Today’s post is by Susan Forshey, PhD candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University, contemporary contemplative, amateur photographer, and my dear friend. She writes here about the ancient practice of lectio divina, a way of prayerfully reading Scripture – or life.
Walking up the hill, I came to a corner cottage with a second lot as its backyard. I found myself frozen in wonder, standing on the sidewalk, looking at a mature garden, the product of years and tender care.
Little rock paths threaded through beds for flowers and edibles. A fruit tree stood sentinel near a rustic shed. Everywhere, I saw loving touches: stones walls, statues half-hidden, little areas to sit and ponder. Even in its newly budding state, the love that emanated from it was a physical presence. It called up in my heart a longing so sudden & fierce, I found tears spilling down my cheeks.
That’s a good question and one for which I didn’t have an answer, so I did what I often do when some experience takes me by surprise and requests an audience: I practiced lectio divina.
Lectio divina means “divine reading” and is an ancient monastic practice traditionally used to reflect upon small sections of scripture in company with the Holy Spirit.
The movements of lectio divina are: reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. But rather than steps of a ladder, they dance together, swirling in and out, among and between. I think of them as the points of a tetrahedron, all connected and even simultaneously occurring.
Reading is simply reading. Over and over. Until something shifts and shimmers and you find you are mediating on it. At some point, you may ask God a question or God may ask you a question, and the dialogue of prayer begins. Contemplating is when the Holy Spirit pours out insight, the ah-ha moment, or a sense of joy, peace, or profound rest. To contemplate means to see with God, and since God is Love, to see with Love.
Any words, any situation, any work of art, anything, can become the text for reading. Life itself can be the entry point for practicing lectio divina, and I find it the best option when I have no idea what else to do or how to pray. It can be a way of seeing life with Love.
This past week, my experience of seeing the garden became my lectio text. I journaled about what happened, then I let the practice do its work: reading the experience, meditating on the parts that shimmered, and praying.
In meditating, I remembered that over a decade ago I had a little plot of earth behind my house where I planted wildflowers. It was the first time I’d tended a garden and I loved watching the shoots spring up and the riot of colors when they bloomed. Living in apartments for the past ten years, I’ve missed getting my hands in the soil and tending life.
While God and I talked about my desire for a real cottage and garden someday, we decided on a joy for now: some pots for my balcony, soil and wildflower seeds. Now I wait, in peace, for my own little garden to bloom.
This post is part of a Lenten series on spiritual practices that cultivate attentiveness to the presence of God.
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