Sometimes I miss lectio divina most of all.
Years ago, when I first began serving in full-time ministry, a woman named Terry invited me over to her house for an afternoon of lectio divina.
I didn’t really understand what she was talking about, but I did understand that I liked Terry, so her invitation was all I needed.
Once a month, I blocked out six hours in my schedule: an hour for driving back and forth over the Bay Bridge, and then another four hours for time at T-Mar’s house. Upon arriving, the rhythm was always the same: enter a quiet space and find time to breathe. Eat a leisurely lunch, usually consisting of soup and salad, of sandwiches and salt and vinegar potato chips, of whatever our kitchens held and our bellies desired, with Terry and the other three or four women present. Catch up on one another’s lives: laugh, cry, and whisper the most hallowed of words, “me too.”
But I must interrupt, for in order to really understand my lectio divina day, you have to enter into the present with me:
Heading to the front room, we wrap our bodies in blankets and find our chair of choice. We wait for Terry to pass out the lectionary packets and to ring the bell for silence.
“We ring this bell to symbolize entering into this space together,” Terry says. “Take some time to still and quiet yourself before God; if you find your mind wandering, consider repeating an ancient phrase like, Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, or Come Lord Jesus, over and over again.”
It’s like she knows my mind has a propensity to wander – to think about everything I haven’t yet done that day, to wrestle over stressful situations, to replay conversations in my mind. But like a fly buzzing over my head, I try my hardest to shoo wandering thoughts away. I sit in silence before the One who covets my attention. I close my eyes and practice breathing and repeating guided focus words, just like she’s taught me to do.
Terry cracks open her worn Bible, the book she’s probably opened thousands of times before this day. Turning to the passage selected for us, she passes it to one of us to read aloud.
“As Sarah reads through Psalm 143:7-8 a couple of times,” Terry says, “listen for a word or phrase that sticks out to you. Sit with your word or phrase for a couple of minutes, and then we’ll come together and share our word or phrase.”
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
My eyes close, and I listen as Sarah reads the passage a couple of times. What word sticks out to me? What phrase catches my attention?
And then it comes: “your face.”
I don’t know why it sticks out in my mind, and that’s okay. I don’t have to know, not now, not ever. Sarah passes the Bible to Rachel, but before Rachel reads the same text, Terry instructs us to listen again for our word or phrase – and to also listen for an image that comes to mind when a new voice reads the words.
Rachel reads. We close our eyes and listen. “Your face” seems to be in bold-faced font before me, so I sit with the phrase again. But this time, in the allotted time, I listen for sensory images: What do I see, taste, touch, hear and smell? What does my imagination sense?
Slowly, a picture comes to me.
I picture myself looking in the mirror, but for some reason, I can’t seem to stare straight at myself. Shyly, I look toward the mirror, but feelings of shame and disgust overwhelm me. I see wrinkles and sunspots and bushy eyebrows that need to be plucked. I see cheeks that are too fat and eyes that are too squinty and hair that is beginning to gray at the temples.
All I see is ugly.
But then light appears in the background – and this light changes everything. It room changes my reflection in the mirror and it’s almost as if my shoulders square up, straighter, taller, more confident in response. This light does exactly as light does, and brings warmth, in more ways than one.
Is there a face behind the light? Is this the light of God?
Terry’s soft words interrupt our thoughts; one by one, we go around and share images with one another. We nod our heads, as we try to imagine the scene ourselves. Sometimes we take notes. Sometimes, we just take it all in, voice to memory.
“As Cara reads the text to us a third time, listen for your word or phrase. Look again for your image, but this time, take it a step further, and think about what you are to do or be in response to your word or phrase. What action step are you to take?”
I read Psalm 143 aloud to the group; it’s hard for me to hear what I’m to do or be in the words when I’m the one reading, so I squeeze my eyes extra hard in concentration afterwards.
I’m to look for light. I’m to look for Christ. And I think, I’m maybe even supposed to begin to see myself in the light he brings.
Once again, we go around the room, the rhythm now succinct: share your word or phrase, and share the action we sense we’re to take in the coming week. We listen most attentively to the person on our right, for in a few minutes, person by person, we’ll pray for them.
We move our prayers to the left, while we pray to the right, mostly so we can receive the prayer prayed over us. Some of us, like myself, have a hard time fully being present to the prayers, and can otherwise find ourselves overly engrossed in thinking of the perfect prayer we will soon pray.
But Terry, the wise and winsome one she is, knows this, too.
We end our time praying the Lord’s Prayer together, and then we’re done.
It’s a holy moment, this time of lectio divina, and although much of the world participates in this ancient way of looking at scripture alone, I can’t imagine it any other way.
I can’t imagine it in another house, nor can I quite enter into the sacredness of the exercise apart from these women.
But I can try.
So, in this new adventure eight hundred miles north, I’ll hold our time together close to my heart – as I move forward in love and maybe even in light.