Lectio Divina with Mary in Advent

 a_annunciation_collier

 First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, UCC

Lectio Divina

 Advent 2007

The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love. And just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation……Do not ask “how shall I pass this on?” but “What does it say to me?” Then ponder this Word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and taken possession of you.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What Is Lectio Divina?

Lectio divina, or “sacred reading” is an ancient practice that emerged in the early centuries of the Christian church, and was widely used in monastic communities throughout the subsequent centuries. Although they did not use the term, our Puritan forebears also used a method of meditating on scripture and “inwardly digesting” its meaning that is similar to lectio.

Lectio divina invites us to approach the Bible not as an abstruse book to be studied, but as a privileged space in which to meet a living God. The practice of lectio doesn’t ask us to figure out the meaning of a text with our heads; it allows us to be met by its meaning in our hearts. Lectio invites us to know a God who wants to speak to our whole lives through the words of scripture. Through the practice of lectio, the Spirit draws us into the Word, to become absorbed in it, to ponder its intersections with our daily lives, and to be changed by our pondering.

During the season of Advent especially, lectio divina takes its inspiration from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Since the beginning, the Christian tradition has recognized her as the prayerful reader of the Word par excellence. She attended to the Word uttered in the Hebrew scriptures, the Word made flesh in her own body, the Word revealed in the ministry of Jesus, and the Word unfolding in the life of the church. Mary models what it means to be a disciple by her open, active attentiveness to her son, through whom God spoke—and is still speaking—a transforming Word. She who was “overshadowed by the Holy Spirit” at Jesus’ conception, was guided by that same Spirit to ponder the meaning of his life at every turn. This Advent. we are invited to learn from her to do the same.

Four Movements

Lectio divina can be practiced individually or in a group. Our focus in this booklet is on individual practice. It is traditionally comprised of four movements:

1) Lectio – reading God’s Word

2) Meditatio – meditating on the Word

3) Oratio – responding prayerfully to the Word

4) Contemplatio – resting in contemplation of God through the Word.

The movements of lectio divina are not fixed rules, but guidelines that also describe the way that this form of prayer normally develops. Its natural movement is towards increasing simplicity—less and less thinking and talking, and more and more deep listening. Over time, with perseverance, the words of scripture reveal the Word of God to the attentive ears of our heart.

Guidelines for Personal Lectio Divina

These four movements are traditionally practiced like this:

0) Preparation

Preparing for the encounter with the Word

Quiet yourself. Try to be fully present to God, in a spirit of expectancy. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your reading. Don’t rush this preparation.

1) First ReadingLectio

Reading the Word slowly so that it sinks into us

Read a passage of scripture slowly and attentively. As you read, be aware of words or phrases in the text that seem to stay with you. Pay attention to a word or phrase that shimmers, disturbs, lures, or invites you. After a short pause, read the passage a second time. Then allow some silence. In that time, repeat inwardly the word or phrase that drew your attention; take it in, gently recite it to yourself, linger over it, savor and ponder it.

2) Second ReadingMeditatio

Recognizing the places where the Word intersects with our lives

Read the text again. During this reading, be mindful of instances in which the text seems to intersect with your recent experience. Ask, “Does this reading touch my life here and now, today?” “Does the word or phrase that attracted my attention connect with or illumine what is going on with me now?”

Spend 2-3 minutes in silence. Pay calm attention to any images or feelings that arise from pondering where the chosen word or phrase connects with your recent experience. (If some other word or phrase from the passage comes to mind and your heart seems drawn to it, feel free to go with it!) You may not immediately understand connections that emerge between your word (or the passage itself) and your life. They may not seem logical or direct. It doesn’t matter. Accept whatever comes to you, dwell with it, and reflect on it.

3) Third ReadingOratio

Listening for the Word’s invitation

Read the passage slowly once more. Ask yourself, “Do I sense this passage inviting me to do or be something? To take a new step in my discipleship? Am I finding myself in a new place? Or hearing something for the first time? Is there encouragement for me here? A challenge? If so, what is it?” If you don’t feel an invitation, you might wish to ponder, “Am I changed in any way by my prayerful reading of this text?”

Read the passage again. Then try to leave the thinking/reasoning part of you aside for a while, and allow your heart to speak to God. Let your feelings lead your prayer.

4) PrayerContemplatio

Resting in the Word’s presence

In the silence of prayer, calm down your own words and thoughts, and simply rest in the Word of God. Let God take the lead. Listen at the deepest level of your being for God to address you. The “voice” you hear may simply be a deep silence, or perhaps an echo of the word that spoke to you in the text, or some other “voice.” Conclude by praying the Lord’s Prayer, slowly and with attention to each petition. Thank God for this time of prayer, and go your way!

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Texts for Advent Lectio Divina

Here are some suggested texts for your pondering during the season of Advent. In some weeks only one text is suggested; in others, more than one. In any given week, you should feel free to meditate on all the texts. just one of them, on a few lines from one of them, or even different texts altogether! The important thing is to practice prayerful reading, and let a word of scripture burrow deep within you in this sacred time.

Week One

The Word in the Book

Christian tradition often depicts Mary as a faithful reader of the Hebrew scriptures. It even goes so far as to imagine that the young Mary was reading—pondering God’s promise of a savior in the pages of scripture—at the very moment that the angel Gabriel appeared to her to announce that she would be the mother of God’s anointed one. This idea has become a familiar motif in Christian art over the centuries.

Nowhere does the New Testament depict Mary actually reading, but it is not far-fetched to think that, like many fervent Jews in 1st century Palestine, she longed for the appearance of an anointed one who would establish justice and peace on earth. It is not far-fetched to imagine that she was faithfully attentive to God’s Word of promise, always pondering what it might mean for her people and for her own life too.

In this first week of Advent, we ponder the familiar text of the angel’s annunciation to Mary. We see Mary, steeped in the Word and faithfully to the covenant of people, at the very moment that the promise is fulfilled. How might this text intersect with your own life and faith this Advent?

Luke 1: 26-38

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Week Two

The Word in the Body

One of the central affirmations of Christianity is that although God speaks to us in many different ways, God speaks to us in a unique way in the man, Jesus of Nazareth. In him, God’s Word dwells fully. This is what Christians call the Incarnation—the Word becomes flesh, taking on a fully human life. The Word lived among us, sharing our lot and revealing in a new way God’s will for our world.

Tradition teaches that Mary became pregnant with this Word. She carried the Word in her body. It is Jesus, her son. As the Word grew within her, her joy increased. Pondering the presence of the Holy in her very flesh caused her to burst into song, glorifying God for the salvation that was to come into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and her own “yes” to God’s life-changing invitation to bear the Word.

In the second week, we are invited to reflect on a pregnant Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant and full of hope. We also listen to Mary’s song of joyful praise, the “Magnificat.” How might these texts intersect with your own life and faith this Advent?

Luke 1:26-45

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

 Luke 1: 45-56

45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

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Week Three

The Word in Jesus of Nazareth

Luke’s gospel speaks of shepherds following a star to the stable in Bethlehem. When these poor, marginalized laborers reach the crib of Jesus—the one who “lay aside the glory that was his” to spend his life as a companion of the poor—they bend their knees, marveling at the sight of him and of his mother. They praise God for keeping the age-old promise to send the prince of peace. Mary marvels in turn, and, the gospel says, “she treasured their words in her heart.”

Later, when Jesus is a teenager and astonishes the teachers with his wisdom, Mary will have cause to ponder the mystery of his person again. And the mystery deepens as Jesus begins his teaching ministry in Gallilee. At the foot of the Cross, Mary’s contemplation of the Word in her son reaches new depths of mysterious and agonizing awe.

In the third week, we ponder with Mary the Word in action in the ministry and teachings of Jesus, a Word that speaks of radical faithfulness to the ultimate and absolute claim of God upon his life. How might these texts intersect with your own life and faith this Advent?

Luke 2:15-19

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:41-52

\41Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Luke 11:27-28; Luke 8:18-21

11:27While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” 28But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

8:18Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” 19Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 21But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.

John 19:25b-27

25And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

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Week Four

 The Word in the Church

The Acts of the Apostles is a chronicle of the life of the early Christian church as it takes root and grows in the Mediterranean world after the resurrection of Jesus. Although the gospels say little about Mary overall, she is expressly mentioned as being at the heart of the early church with the other disciples in the upper room, after Jesus’ farewell on the Mount of Olives. There, with Jesus’ inner circle, she waited and prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Together they devoted themselves to pondering, to fellowship, and to breaking and sharing the bread of the Eucharist—the bread her son called “his body.”

Subsequent tradition would call her “the mother of the church,” which is (as St Paul would say) Christ’s body. But the most important thing about Mary is that she was the first disciple, a faithful follower all her days, and spent her remaining years—or so we imagine—the same way she lived her early life, turning over in her heart the meaning of God’s Word of promise. This is what the church is all about—a communion of disciples pondering God’s Word of promise and embodying it in our daily lives through love and service, in imitation of Jesus, and with boundless hope.

In the fourth week, we contemplate Mary at the center of the community, modeling hope, breaking bread, and still following her son through a faithful life in the church. How might these texts intersect with your own life and faith this Advent?

Acts 1:12-14

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Acts 2:43-47

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


Images:

Annunciation, John Collier

Annunciation, Edward Frampton

Annunciation, Jean Hey

Annunciation, Antonello da Messina

 

 

 

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