I just finished my last essay for my doctoral course called ‘Engaging Scriptures.’ This course was a look at the practice of Scripture contemplation as a means of Spiritual transformation. Being someone that highly values the practice of lectio divina, this was a course I very much enjoyed. Did you know that you can understand our liturgy in the same four-fold way of lectio divina? My essay considered this in depth. For you, here are the highlights.
READ (Lectio): The first part of a contemplative reading of scripture is to become surrounded by the word of God. We allow scripture to become the very atmosphere that surrounds us. Of course, the practice of silent, mental reading, only became the custom of reading in the 10th century. Before then, reading meant hearing. We do the same thing when we gather at church. The community gathers to hear scripture proclaimed in their midst. Thus, we begin our service with the words of scripture (The Grace in the BAS and The Lord’s prayer in the BCP). Scripture is proclaimed in our hearing. The voice of God becomes the very atmosphere in which we gather.
MEDITATION (Meditatio): After scripture is proclaimed, a contemplative reading of scripture calls us to meditate on that proclaimed word. We chew on it. We ruminate on it. The point is sit and listen to how that word affects our lives. How is God addressing us? What does God have to say to us? Does this sound familiar? In our liturgy, after the reading of scripture comes the meditation on that word, or in other words, the sermon! The congregation, having been constituted by the Word itself, now engages in a corporate meditation, seeking to uncover how the Christ speaks into their personal lives. We can even extend this to the creed. The creed itself is a revealing of how the church has received the living and active Word of God. Thus, recitation of the creed is an embodiment of that meditative reception.
PRAYER (Oratio): If we are tracing our liturgy, a time of prayer follows immediately after the Sermon/Creed pairing. The congregation now addresses God. This involves all sorts of types of prayer. Confession, petition, adoration, thanksgiving. We see all of these in our liturgy. The prayer time in the church is the time in which the congregation voices it’s response to what we feel God has spoken in His word. In a contemplative reading of scripture, the scripture itself influences the prayers – they form the response. So too in our liturgy. We are called, through the liturgy of prayer to allow the proclaimed word, now meditated on, to shape how we respond to God.
CONTEMPLATION (Contemplatio): The last movement in lectio divina is the movement of contemplation. This is about our union with God. We rest in God’s presence, receive the gift God’s loving self-offering. We then take this presence of God with us as we journey back into our everyday life. Some expressions of Lectio Divina have a fifth movement – that of INCARNATION. We incarnate the word we have received. Well, in our celebration of Eucharist, we too move to a place of union with God. The power of the Eucharist is that we receive Christ himself. We take HIS presence into our bodies in a physical manner. This is not a mere memorial, or a lovely thought. We are changed as people because we have received the loving self-offering of Jesus. We then are called to be bearers of Christ’s presence in the midst of the world. Having partaken of the body of Christ, the church is asked to be the body of Christ.
I found this incredibly interesting, but that may just be me. I am not sure what you want to do with this, or if this is of value to you. By offering this to you, my hope would be this becomes a way to help you enter into the spirit of our liturgy in perhaps a renewed fashion. We gather not just to go through liturgical motions, but to be formed by the presence of God. God is active in our midst. God speaks to us. Furthermore, we as the community of the church come together for that purpose alone. This is not contrary to our liturgical life. In fact, in allowing ourselves to go through these four-movements in our liturgy, we may just find that we have placed ourselves in the spiritual space to receive God’s holy word, and be formed by it.