Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Effects of Lectio Divina

Although Lectio Divina is best known from the Rule of St. Benedict, meditation on Scripture has had significant impact on Eastern spirituality. We mentioned the Desert Fathers, but other Eastern Fathers echoed the practice. St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote, "Either pray assiduously or read assiduously; sometimes speak to God, at other times listen to God speaking to you" (Letter 1,15; P.L.4:221).

The fruits of meditation on Scripture have been considerable.

Monasticism developed because of meditation on the Scriptures. According to St. Athanasius’ The Life of Antony, St. Antony was confronted with the verse, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (St. Matt. 19:21). Pondering how to live this, he became the father of monasticism.

The Way of a Pilgrim brought its author to the Jesus Prayer, after he meditated on the verse, “pray without ceasing.”

The Rule of St. Benedict instructs monks to practice Lectio Divina two hours a day and all day Sunday – and at other times if possible. Describing those monks who follow his saintly Rule, he wrote, “from the fourth till about the sixth hour they devote to [holy] reading. After the sixth hour, however, when they have risen from table, let them rest in their beds in complete silence; or if, perhaps, anyone desireth to read for himself, let him so read that he doth not disturb others” (Chapter 48).

St. Augustine of Hippo was converted to Orthodox Christianity by meditation on two verses of Scripture. The saint was troubled over his history of physical lust culminating with his cohabiting with a woman. Despite all his wishes, he felt he could not break free of this passion. While weeping over his sins, he heard a small child chanting a sing-song, “Telle, Lege. Telle, Lege.” (“Take up and read. Take up and read.”) He proceeded to pick up a book of St. Paul’s epistles:
I seized it and opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes
fell: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in
quarrels and rivalries. Rather arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend
no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Rom. 13:13-14). I had no wish
to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of a
sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all
the darkness of doubt was dispelled. (Confessions, Book 8:12).
As importantly, one can only imagine the rich spiritual fruit grown in the souls of holy men and women -- lay and monastic -- who spent hours meditating on the Scriptures.

Today, many Orthodox are rediscovering Lectio Divina, a long-lost portion of their spiritual heritage. May it bring us another rich harvest.



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