THE WORD OF GOD GIVES LIFE
Prepared by the Regional Biblical Commission—Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei
(CatholicNews—Sunday July 20, 2008)
The power of the Word of God
“The WORD OF God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, everything is uncovered and opened to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.” (Hebrew 4:12-13).
As God is the God who acts with power, God’s word cannot fail to be active and powerful like a sharp sword or a “polished arrow” (Isaiah 49:2); it never fails to pierce through and through; there is no blunt side to it, it always cuts with one side or the other, either saving or judging. The piercing power of the Word of God helps to scrutinize and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. A prayerful reading/listening of the word evokes the faithful to respond through all aspects of human life: spiritual, intellectual, moral and emotional. “The living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23) is the basis for everyday choices and radical decisions which regenerates the believer.
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he (Jesus) was talking to us on the road [to Emmaus]?” (Luke 24:32). The disciples wondered and their eyes were opened at the breaking of bread. The disciples filled with enthusiasm returned to Jerusalem that very evening to share their joy with the other disciples. God’s Word does not take the form only of a spoken or written word. An event can likewise be a word of God and must therefore be kept in the heart as did Mary with the events of Jesus’ “mercy”. “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; 2:51).
The essential character and inexhaustible vitality and efficacy of the Word of God are clearly defined in Isaiah 55:10-11: “My word is like the rain and the snow that come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God reveals Himself
It pleased God in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit and thus become sharers in the divine nature (CCC 51). Revelation involves a specific divine pedagogy: God communicates himself to man gradually. He illumines our mind to turn to him through the words in the Scriptures. He used ordinary human events and words to manifest his plan for us in the Scriptures for no other purpose than that we respond to him in faith, hope and love. He reveals himself fully in his Son who became man in Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh fulfills all Scriptures and nourishes us with them. He assists us “to be born from above” (John 3:3) and become the children of God (John: 12).
WITH THIS IN mind let us turn to God in prayer with the Word of God. There are various methods for Bible reflection/sharing to help us to fathom the depth of God’s love and mercy. The Regional Bible Commission proposes one method not because it is the best but because it came from the 12th century and has been practised by nuns and monks. This method can be used by all either individually or in small groups. Thirty years ago Cardinal Carlo Martini popularised it to make the Word come to fruition in the world today. To make every effort to ensure that it will not remain in the stage of the hearing/reading of the Word, this reading would lead us to prayer and action. That knowledge—gained from an analysis and interpretation of the real world should be followed by action with the “mind of God”. This allows the power of the Word to transform us.
I. Lectio divina
“Lectio divina” that is “spiritual reading” is a way of praying the Scriptures so that the Word of God may penetrate our hearts and we may grow in intimate relationship with the Lord. Through the practice of “lectio divina” as individuals and as community we give space for God’s Word to challenge us so that we may begin to look upon our world as it were with the eyes of God and to love what we see with the heart of God. Its natural movement is towards greater simplicity, with less and less talking and more and more listening. Gradually the words of Scripture begin to dissolve within us and the Word is revealed before the eyes of our heart. The movement in “lectio divina” prayer is towards silence. This augurs well for both individuals and small communities.
“Lectio divina” is a slow, contemplative prayer of the Scriptures. Time set aside in a special way, for “lectio divina”, enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationship to the Father and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. To be effective we have to set aside quality time to experience the Word in our hearts and lives.
There are various ways we can get going in “lectio divina”. Those who are regular in reading the Bible would be able to “dive” into it without much difficulty. The usual way would be seen in four steps.
Read the passage slowly and attentively. Take your time with each word, each phrase, pausing when you feel like it, repeating words or phrases to yourself, savouring and enjoying every word, focusing on things that may stand out. Don’t rush through it.
2. Listen and meditate—“Meditatio”
Take the word or phrase to yourself, slowly repeat it to yourself—“chew” on it. Let it interact with your concerns, memories and ideas as you try to work out its meaning and make it personally relevant. Don’t worry about being distracted—if memories, thoughts or images come up, just bring them up to the Lord as part of your prayer. Be aware of your feelings and emotions. This is not “navel gazing”, but an honest accounting of our lives and always directed outward to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Speak to God about the thoughts and feelings that have come to your consciousness. Perhaps there is something that you may tackle in some area in your life or maybe you have become aware of God’s action in some other aspect—whatever it is, pour out your heart to God about what has just come up. Even if nothing has come up, just speak to him about what you are feeling. Know that he is truly present and is listening to you. Let it be an abandonment to the will of God, like Mary, “Thy will be done!”
4. Contemplation and response—“Contemplatio”
Finally, just be quiet and just rest in God’s presence—“waste time” with God. Words may not be necessary at this point. Sometimes, you may as a result of God’s grace be raised to experience something new and mysterious. At other times, we may simply be calm and comfortable with God. It is nothing more than a close sharing between friends. It is a surrender to the loving will of the Father in an even deeper union with his beloved Son. It is child-like. His gaze purifies our hearts, illumines our eyes to see with the eyes of Jesus and teaches us compassion for our neighbour.
II. “Lectio divina” for Beginners
FOR THOSE WHO are not very familiar with the Bible or rather who are not used to the reading of the Bible as a daily/weekly act of piety, the following step is proposed. This method wouldn’t pressurise you, you could go at the pace you or your group desires. The end (product) is the same, it is just the way you reach the goal—to get to know God who loves and helps us to believe in a loving God. To both the initiated and uninitiated the Word is a gift given by God to each of us whenever we turn to the Scriptures.
1. Choose a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray
Many Christians use in their daily “lectio divina” one of the readings from the Eucharistic liturgy of the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.
2. Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent
Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite. For some, the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to “lectio divina”. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
3. Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently
Savour each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In “lectio divina”, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.
4. Take the word or phrase into yourself
Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during “lectio divina”, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.
5. Speak to God
Whether you use words, ideas, or images—or all three—is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found in your heart.
6. Rest in God’s embrace
And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
Sometimes in “lectio divina” you may return several times to the printed text, either to savour the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for “lectio divina”. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your “lectio divina”, as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. “Lectio divina” has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.
Spiritual Reading—“Lectio divina”
“LECTIO DIVINA” teaches us about the God who truly loves us. In “lectio divina” we dare to believe that our loving God continues to embrace us today. In the Word we experience ourselves as personally loved by God; as the recipients of the Word which God gives uniquely to each of us whenever we turn to the Scriptures.
“Lectio divina” teaches us about ourselves. In “lectio divina” we discover that there is no place in our hearts, no interior corner or closet that cannot be opened and offered to God. God teaches us in “lectio divina” what it means to be a royal priesthood—a people called to consecrate all our memories, our hopes and our dreams to Christ.
IN this short article we see the “power of the Word” (Bible). It does not return until it has given “food to the eater”. Then we saw briefly what “lectio divina” is and offered two ways of reading and reflecting on the text on the basis of an individual’s/community’s familiarity with Bible reading. The Bible is a book of faith, written in faith and given for the faith of the people of God. The Bible has to be read with faith. In this way, the Word of God continues to resound in the story of human beings; deciphered and understood in its twofold reality. The Bible opens its treasure of revelation and grace. In the words of the book the believing community encounters the Word of the Lord, interiorizing and actualizing it in its own reality and in its own history. The Divine enters the human (incarnation) and the human reaches the Divine.