Tuesday, 26 July 2016

153: Lectio Divina in daily life 6: Difficulties in Lectio

Continuation of 152: Lectio Divina in daily life 5

2. Difficulties in lectio

In the first book (Lectio Divina I, The Method) we already looked at some difficulties that are encountered in lectio every day, precisely the “Temptations to flight”. Here we are going to consider other problems that we encounter in the daily practice of lectio. Is it really possible to do it each day? Is it possible to be unsuccessful? Don’t we succeed only progressively? Let us look at each one of these problems or objections.

a) Is it really possible to do it everyday?

Those who do not as yet practise lectio daily and who read the teaching on Lectio ask this question: Is it really true that we can (or should) practise lectio on a day-to-day basis? There are moments in life when we cannot, and there are different reasons for this.

At certain moments, we may be beset by heavy burdens which take up all our time. If the situation does not last too long this is just one of the phases of life. So, sometimes it is not possible to practise lectio every day for reasons that are beyond our control.
But this may also arise from a simple question of organisation: we do not make an act of faith vis-√†-vis the right that we have to receive a daily Word from God as the “daily bread” we ask for when we pray the “Our Father”; or, if we have not yet really given our life to the Lord, we are not yet living a full relationship with Him. This means that we still own our time and ourselves. We are not really giving ourselves to the Lord. In that case, lectio would be just a moment accorded to the Lord and not the commitment of one’s entire life, of the entire day. This makes a huge difference.

Some people may ask whether they should do lectio in the evening, or in the afternoon, since they cannot do it in the morning. This is obviously better than nothing, and it will also give results. But lectio done in the morning is like a Light that illumines our whole day. One objection might be: “But if one does it in the evening, it will work like leaven throughout the night and, so, the next day it will be as if we had done lectio in the morning”. But the next morning are we really able to remember what was essential and to put it into practice?

Let us go back to the main point: an act of faith must be made. Each person will experience it in his or her own way. For example, for a married teacher, this act of faith may be to say to the Lord: “Lord, you see that I want to put you first. But I honestly don’t have the time. Help me to organise my time and to find a moment for lectio, because I understand how important it is in my life.” In saying this he has been honest, and has manifested his faith and hope in the Lord as being righteous and “pure”. And he has the surprise, at the beginning of the year, of not having to give the private tuitions that a gifted teacher of good standing like himself usually does. He recognises this as a clear sign from the Lord. This may not keep him from “panicking” and saying: “If things continue like this I will not be able to make ends meet, especially that my wife and I are expecting a child”. But in the depth of his heart he knows that he can organise his time, that the Lord has answered his honest prayer and has shown him how to organise his days by starting from above.

b) Failures

Sometimes it happens that despite faithful practice of lectio, lectio simply does not “work”. And there may be different reasons for this that are not necessarily dependent on us and do not come from a lack of effort. But the percentage of these “failures” is very low; this may occur once a month. From time to time the Lord wants to mortify us. In fact, the consolation we receive at the beginning in and through lectio – this consolation which is inherent in the encounter with the Light – becomes a bait and so we look for it to please ourselves, and this keeps us from searching for the Lord and discovering his will. But at other times the true reason for this dysfunction eludes us. Lectio then becomes a simple meditation, a little reflection on the texts. We should simply accept these failures and not lament over them excessively. But it should be noted again that these failures are not frequent.

c) Progressing in lectio or progressive lectio?

In this paragraph we would like to deal with another important point: Should one do lectio, right from the start, in the way indicated in the first book (The Method)? Or should things be done progressively?

One may succeed in doing it as indicated from the very beginning if one already has some knowledge of the Bible. And one may continue having other ways of benefiting from the Bible while practicing lectio: for example, through reading the whole Bible, the study of a particular book, exegetical studies, etc. To repeat: the practice of lectio with the two texts of the daily Mass is not at variance with other ways of reading the Bible, whether this be simple reading, meditation, listening to the Lord in a particular part of the Gospel, sharing Scripture or more formal study. Lectio is a specific activity which allows God to speak to us each day and to transform us in Him. This is food we receive at Mass and used in a particular manner. In short, lectio either happens or does not. There is no inner progression in this practice. Either it functions, and we listen to the Spirit, or it does not. But, in any case, before starting this exercise, we could spend some time getting to know the Bible by reading at least the most important books, with the introductions provided which introduce us to a world quite different from our own. But this is not what one might call “progressive lectio”. This is simply a way of enabling us to read the Bible better, and to avoid misunderstanding it. In this way the instrument becomes intelligible and transparent (I would say: “sacramental”) for God who wants to speak to us.

There is then a progressive access to lectio, but lectio in itself cannot be a progressive – or half-done – practice.

d) Problems or objections

One of the problems encountered is that of considering this way of listening to the Lord as efficient and irreplaceable. One may make the following reflection: I could just as well meditate one text. Why are two texts need to coincide to form a beam of single light, since God is not short of ways of speaking to us? And why should I do lectio with the texts of the liturgy of the day? These are questions that often arise along the way and in this faithfulness to God. Does this form of lectio, which uses the texts of the Mass, exclude all other forms of lectio? No it does not. Who could make such an assertion? On the contrary, as we have said above, other forms of lectio exist and are possible: for example, reading just one text, reading a particular book of the Bible, group lectio, sharing of the Gospel, readings in a retreat etc. But the realistic caracter and dense nature of this form of lectio leads us to insist on it. It is a grace given everyday. Certainly, our weakness causes us to not do it well at times, or not to be able to do it; there are several reasons for this: difficulties, laziness, and other legitimate reasons that may occur unexpectedly. This is also what large numbers of Christians throughout the centuries have experienced. But the Vatican II Council recently invited us to not let this grace slip by.

So we should renew our courage each day and believe in the renewal of our faith, through this grace which is offered to many people. Even if consolation and savour come from meeting the Lord in his Word, even if, at certain times or periods, this is easy – although it is never totally without some difficulties –, quite often the Lord wants to speak to me in a daily renewed faith, to tell me something special, to give me a light, to share a part of himself with me, through my conscious and attentive freedom. We are his “collaborators”, as St. Paul put it, or his “friends”, according to St. John, and he is expecting our intelligence and our free will to respond to his light each day. Our salvation and the salvation of others depend on us; we have an active part to play in it. Of course, He gained everything for us on the Cross, but he is awaiting our assent so that his grace may come to us and to our brothers.

He is not going to give us ready-made solutions, to be given as it were to slaves; he calls for our intelligent and responsible activity; he awakens our creativity through contact with his light. He often seems to say to us: “This is how things are; here’s my light, now what are you going to do with it?” He is also pleased when, having received his light, we decide whole-heartedly and with joy to give, to help, to collaborate in his work of Salvation.

Our responsibility in our relationship with God

Lectio actually has its place in the context of the relationship between man and God. If we do not grasp this context, the kind of relationship that should exist between God and man, we are really unprepared for lectio. At times we give God an important place in this relationship with man, to the point of turning man into a slave, a kind of good-for-nothing that just tags along. At other times, one attributes everything to man to the point that all is done in God’s name but without allowing Him to intervene in any way. And sometimes one conceives a kind of equality, but with a God who is no longer the Alpha and Omega. And even in the relationship with God, where He is the inspiring source and the goal of all our actions, the balance is not equal – without forgetting that man comes of age as an adult in his relationship with God or, as St. Theresa of Jesus put it: the Lord sometimes wants to let us take charge.

Let us repeat once again that when we do lectio we have - unconsciously - a vision of our relationship with God, which may impede or even stifle the grace of lectio! We therefore need to consider this delicate relationship more closely.

In a certain sense, God cannot completely create man1. In order for God to incarnate Himself in us and to develop Himself in human life, He needs man. He creates him in His image, but man must do his part to share His resemblance: man, in turn, must become a creator. A creator cannot be ready-made; he needs to become himself. In a certain way God minimised the creation of man. This repeats what H√∂lderlin stated: “God created man like the ocean created the continents: by moving away from them!”

e) And those who cannot?

For diverse reasons some people are not able to practise lectio. This is an exercise that the elderly may have trouble with, either because of reasons of ill-health, on account of poor vision, because they may not have the necessary human and spiritual “culture”, or simply because their age and failing physical strength no longer permit them to do it. Illness (but nuances need to be made), illiteracy, incapacity… these are all reasons which obviously keep certain people from doing lectio. The Lord shows them other ways to listen and to do his will. Let us not forget that the Lord is in our hearts, and that He speaks to us there. We are too often outside of ourselves and distant from Him. We are no longer able to listen to Him. Sometimes simple people have their way of listening to the Lord, and they are sometimes far ahead of those who are wise and erudite. But the fundamental principle is the same: listening, seeking the Lord, invoking His Holy Spirit to help us put into practice what He has told us in the depths of our hearts. But someone who is capable of practising lectio and does not do so tempts the Lord, i.e. he does not take advantage of all the means that the Lord puts at his disposition. This amounts to laziness and neglect.

1 These reflections are inspired by the article of Fr. Michel van Aerde, o.p., “Le fil triple”.

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: To know more about Lectio Divina see: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

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