secondary stage.Unlike the doctrinalflorilegia, they were rarely intended for publication, andmost are significant only as witnesses to a spiritual technique.The ascetical florilegia we have access to in the collected sources are thevariety written with publication in mind; they are more polished and logicalthan the private notebooks. Behind these finished products, however, lie theday-by-day lectio jottings of their authors. Their mood and arrangement givesus some grasp of the workaday method and purpose that preceded them.The scholar most responsible for bringing this genre of literature to light isH.-M. Rochais. The fruits of his research are presented in two heavilyreferenced articles, a study of the medieval use of the seventh-century LiberScintillarum ("Book of Sparks") of Defensor, monk of Ligug~, ’9 and anexpository study of spiritual florilegia in the Dictionnaire de SpiritualitY. 2oBesides the Liber Scintillarum, some of the most noteworthy earlyflorilegia in publication are Isidore of Seville’s Sententiarum libri ires (earlyseventh-century), 2t Bede’s Libellus Precum (early eighth-century),~ 2 Paulinusof Aquileia’s Liber exhortationis (late eighth-century), 2~ and Alcuin’s Liber,7 R. W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953),p. 191.,8 This tradition was reemphasized in Vatican ll’s Dei Verbum, especially in paragraph 21 beginningwith the words "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she veneratesthe body of the Lord...".,9 H.-M. Rochais, "Contribution it I’Histoire des Floril~ges Asc~tiques du Haut Moyen AgeLatin," Revue Benedictine 63 (1953) 246-291.zo Vol. 5 (1962), cols. 435-460.~’ PL 83,537-738.22 PL 94,515-532.z~ PL 99,197-282.


51~6 / Review for Religious, Volume 39, 1980/4de virtutibus et vitiis (late eighth-century). 2’ The typical pattern is a collectionof quotations from Scripture and the Fathers, especially Augustine, Jeromeand Gregory (later also Isidore), arranged in topical sections: "On wisdom,""On virginity," "On charity." Bede’s Libellus is unique as a prayerbookcomposed on excerpts from each of the 150 psalms in order. An earlierDoctrina (possibly fourth-century), mistakenly attributed to St. Severinus inMigne, is a Christian "book of proverbs," containing counsels mainly fromthe Bible and the Didache. ’~Two products of the ninth century illustrate a trend toward composingasceticalflorilegia for instructional purposes primarily. Smaragdus, abbot ofSt.-Mihiel, gathered one hundred statements from the Fathers in a DiademaMonachorum for the use of his subjects. 26 Paschasius Radbertus, abbot ofCorbie, compiled Deride, spe et caritate libri tres, a series of passages fromScripture, for the training of novices. ~7 Among later authors deserving ofspecial mention are two monks named John, a’Frenchman and anEnglishman. Abbot John of F~camp (eleventh-c~ntury) developed a creativemethod of weaving material from biblical, patristic and liturgical sources intoprayers and spiritual commentary. ’8 His writings were popular and influentialin the tradition, though often transmitted under the name of Ambrose andother Fathers. John Whiterig was a monk of Durham in the fourteenth century.During the last twelve years of his life he lived in the monastery’shermitage on one of the Farne Islands off the northeastern coast of England.Seven meditations he composed there are similar to the writings of John ofF~camp: a flowing robe of quotes and allusions to Scripture, the Fathers, theliturgy, and medieval commentaries. 29The Monastic JournalThe point of this review of the sources is not to parade illustrious figuresfrom the past, but to call attention to a significant but neglected stream oflectio divina tradition. Lectio divina as a typical monastic technique is fundamentalin the tradition of western monasticism, but this has not been asclear since the nineteenth-century revival as it was in the Middle Ages. It hasbeen assimilated to the ascetical practices of "spiritual reading" and "meditation"in the modern sense. The specific nature of the monastic journal hasalso been obscured. Modern monks keep journals as do other Christian2, PL 101,613-638.~ PL 74,845-848.26 PL 102,293-690.~’ PL 120,1387-1490.~ J. Leclercq, op. cir.; J. Leclercq and J.-P. Bonnes, Un Maitre de la Vie Spirituelle au XleSi~cle.Jean de F~camp (Paris, 1946).2, Hugh Farmer, ed., The Monk of Farne (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1961).


Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal / 5117Godseekers. Thomas Merton had three with him on his trip to the East. s° Inour time, these journals tend to be either notes gleaned from reading to beused in homilies, conferences, and published writings, or a spiritual diaryrecording one’s daily journey with the Lord.Such notebooks and journals, excellent as they are, are not exactlyequivalent to the traditional monastic journal witnessed to in our sources. Themonastic journal is neither better nor worse than the others (it can be used incombination with them) but it presents another option. It is presented here asanother journal possibility within the spiritual heritage of the Church thatmay bear spiritual riches for modern monks and others.A facile way to distinguish the spiritual diary from the monastic lectiojournal is to describe the former as basically introspective or subjective andthe latter as basically objective. This definition is an oversimplification;nonetheless it is helpful in clarifying the difference. The spiritual diary islargely a record of my own experiences, conversations, and dreams, and myreactions to them through prayer and spiritual direction, and my reflectionson the whole process. It is a continuing record of my personal development insearching for God.The lectio divina journal is more a collection of the words that God speaksto me (primarily, but not only, in a time of prayerful reading): quotationsfrom Scripture, the Fathers, other spiritual writings, and ultimately any kindof human word (novels, poems, banners, letters) that carries the transformingwordof God into my life. These are collected as privileged words of Godbecause directed personally to my heart, with the hope that what once was avehicle for God’s sanctifying and healing touch will remain important in mylife and be a source of power again later on.This journal becomes a deposit of personal words from God, a collectionof jewels to be taken out over and over again, turned this way and that to beadmired and enjoyed. Divine words to not, however, stay at arm’s length likea casket of diamonds; they speak to the heart, challenge, go to work on theone who treasures them. The spiritual journal in this sense is rather a record ofGod’s word to me than a record of my reflection on the word and its effect inmy life. Rochais recreates the lectio atmosphere in which the medievalflorilegia were composed:Reading Scripture and the fathers, the pious writer seeks food for his soul and light forhis life; and perhaps a word, a verse, a thought stops his spirit, calls for his reflection,rouses in his heart a sudden fervor, clears up a point of doctrine, exacts a sacrifice,reveals a possibility of advancing, in order to preserve, not the passing impulse of themoment which brought him close to his Lord, animating his faith or arousing hisgenerosity, but at least a souvenir of these privileged moments, our reader notes the textswhich have been their cause. And even if he had had in view the profit of others, will he~o Naomi Buron, Patrick Hart, and James Laughlin, eds. The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton(New York: New Directions, 1973), pp. xiv. - vx.


Review for Religious, Volume 39, 1980/4not somehow be seized again himself by the texts he had assembled for the spiritualnourishment of others? Theflorilegia are therefore witnesses to the spiritual life of theirauthors. -~,This kind of journal can be used in combination with the more reflectivewriting of the spiritual diary, but its own thrust is toward "collection,""gathering." The word legere at the root of lectio, according to Forcellini’sLexicon Totius Latinitatis, contains three generic ideas: to collect, to selectwhat one desires or needs from a plurality, to collect with the eyes: run over atext and extract what is needed. 3’Collecting the WordA looseleaf notebook is more suitable for this lectio journal than one withfixed pages, because as the collection grows the gathered words need to besifted, sorted, connected. First the words are recorded as they fall on theheart, then they may be arranged by source, by theme, by topic. Bede surelycopied out many more verses of the psalms than appear in his Libellus Precum("Little Book of Prayers"); he selected and organized them. Psalm verses stilllend themselves well to themati 9 groupings: love of God, covenant, peace,trust, praise. A lectio journal will eventually have several sections dependingon the needs of the compiler; again, the divisions may be by source (prophets,Gospels, desert Fathers, liturgy, homilies) or topic. One may collect¯ doxologies from St. Paul, the names and titles of Jesus, the sayings of saints,maxims of modern spiritual writers.The scholars involved in the renewal of the Liturgy of the Hours reachedback t.o an ancient lectio practice in deciding to provide each of the Old Testamentpsalms and canticles with a verse from the New Testament or a quotefrom the Christian Fathers as a heading or thematic connector. Psalm 42("Like the deer that yearns") is headed by a verse from Revelation: "Let allwho thirst come; let all who desire it drink from the life-giving water" (22:17).Psalm 24, announcing the Lord’s entry into the temple, is introduced by a sayingof St. Irenaeus: "Christ opened heaven for us in the manhood heassumed." The canticle of Tobit (13:1-8) praising God for deliverance is connectedwith 1 Peter 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord JesusChrist, who in his great love for us has brought us to a new birth." Medievalmonks searched for this kind of connection between promise and fulfillmentduring their hours of lectio, seeking not only headings for whole psalms, butChristian echoes for the individual verses. This "holy doodling" strengthenedtheir grip on the unity of revelation and expanded their perception of bothtexts. It also enriched their liturgical prayer by providing a sounding board forthe biblical images that washed over them day after day, season after season," Dictionnaire de SpiritualitY, Vol. 5, c01. 459¯~ Wathen, art. cir., p. 209.


Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal / 589in both lectio and liturgy.Out of the fund of biblical themes and images accumulated by this exercise,the medieval monks composed prayers, sermons and letters. Besides thesermons and conferences written for oral delivery or taken down in notesafterwards, there were the sermons or sermon-letters written to be read, oftenjust by a friend who had requested it." In this literature, as in the patristicwritings, there are flashes of rare insight into the meaning (especially the presentmeaning) of texts as well as lapses into accommodation, that is, attachinga meaning or allusion that has nothing to do with the literal sense of the text.Accommodation is a red-flag word to Catholic Bible readers. It connotesignorance and danger. This reaction is due to the curse of fundamentalismthat has poisoned the biblical atmosphere for the last two or three centuries.Fundamentalism differs from the accommodation that pops up in the Fathersin that fundamentalism is arrogant. It overrules every authority in the field offaith and doctrine. The patristic and monastic reading of Scripture was neverarrogant. The Fathers and monks read "actively," putting themselves into theholy texts; their interpretation was always a search for the traditional truththey already accepted without question, and their accommodation, when ithappened, was not arrogant but playful. It erupted from a love that squeezedthe texts too tightly. This did not lead them into doctrinal error (unlessmomentarily) because doctrine was not the main goal of their reading. Theycame to the text for a personal message from the divine Author. They felt freeto handle the texts creatively, convinced of their own faith and of the presenceof the Holy Spirit to heal them and to protect them from deception.Our modern hesitancy about accommodation is correct; the ravages offundamentalism make it impossible for us to read the Bible as naively as didour forefathers. But many of us, in reaction, have fallen into an error harmfulin its own way: adopting a dry, scientific approach to the Bible that is safe, butlifeless. Instead of handling the holy text freely and lovingly as a friend, partof the family, we hold it at arm’s length. In being antiseptic, we remainunhealed.The New HermeneuticThere is a reaction today to the "cold cadaver" method of interpretingScripture. j’ The scholars involved are not proposing a retu~;n to accommodationor the adoption of fundamentalism, but a completion of the historico-" Leclercq, Love of Learning, pp. 211-212.3, .lerald McDonald, "The Spiritual Sense," The Bible Today March, 1978: pp. 1560-1568;Dennis J. McCarthy, "Exod 3:14: History, Philology and Theology," Catholic Biblical Quarterly40 (1978) 311-322; Sandra M. Schneiders, "Faith, Hermeneutics, and the Literal Sense of Scripture,"Theological Studies 39 (1978)719-36; George Montague, "Hermeneutics and Teaching ofScript ure," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979) I- 17.


590 / Review for Religious, Volume 39, 1980/4critical method with a search for meaning that is personal and immediate."They are showing that the search for the "literal sense" of a passage is notmerely a historical investigation. A text is not a depository of meaning but itsmediator. What the word of God is saying now through this text may be morethan it has said before--or better, more than could have been perceivedbefore. A musical score is not music but its normative possibility; from it,music can be performed by a variety of talents. A biblical text, a holy word,without being abused or twisted, can release its power and meaning with differentconsequences for different believers. 3~Our use of Scripture in prayer, as in our teaching and preaching, must beinspired by knowledge as well as faith. Modern biblical research has advancedremarkably our understanding of the nature and origin of the biblicalwritings. Our sources for interpretation are superior to those of the Fathers.Today’s challenge for scriptural prayer is to incorporate the new knowledgeinto our personal reading of the Bible, making this knowledge a channel insteadof a barrier to the deeper enjoyment of the inspired writings. The morethorough our scriptural learning, the more profound should be our freedomto use the texts prayerfully.This, in fact, has been the case in the public prayer of the Church. Thecommunity of believers through the ages, confident of faith and of thepresence of the Lord in the midst of the Church, has always blended the textpoetically to express the faith in hymns, antiphons and responsories. "TheLord will descend like rain on wool," says an ancient responsory in theAdvent Office, connecting the coming of Jesus to the miracle of Gideon (Jg6:36-37). "Receive the word, Virgin Mary, which was sent to you by the angelfrom God," runs another text, combining the gospel traditions of John andLuke. The New Testament itself makes free use of the Hebrew Scriptures; forexample, in the blending of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 in the beginning ofMark’s Gospel: "1 send my messenger before you to prepare your way: aherald’s voice in the desert, crying, ’Make ready the way of the Lord, clearhim a straight path’ " (Mk 1:2-3).This freedom of the worshiping Church in the liturgy, the Fathers in theirhomilies, and the monks in their florilegia is ours,-too. It is the poeticplayfulness of the children of God. The lectio journal does not depend onthis--the objective recording of the word of God is its raison d’Otre. Butwithout an awareness of this traditional lightness and playfulness in biblicallyoriented prayer, our use of the Bible in prayer and in the lectio journal couldremain cold and rigid." See, however~ the cautions of Eugene Maly in "The ’Spiritual Sense’ of Scripture," The BibleToday April, 1976: pp. 837-842; "Evangelization, Evangelism, Evangelicals," The Bible TodayDecember, 1978: pp. 1861-1863.~° Schneiders, art. cir., p. 732.


Lectio Divina and the Prayer Journal / 591ConclusionThe lectio divina journal has much to recommend it as an additionalpossibility among today’s Christian prayer techniques. It provides a contextfor the whole range of prayer from pure contemplation to the most activereading, comparing texts, writing. The most difficult step in becoming regularin personal prayer is establishing the external discipline: daily fidelity to a timeof prayer. When one comes to prayer at these regular times, there is alwayssomething suitable to one’s needs and mood in the lectio divina arsenal: silentattention to God, reading, writing. Lectio divina provides a prayer environment.This method has other consequences. It can provide a prayer form fordistracted times of busy-hess, nervousness, twitchiness: fallout of the mediaexplosion. Constant handling of the biblical texts and themes prepares theheart to resonate with the words and images of the liturgy. The production ofthis journal eventually provides a personal prayer source that one may returnto again and again: a tried word, familiar, moving, transforming.TheNow AvailableAs ReprintsContemporary Spirituality of theMonastic Lectioby Matthias Neuman, O.S.B.andCelibate Genitalityby William F. KraftPrice: $.50 per copy, plus postage.AddressReview for ReligiousRm 4283601 Lindell Blvd.St. Louis, Missouri 63108

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