This blog is Part 3 of a series by Sam Rahberg, Director of the Benedictine Center, St. Paul, MN, and first appeared on the website of the Benedictine Center.
The School of Lectio Divina is at the heart of the Benedictine Center of St. Paul’s Monastery’s attempt to share the riches of Benedictine spirituality. The core conviction is that praying the Scriptures is allowing the Word of God to work its way into our bones and into the practice of our life and vocation. The monastic rhythm of liturgical prayer, interaction and solitude serve to reinforce that disposition. Poet Marilyn Chandler McEntyre describes the process of lectio in a spirit of lingering with the Scriptures:
“In lectio, which Benedictines practice in the daily reading of Scripture, you read the text slowly, listening for a word or phrase that speaks to you with particular emphasis. Then you re-read the passage, allowing the key word or phrase to be a point of contact, considering how it addresses the particular circumstances of your life. On a third reading you meditate on the text and on the words it has brought to your attention as gifts peculiar to the moment, considering what response it invites. Finally, on a fourth reading you rest in the words as you hear them once more. As a devotional practice, lectio is reserved for sacred texts and sacred time. I recommend it on those terms to anyone seeking nourishment from sacred reading” (Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, 70).
Over time, the practice of lectio divina becomes less a set formula for prayer than a disposition of prayerfulness. We learn to slow down and trust the Spirit’s often non-linear process. We marvel at the way the Word so often speaks into our experiences and submit to the ways God is forming us today. Any fruits of that growth are noticed not necessarily within the set boundaries of “prayer time,” but in the fruit of everyday life.
The “sustaining” aspect of lectio divina refers to the reality that the Scriptures’ movement within us cannot be contained to a short period. It reverberates within us over time. We find ourselves ruminating on the text all day long and in many cases carrying the same text with us over many days or weeks. Similarly, the Liturgy of the Hours serves to punctuate our sense of time with the reading of Scripture in community. All the while, we are being saturated with the mind of Christ. Consider these examples:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5)
“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Heb 4:12)
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Col. 3:16)
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
PREFERRING NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO CHRIST
The anchor for the Benedictine school of spirituality is found in a line from Chapter seventy-two which looks back over all that is contained in RB: “Let them prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ.” From our discussion of Benedictine core values in Part 1, to praying the Psalms and exercising community in Part 2, and sustaining lectio divina here in Part 3, all aspects culminate in their focus upon Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” (Life Together, 21). The ancient and long-standing monastic structures for prayer and community continue to enable men and women to see God through Christ. The goal is Christ-consciousness rather than self-consciousness, as S. Meg Funk OSB might say. Each day we are learning to set down all that distracts us from Christ and the function of Christian community is to support one another in that process.
This commitment is made particularly visible in Benedictine communities in a number of ways. For example, there is a high value placed on lifelong learning as the process of “putting on the mind of Christ”; there is an exhortation to radical hospitality based on the belief that we receive Christ in one another; and even the measurement of true leadership is taken against the imitation of Christ. In a troubled age like this one, the Benedictine school of spirituality offers a vision of discipleship that is biblical, tested and refreshingly Christ-centered.