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SECRETARIATUS GENERALIS PRO MONIALIBUS O.C.D. - ROMAE

  THEOLOGICAL AND SPIRITUAL REFLECTION PROJECT
 FOR THE DISCALCED CARMELITE NUNS

Meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord:
"lectio divina"
 in the Nuns' contemplative Teresian Carmel

Guidelines from the General House

INTRODUCTION

The Latin expression lectio divina means a prayerful reading of scripture to nourish prayer and to enter into communion with the mystery presented to us in the biblical text.

Lectio divina is distinct from scientific exegesis, study and interpretation, since it is centred on dialogue of faith between the reader and God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The Vatican council marked a return to the centrality of the Word of God and a consequence of this was the rediscovering of lectio divina. There have been various methods of adapting it according to the needs of pastoral ministry and the Christian groups wanting to practice it.

We wanted to begin our theological and spiritual reflections precisely with lectio divina since it joins together listening to the Word and the life of continual prayer that our Rule and the experience and doctrine of our Holy Parents teach as the central element of our charism in the Church: to meditate day and night on the law of the Lord and to watch in prayer, "taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us"(1).

Using what life has taught, the Carmelite nuns, in this spiritual and theological reflection, need to be aware of the necessity of reinstalling the Word of God as the true heart and source of our life and mission in the Church. There is no more solid and nutritious food for our life of intimacy and communion with the Lord than his word which is reflected upon and used for prayer. Vatican II has already reminded all Christian that "prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for 'we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying'"(2).

Our theological and spiritual reflection on the topic should begin with our own experience both personal and as a community. It is not a matter of theological speculation but rather of sharing our knowledge gained from experience and developing a narrative theology(3) in order to share with our brother and sisters throughout the world. Thus will appear the richness of unity in the diversity of styles and forms for carrying out prayerful reading of scripture in the Nuns' Teresian Carmel of today's world.

To put our experience into words and arrange it with clarity, we need to reflect on the teachings of the Bible and of Theology; give a glance at history in general and the Carmelite tradition in particular. From here will come the practical conclusions that can be of help and enrich us in the various social, cultural and ecclesial contexts where we live.

For this reason we are dividing our personal and community reflection into five stages: biblical, theological, historical, Carmelite and practical.

The Centre of the Order is offering this schematic aid to help those regions who cannot rely on the possibility of working out their own guidelines to assist the theological and spiritual reflection. For this reason there is absolutely no obligation to use our offering or, least of all, to follow it literally.

Let us ask the Lord to bless this undertaking since it was he who inspired this idea to help ourselves to learn how to listen to his word and put it into practice from our Teresian Carmelite vocation. In addition, as Carmelite nuns, we are beginning to share our experience of God in our own language, as women consecrated to contemplation. The Pope has issued us an invitation to do so: "In the field of theological, cultural and spiritual studies, much can be expected from the genius of women, not only in relation to specific aspects of feminine consecrated life, but also in understanding the faith in all its expressions"(4).

I. THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE OF "LECTIO DIVINA"

From the point of view of Scripture, "lectio divina" is prayerful reading of God's word, in a spirit of belief motivated by faith in Jesus, who tells us: "the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you" (Jn 14:26).

In a certain way, the New Testament practices "lectio divina" of the Old Testament. As a result, the New Testament is, in part, the result of how the early Christians read the Old Testament in light of their problems and from the light of God's new revelation of himself through the resurrection of Jesus, who was experienced as present and alive in the community.

The objective of "lectio divina" is the same as that of the Bible: to pass on "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2Tm 3:15); "for refuting error, for guiding people's lives and teaching them to be upright; this is how someone who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work" (2Tm 3: 16-17); to stir up our hope: "all these things which were written so long ago were written so that we, learning perseverance and the encouragement which the scriptures give, should have hope" (Rm 15:4).

"Lectio divina supposes some principles, always present in Christian reading of the bible:

The unity of scripture. The bibles possesses a great unity: each book, each phrase has its place and its function for revealing God's Plan to us. The various parts are like bricks in an immense wall. Taken as a whole they form the sketch of God's plan. The principle of the unity of scripture prohibits isolating passages, taking them out of context, and repeating them as isolated and absolute truths. A solitary brick does not make a wall. A sketch is not made up of just one line. The bible is not a truck filled with bricks, rather it is a house where you can live.

2. The presence or incarnation of the Word. When we read the bible as Christians, we cannot forget about life. Rather, we must accept responsibility for what the Bible says, taking it within ourselves. Holding our life before us, we discover in the Bible the reflection of what we ourselves are living. The bible therefore mirrors what is happening in the life and hearts of everyone. We discover that God's Word is incarnated not only in the past, but also today, in order to be with us to help us face problems and realize our hopes: 'If only you would listen to him today!' (Ps 95:7).

3. Faith in Christ Jesus alive in the community. We read the bible from our faith in Christ Jesus, alive in the midst of us. Jesus is the principal key to the reading we do. Faith in Jesus helps to understand the bible better. The bible helps us to understand better the meaning Jesus has for our life. Reading made in community moulds the bible, tradition and life into a living unity"(5)

Questions for personal and community reflection

1. When we read the bible, do we keep before us the three necessary principles for a Christian reading of the Bible?
2. What do we do in our community to have a biblical formation, which allows us to respect the unity of the whole of scripture in our prayerful reading?
3. What connection do we make between God's Word in Scripture and God's Word in life?
4. How do we manage to make Christ the principal key of our prayerful reading of the bible?

THE THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE OF "LECTIO DIVINA"

Lectio divina found a new dynamism in Vatican II.. In effect, the Council presented to the Church listening to the Word: "Hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith, the sacred synod takes its direction from these words of St. John: 'We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ' (1 Jn 1:2-3)...... so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love"(6).

Another statement from Vatican II shows us the intimate connection existing between the Church and the Word of God, through the prayerful reading of scripture. This allows us to grow in understanding it: "This Tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (cf. Lk 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfilment in her"(7). Vatican II also reminds us that God speaks to us in the "signs of the times"(8).

From a theological point of view, it is necessary to read and to interpret scripture with the same spirit in which it was written, keeping in mind the condescension of God who adapts himself to our human nature(9), expressing himself in human language. For this reason, the first step in "lectio divina" is reading leading to meditation and prayer and finishing in contemplation. It is not easy to distinguish these four steps since they coexist. Despite this, it is useful to know the characteristics of each one of the steps so that afterwards, in practice, the four intermingle."

"Reading is the first step in knowing and loving the Word of God. You do not love what you do not know. For this reason it is the first step in the process of appropriating the Word.....reading a lot in order to become familiar with the Bible; so that it becomes our word, capable of expressing our life and our history"

"In reading, we frequent the bible as we would a friend... Reading, understood as a critical study, helps the reader to analyse the passage and place it in its original context. There are three levels to this study:

a) literary: get close to the text and, by means of questions, analyse its fabric: Who? Why? When? How? By what means? How does this piece fit into the literary context of the book of which it is part?
b) historical: by means of textual study we should arrive at the historical context in which the piece was written or in which the event narrated took place. In this way we can analyse the historical situation.
c) theological: to discover, by reading the text, what God was wanting to say to the people in that historical situation; what God meant for those people; how he revealed himself; how the people accepted and celebrated God's word......

When reading is well done, it helps to overcome fundamentalism. When it is badly done it increases fundamentalism, which remains a great temptation installed in the minds of many people. It separates the text from the rest of life and from the history of the people, makes it absolute as the only manifestation of God's Word in life. It is the total absence of critical awareness. It distorts the meaning of the bible and nourishes moralism, individualism and spiritualism in interpreting the bible"(10).

The second step is meditation. Through it a dialogue is set up with the text, we turn it over and apply it to the here and now. "Reading responds to the question: what does the text say? Meditation tries to reply to the question: What has the text to say for me, for us? The central question for now onwards is this: What is God, through this text, wanting to say at this present time...? In order to reply to this question "we begin a dialogue with the text, asking questions that oblige us to use our reason in order to penetrate the text as it affects the horizons of our own life. Meditation is done by reflecting, questioning: In the text, what resembles our own present situation or is different from it?.... What does the text offer for our own situation? What change of comportment does it suggest to me?.... Another way of meditating is to repeat the text, ruminating and 'chewing' on it in order to discover what it has to say to us. This is what Mary did when she pondered situations in her heart (Lk 2: 19, 51) ... After having read and discovered the meaning of the text for us, it is a good thing to try to sum it all up in a phrase, preferably taken from the text itself, so that it can be kept in the memory to be repeated and thought over during the day, so that it become truly our own. Through this deep thought we subject ourselves to the judgment of God's Word and let it penetrate us like a double-edged sword (Hb 4:12) ....

Cassian says: "and so instructed by our feelings, we no longer perceive the text as something we merely hear, but something actually experienced and touched with our own hands: not like some strange unheard-of story, but something that comes to life in the very depths of our heart, as if they were sentiments forming part of our own being. It must be repeated: it is not reading that allows us to penetrate into the meaning of the words, but our own experience we have previously acquired from daily life" (Conferences X:11). Here there seems to be no difference between the bible and life, between God's Word and our word.... Study lays down the wires, experience gained generates the power, meditation presses the button, makes the current run through the cables and lights up the lamp for the passage. Our own life sheds light on the text. The text sheds light on our life. However, meditation give a deeper personal dimension to God's Word.

Meditation is both a personal and a community activity. Sharing what each one feels, discovers and gains from contact with God's word, becomes something much more that the sum of what each one has contributed. The search in common reveals the ecclesial meaning of the bible and strengthens the community meaning of faith. For this reason, it is so important that the bible is read, meditated upon, studied and prayed about not only individually but also, and above all, in common, since we are dealing with the most important book of the Church, of the community"(11).

The third step is prayer. Prayer is recited, there is praise and supplication. "A prayerful attitude is present from the beginning of lectio divina ... meditation is already almost an attitude of prayer which then spontaneously transforms into supplication. However in the dynamic of lectio divina, where everything is sprinkled with prayer, there should still be a special moment reserved for prayer. Through the reading we are trying to discover what the text is saying to us. Meditation confronts reading with our life: What is the text saying to me, to us? Until now God has been speaking. The moment has arrived for what is properly called prayer. What is the passage saying to me, what does it move us to say to God?.... Prayer springing from meditation, begins with an attitude of silent admiration and adoration of the Lord. From there comes our reply to God's Word... As in meditation, it is important that this spontaneous prayer be not merely individual but that it also has a community expression in a shared form. Prayer arising from meditation, can also be the recitation of already existing prayers. From this point, the Divine Office offers a great help ... Finally, in prayer each one reflects on their personal journey to God and the effort is made to empty oneself of selfishness, in order to make place for God, our brothers and sisters, the poor, and the community. It is here that the dark nights are found with their crises and difficulties, with their deserts and temptation . Here they are prayed about, meditated on and faced up to in the light of God's Word"(Mt 4:1-11).

Contemplation is the final step in lectio divina. It leads us to observe, to relish and to put into action. "Contemplation unites together all that has happened in lectio divina: we have read the word and listened to it, we have studied it and discovered its meaning. We have become involved in what we have discovered and have begun to examine it so that it can enter into what is happening in our lives, so that it can pass from the head to the heart. We have transformed all this into prayer before God, as a plan for our life... Now, finally, holding all this in our mind and heart, we begin to have a new vision for observing and valuing our life, actions, history ... This new vision is contemplation. A new vision, a new relish, new action! Contemplation covers the whole of the human being. St Augustine says that it is through reading the Bible that God develops in us the vision of contemplation and helps to decipher the world and transform it so that it becomes once again a revelation of God, a theophany. Contemplation, thus understood, is totally contrary to the attitude of those who shun the world in order to contemplate God.

Contemplation, resulting from lectio divina, is the attitude by which we submerge ourselves within happenings, to discover and relish in them the active and creative presence of God's Word and, moreover, try to commit ourselves to the transformation process that this Word is stirring up within history. Contemplation does not only meditate on the message, but also brings it about; it does not merely listen but puts it into practice. It does not separate the two aspects: it says and does; it teaches and encourages; it is light and strength.... Contemplation, as the last rung in the ladder, is the new level for a new beginning. It is like climbing a very tall tower... It is advantageous to keep climbing as the view of the countryside gets better. Thus we are continually involved in a process that has no end. We continue to read the same Bible, looking always at the same countryside. But the higher we go, the deeper the vision, the scene becomes wider, more real... And thus we continue climbing, together with our brothers/sisters, exchanging ideas, helping one another so that we do not miss anything. Thus we continue climbing until we arrive at contemplating God face to face (1 Cor 13:12) and, in God, our brothers and sisters, reality, the countryside, in a vision that is complete and definitive"(12).

Questions for personal and community reflection

1. Do you carry out "lectio divina" taking into account these steps explicitly or implicitly?
2. In you own community do you sometimes practice "lectio divina" in common? How? With what fruit?
3. Do you judge the passages suggested by tradition for "lectio divina" as useful, or do you have other suggestions?

THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF "LECTIO DIVINA"

The description Luke's gospel gives us of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, (Lk 24:13-35), already contains the elements of what would be later called in the Church lectio divina: Jesus teaches the disciple on the way to Emmaus to connect life with the Word in scripture and to express the fruit of the light, received in dialogue with him, in concrete and efficient charity together with proclamation of the Good News.

In the year 238, the Greek equivalent of lectio divina was already in existence. It can be found in a letter from Origen to his disciple Gregory who was preparing himself to go evangelizing. He was exhorted to dedicate himself to studying the scriptures in these words: Do you then, my son, diligently apply yourself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Apply yourself, I say.... And applying yourself thus to lectio divina, with faithful prejudgments such as are well pleasing to God, knock at its locked door, and it will be opened to you by the porter.... And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which so many have missed. Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; for prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God(13).

At that time there would certainly not have been a method of making lectio divina. This is the fruit of later development. The ascetics and cenobites (II to IV centuries) gave prime importance to reading scripture. Later on, Cassian (+ 435) passed on the advice of Abbot Nestor: "give yourself over assiduously or rather continuously, to sacred reading, until continual meditation fills your heart, and fashions you so to speak after its own likeness" (Conferences XIV:10)(14). Gradually the exercise of lectio divina entered into the organization of monastic life.

Gregory the Great developed spiritual exegesis of scripture with the method called ruminatio, the act of pondering over the word interiorly. St Benito used the same word in his Rule 48:1, when alluding to sacred reading as the very first occupation of monks and invites his monks to dedicate themselves to reading and studying the bible.

In the XII century, Guido II, abbot of Gran Chartreux, composed an ordered method of lectio divina. The author presented it as a ladder for climbing to heaven. He pointed out four rungs: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. From the XVI century onwards lectio gave place to rational and speculative systems which declined into a spirituality made up of devotions, and preoccupied with one's own spiritual development. Mental prayer took the place of lectio and people were introduced to it through various methods.

Vatican II returned to the central position held by the Word. It laid down that the faithful should have "easy access to sacred scripture". In Dei Verbum it exhorts all the faithful "to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. 'Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ'"(15). Lectio divina has today the mission of turning personal and community prayer into a secure response to God who continues to speak to us in the Scriptures:"In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life. Scripture verifies in the most perfect way the words: 'The Word of God is living and active' (Hb 4:12), and 'is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified' (Acts 20:32; see 1 Th 2:13)"(16).

After the Council, the practice of lectio divina has been growing in communities of consecrated life, in ecclesial movements, in Christian communities, in the pastoral ministry of individual churches. And so, in the life of the Church, Scripture has clearly returned to its central position, of which Vatican II reminds us: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ. She has always regarded, and continues to regard the Scriptures, taken together with sacred Tradition, as the supreme rule of her faith. For, since they are inspired by God and committed to writing once and for all time, they present God's own Word in an unalterable form, and they make the voice of the Holy Spirit sound again and again in the words of the prophets and apostles. It follows that all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture"(17).

Questions for personal and community reflection

1. What are the principal practical conclusions to be found in this brief historical panorama of lectio divina?
2. What was the loss of prayerful reading of Scripture due to in contemplative Carmel? What has been done to return it to its central position?
3. In the planning of your community life does their exist a time for lectio divina in community?

IV. THE CARMELITE PERSPECTIVE OF "LECTIO DIVINA"

1. Lectio divina and the rule of Carmel

"The Carmelite Rule is profoundly biblical. It is substantially biblical. Not only for its quotes - explicit, implicit, allusions - to Sacred Scripture that number more than one hundred, according to recent investigations. The extreme brevity of the text (around 1,100 word) gives great importance to the scriptural quotes. In addition, the types of reference and the language of the Rule, in general, are typically biblical: in some chapters there is truly a real 'lectio divina' carrying practical consequences ... in this day and age we are already aware of this particular characteristic, but in the past almost nobody took account of this, since reading was done in an "ideological" and "preconceived" way: the Rule was forced to say what the person had in mind, be it the eremitical meaning, or the Marian or the ascetical"(18) .

In reading the Rule we are able to see that the deep familiarity which its authors had of the bible enabled them to express their project with biblical quotations and, "at the same time, fidelity to the word leads them to find practical and symbolic forms to give creative expression ..... This bond between Word - project - organization, is something typical to the spiritual movements of the time ... and this demonstrates a useful way for today as well. It is a matter of making the Word speak to interpret life; to transform life and praxis so that they become symbols of the Word"(19).

"The Rule opens three door through which God's Word can enter into the life of Carmelites:

a. The door of personal reading: meditation in the cell, thinking over the Word which travels from the mouth to the heart, producing holy thoughts, and leads to bringing everything into conformity with God's Word.

b. The door of community reading: to hear the word together in the refectory, during discussion, in the chapel during the Eucharistic celebration....

c. The door of ecclesial reading: reciting the psalms in accord with the approved custom of the Church; trying to stay within the tradition of our saintly forefathers (Introduction); keeping in mind the idea of Church the Apostles had, as described in Acts"(20).

In the Rule we easily recognize the traditional four steps of lectio divina:

a. "Reading. Before all else, the Word ought to be heard or read: be it in the refectory, in the Eucharist, in the Divine Office, or in solitude in the cell.

b. Meditation. Then the Word, that has been read and heard, ought to be meditated upon and thought about. This meditating should be done day and night, without ceasing, particularly in the cell. By means of this meditation (ruminating), the Word travels from the mouth to the heart and produces holy thoughts.

c. Prayer. The Word, once heard and meditated upon, ought to be gathered up into prayer, ought to become itself prayer: just as much in the Divine Office, the Eucharist, as in the cell, where the Carmelite ought to be vigilant in prayer day and night.

d. Contemplation. This reading produces the following results: the word invades thought, the heart and action, and thus everything will be done according to God's Word.

The Rule of Carmel recommends not just the reading of the Bible but also the practice just mentioned.... The Rule is both source and fruit of lectio divina and shows us the way how it uses and interprets the Bible... The Rule uses and reads the Bible for a particular motive: the desire to live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ, as expressed in the prologue. The following of Jesus is its parameter. It appears in the beginning, in the prologue, and in the two last chapters, where it asks the prior to put into practice what Christ spoke about in the Gospel and asks the others to see Christ in the person of the superior...

The contribution we receive from the Rule is not only what it teaches about reading the Bible, but also the way in which the Rule itself uses the Bible. It knows how to express God's Word to such a degree that it adopts it as its own"(21).

2. St Teresa and Sacred Scripture

"One of the reasons for the richness and the pertinence of Teresian spirituality is its profound biblical tendency. It is amazing what an enormous biblical content there is in Teresa's works from direct quotations to constant indirect allusion. Our attention is drawn by her hermeneutical intuitions used to approach texts and her thought-provoking use of passages and biblical persons to explain attitudes of life or to shed light on her own spiritual experiences.... It is doubly surprising what place the Bible occupies in St Teresa's life and teaching, given the situation of her time. We see a women who did not have the opportunity to make a profound study of the Bible, neither did she know it in its entirety..... She lived at a time when access to Sacred Scripture was fragmentary and indirect. Her biblical culture is incomplete with little order. She never had a copy of the Bible in front of her to read, study or consult. In her time, Sacred Scripture was prohibited for ordinary people because ecclesiastical authorities feared that it could damage their faith.... Many theologians of her time were convinced that God's Word was dangerous nourishment for ordinary people and particularly for women. One of them, Melchor Cano, managed to write: "However much women demand with insatiable appetite to eat this fruit (read Sacred Scripture), it is necessary to prohibit it and to mount guard with a flaming sword to prevent people from reaching it" ....

In such a hostile and risky environment, Teresa demonstrated an exceptional spirit of liberty together with a dedicated love for the Word of God. She dared to comment on the Our Father, a commentary which is the backbone of the Way of Perfection... As well, she wrote "meditations" on the Song of Songs... St Teresa knew the Bible in an indirect way from spiritual books... Many biblical quotations she knew from what she heard from sermons of that era"(22).

St Teresa came in contact with God's Word through meeting people who know it and had experienced its transforming energy. In her own mystical experience, as well, she came to discover that "God is Truth, a Truth pouring out from Scripture, contained in it. God-Truth-Scripture. The Truth that Teresa mystically perceived is in the Bible. This Truth is the Bible"(23). In her spiritual experience the Lord brought her to understand his Word in a vital way, offering her a meaning that goes far beyond the letter and the history of the text and many times is quite novel in relation to interpretation of the era.

"For Teresa of Jesus, the bible is not an end in itself. It is totally oriented to understanding and interpreting her own spiritual experience ... In Teresa, Scripture is a living word. It is fused harmoniously into her life, so that Scripture and her life are like two words uttered by the one God. With naturalness she states that what is narrated in the Bible, "I seem to see it literally happening in me" ... She is a true witness to the force and light of Sacred Scripture... She has left to us a the richest of testimony in a life supported and inspired, enlighten and explained by the Word of God"(24).

3. St John of the Cross and "lectio divina"

There is a phrase in St John of the Cross that expresses the content of lectio divina: "Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation"(25). "The practice of lectio divina is connected with the tradition that preceded him.... During his captivity in Toledo, he found no other spiritual nourishment. His first poems gives witness to this. The two Romances, Song of the soul that rejoices in knowing God through faith and The Spiritual Canticle are all songs of one steeped in the bible".

"For John, Scripture is a source of infinite richness. Seemingly infinite are the treasures hidden in Christ, the sole Word of the Father. John's own word, that of a mystic, is the mature fruit of this encounter with Scripture... In John, prayerful reading of the Bible is the very source of all his richness and the beginning of gospel radicalism: "If you desire to discover peace and consolation for your soul and to serve God truly, do not find your satisfaction in what you have left behind because, in that which now concerns you, you may be as impeded as you were before, or even more. But leave as well all these other things and attend to one thing alone that brings all these with it (namely, holy solitude, together with prayer and spiritual and divine reading)"(26). When we look at the writing and experience of St John of the Cross we see they are deeply rooted in Scripture, not alone because they in harmony with it, nor for the abundance of quotations from Scripture. There is a divine and mysterious light which abounds in what he has to say, that resists all attempt to classify it. It is the word of a mystic, of someone who knows it by 'science and experience'. According to those who knew him, the Bible had an almost exclusive place in his reading. The fervour gained from Scripture led to the birth of a new John of the Cross, a new man who recreated in his words the fruit of an ineffable experience....

As Carmelites we are called to "re-create" the Word, accompanied by John of the Cross and the reading of Scripture in the light of the new experience of God in reality which is also the word of God, a true grace experienced through faith. Lectio divina is a prayerful action connatural with our charism.... Assisted by John of the Cross, whose writings allow us to understand the wealth of the Bible and reality, lectio divina is changed into a deep spiritual experience, always new and creative. It is reading that is contemplative, intimately tied to our prophetic vocation, receptive to God in history"(27).

4. Therese of Lisieux and "lectio divina"

"It is quite probable that lectio divina, as such, did not form part of the practice of the Lisieux Carmel. There are no witnesses who confirm this or make reference to it, nor to any other method of biblical reading. Neither does Therese tell us explicitly how she read the Gospel. We know from Celine that Therese was not content with simply reading Scripture but she truly studied the inspired books to discover God in them. This was the very reason she studied the inspired books, particularly the Gospels.

From Therese's writings we can deduce an ordinary progress in biblical reading, firmly connected to lectio divina.....:

­ she knew quite well that the various happening in her life were not just by chance but formed part of a fabric woven by God, just as the history of the people of Israel was guided by God;

In reading Scripture, she sign the design of God throughout history, and this insight helped her to discern God's calls in her own personal life and in the history and concrete situations of people... In seeking what God wanted her to do in life, she understood that being a Carmelite, spouse and mother, was, without doubt, her vocation. Moreover, she felt that her vocation included being a warrior, a priest, an apostle, doctor and martyr"(28). It is then to Scripture she turns, to chapters 12 and 13 of the first Letter to the Corinthians, to discover that her vocation as being love in the heart of the Church.

What made her discover the little way of spiritual childhood was facing up to the Gospel with her poverty... All the discoveries made by Therese throughout her life were drunk from Scripture: Divine mercy described by Luke's three parables (the lost sheep, the lost drachma, the prodigal son) ... in each page of her manuscripts are discoveries, passages that inspire and shed light on her reality or that of others, and encourage her to proceed on her way and to persevere in her attitude of the full confidence of a child before her father. What is essential for Therese is to listen to the voice of the One she loves and to whom she has entirely committed her life. In deepening her knowledge of Scripture, Therese continued to discover God's "character" in a progressive manner. She became familiar with divine customs, with God's way of "thinking" and working and this strengthened her to think and work like God. In this way she experienced a truth well know by those who meditate on Scripture: when the gospel is read, meditated upon, prayed and contemplated under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it makes us penetrate in a continually new manner into the mystery of God's love and we received light for relating with him and with others"(29).

Questions for personal and community reflection

1. In your monastery has there been an attempt to deepen personally and in community the teaching of our Rule and our saints on the prayerful reading of the Bible?
2. Can you share some experience of "lectio divina" made under the guidance of the experience and doctrine of the Rule and our saints?
3. What other teaching in the Rule and our saints, those mentioned here and those not mentioned, could help Carmelite nuns to live and deepen their "lectio divina"?
4. What particular characteristics does "lectio divina" have in Carmel?

V. THE PRACTICAL PERSPECTIVE OF "LECTIO DIVINA"

The central objective of lectio divina is that, with help from the Bible, we can discover, take to ourselves and celebrate God's Word that comes to us also in daily life. As the psalm says "If only you would listen to him today!" (Ps 95: 7).

"The secular history of the Church shows us that to reach this objective two simultaneous movements are necessary: one from the present looking to the past and the other from the past looking to the present. The one from the present looking to the past tries to investigate the literal meaning, the letter, the history, to arrive at the level of a common human problem (the past)... The movement from the past to the present tries to discover the spiritual meaning, the spirit, the message, the theological dimension, i.e. what God want to say to us today through this text from the past. In this second movement the criteria of faith have primacy. The environment of prayer gives us great help and facilitates understanding the spiritual meaning. Letter and spirit: these two movements are like body and soul. You cannot have interpretation without them both.

As we can verify, these two movements were truly present in lectio divina from the beginning to now. The movement from the present to the past is made, especially, through reading and meditation. The movement from the past to the present is made, above all, by means of meditation and prayer. Contemplation is the result of the union of both... Both of these movements are possible only when reading begins with three basic concerns:

a) keeping present today's human reality with its problems and challenges that question faith and menace life;

b) keeping in view the faith of the community that makes us enter into communion with God himself who, in the past, guided his people and revealed himself to them in Jesus Christ;

c) holding in great respect the text of the Bible, avoiding any type whatsoever of manipulation or reduction of its meaning. Only thus will reading make possible and nourish our dialogue with God"(30).

To put the practice of lectio divina into effect, various methods have been suggested. We point out two: one proposed by the Latin American O.Carm - O.C.D. Theological Team and the other by Fr Bruno Secondin, O. Carm, in his book from which we have already quoted.

1) The O.Carm - O.C.D. Theological Team divides the method for personal and for community lectio divina.

A. For personal lectio divina
1. Begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit
2. Slow and attentive reading of the text
3. A time of interior silence remembering what was read
4. Take a good look at the meaning of each phrase
5. Make the Word pertinent, "ruminate" on it, uniting it with actual life
6. Widen the vision, relate the text read to other biblical texts
7. Re-read the passage, praying the text and responding to God
8. Formulate a commitment for your life.
9. Take out a phrase from the text as a résumé to be memorized

B. For lectio divina in community

  1. Welcome - prayer. A welcome and a brief sharing of the expectations of those taking part. Opening prayer asking the light of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Reading the text: a slow and attentive reading of the text. A moment of silence so that the Word can penetrate into us. Repeat the text phrase by phrase to help remember what was read.
  3. The meaning of the text in itself. Exchange impressions and doubts on the meaning of the passage. If it is necessary, read it again and shed light mutually on the passage or with another text of the Bible. A moment of silence to assimilate all that has been heard.
  4. The meaning to the passage for us today. "Ruminate" on the passage and discover its meaning for us today. Apply the meaning of the passage to concrete situation in which we are living. Widen the meaning by comparing the text read with other passages from the Bible. Situate the passage in God's plan being carried out in history.
  5. Pray with the passage. Read the passage (out aloud) once again with all attention. A moment of silence to prepare a reply to God. Share through prayer the light and strength received.
  6. Contemplate - Commit oneself. Express the commitment this prayerful reading of the biblical passage has led us to. Sum all this up in a phrase to keep it specially present throughout the day.
  1. A Psalm Propose a psalm which sums up and expresses what was experienced in this meeting(31).


2) Fr Bruno Secondin, O.Carm sets out his method in a diagram(32). (See p. )

Questions for personal and community reflection

1. Have you made "lectio divina" personally or in community following one of these methods or something similar?
2. Do you have some other method for "lectio divina" either personally or in community. Which?
3. What could be the Carmelite Nuns' method for making "lectio divina"?

CONCLUSION

"God's Word, together with the sacraments are the memorial of the marvellous passage of God through our history, setting us free to walk together, at the present moment, directing us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, towards the future ... Like the Sacraments, God's Word is a sign that is re-memorial (a memorial of the past), meaningful (gives meaning to the present) and prefigurative (a window to the future). It is the entire meaning of what is prophetic. Pronounced in the past, it persists in the present and fixes our eyes on the glorious future God has prepared for those who love him (see 1 Cor. 2:9). This Word, like the sacraments, commits us. It commits us to be today and in the future what God wants us to be"(33).

____________________________

1. saint teresa Life 8:5.
2.
Dei Verbum 25.
3.
Narrative theology is a way of communicating the Christian message which emphasises its historical and experiential character, since its final point of reference is the life of Jesus, the Christ, and its application or practical dimension refers us back to the life of believers. For this reason, a certain type of discourse is needed, for example, narration, which is well suited for communicating salvation messages and experiences. As a result, it is a sound complement for a rather conceptual or abstract reading of Christian faith, which leaves out important aspects of this faith. Narrative theology is also a theological method which retrieves interest in narratives in which the nucleus of Christian faith is expressed, which attempts to understand and study them in order to present them anew to today's world" Diccionario Teológico Enciclopédico (Estella, 1995) pp. 959-960.
4.
VC 58.
5.
CRB: Lectura orante de la Biblia (1991) pp. 19-20.
6.
DV 1.
7.
Id. 8.
8.
See GS 4.
9.
See id. 12-13
10.
CRB: op.cit., pp. 22-23
11.
Id. pp. 24-27.
12.
Id. Pp. 31-34.
13.
A Letter to Gregory: par. 3. Quoted in b. secondin, La lettura orante della Parola. "Lectio divina" in comunitŕ e in parrocchia (Padua, 2001) p.15.
14.
Quoted Id. P. 16.
15.
DV 25.
16.
Id 21.
17.
Ib.
18.
b. secondin - m.a. silva, La Biblia en la Regla Carmelitana (Tendencias en los estudios), in AA.VV. La Biblia en el Carmelo (Quito 1997) p. 19. This bood is the fruit of discussion by the O.Carm - OCD Theological Team in Latin America. Most of what we say in this fourth point is taken from this book.
19.
b. secondin - m.a. silva, op.cit. P.24
20.
c. mesters, El reto que nos viene de la lectura popular de la Biblia, in AA.VV., op.cit. P.30.
21.
Id. Pp. 30-33.
22.
s.j. baez, Santa Teresa de Jesús y la Sagrada Escritura, in AA.VV., op.cit. Pp. 43-46.
23.
m. herráiz, Biblia y espirtualidad teresiana, in "Monte Carmelo" 88 (1980) 318.
24.
s.j. baéz, op.cit. Pp. 48, 64-65.
25.
Sayings 158 (ICS Publications Ed 1991).
26.
Sayings 79.
27.
o. azuaje, San Juan de la Cruz, lector de la Palabra de Dios, in AA. VV., op.cit. pp. 75-77.
28.
r. cuartas, Teresa de Lisieux, una existencia evangélica, in AA. VV., op. cit. p. 95.
29.
Id. pp. 96-98.
30.
CRB, op. cit., p. 35.
31.
AA. VV. op. cit., pp. 118-119.
32.
b. secondin, o.carm., op.cit. p.32. A detailed explanation of the diagram is found on pages 31-39.
33.
CRB, op.cit., p. 10.

     
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