Jul 5, 2010

Heart Check

In John Chrysostom's introduction to his series of homilies on the book of John, he exhorts his listeners, the members of his church, to listen with their souls and not just their physical ears. In our world of sound bytes and constant noise, we must take even greater measures to make sure we are listening attentively when hearing or reading God's Word. Our hearts need to be calm and free from distractions. That alone seems impossible most days, but we should be aware of the state of our heart before receiving His words. Too many times, I am the monk running down the corridors of the monastery, late for Matins!

...let us preserve deep silence, both external and mental, but especially the latter; for what advantage is it that the mouth be hushed, if the soul is disturbed and full of tossing? I look for that calm which is of the mind, of the soul, since it is the hearing of the soul which I require. Let then no desire of riches trouble us, no lust of glory, no tyranny of anger, nor the crowd of other passions besides these; for it is not possible for the ear, except it be cleansed, to perceive as it ought the sublimity of the things spoken; nor rightly to understand the awful and unutterable nature of these mysteries, and all other virtue which is in these divine oracles. If a man cannot learn well a melody on pipe or harp, unless he in every way strain his attention; how shall one, who sits as a listener to sounds mystical, be able to hear with a careless soul?
- John Chrysostom

Jul 4, 2010

Lectio Divina

I have recently been drawn back to the Rule of St. Benedict and the principles contained therein. Several years ago, Liturgical Press published a book called The Benedictine Handbook. It contains a new translation of The Rule in addition to a number of articles by Benedictine scholars and monastics.

One of topics discussed is Lectio Divina - "the prayerful meditation on the text of the Bible and of other writings that embody the faith of the Church". Here is an excerpt which I thought helpful:

Initially we need to acquire the discipline of close reading, paying attention to every word and sentence, and not allowing ourselves to pass over anything. This deliberateness is helped by reading out loud, learning to articulate or vocalize the words as a means of slowing down and avoiding distraction. Lectio is like reading poetry; the sound of the words creates interior assonances, which in turn trigger intuitive connections which lodge more effectively in the memory. In lectio the intention is affective not cognitive, it is a work of a heart that desires to make contact with God and, thereby, to reform our lives.
There are three terms found in monastic tradition that describe an appropriate attitude to lectio. Our reading must be assiduous or generous, that is to say it must involve a sustained expenditure of forethought and energy and will often demand a sacrifice of time which could have been devoted to other things. Lectio must be done in a spirit of reverence, expressed in the manner in which we treat the sacred book itself, in our posture and in the way in which we make practical provision to exclude from this space whatever is not sacred. It is reverence which makes us keep silent and receptive so that we can listen to the word that speaks to our souls and brings salvation. When we open the sacred book we also open ourselves; we let ourselves become vulnerable - willing to be pierced by God's two-edged sword. This is what St. Benedict refers to as compunction, allowing ourselves to experience the double dynamic of every genuine encounter with God: the growing awareness of our urgent need for forgiveness and healing on the one hand and, on the other, a more profound confidence in God's superabundant mercy.
- Michael Casey, OCSO, monk at Tarrawarra Abbey, Australia