Abbot Philip: The Practice of Lectio Divina

"The Road to Christ in the Desert, I" by Bob Baker
“The Road to Christ in the Desert, I” by Bob Baker

It’s been a busy spring for me and postings here have been less regular, but you are constantly in my heart where ever you are!–Rose

Reflections from Christ in the Desert monastery’s Abbot Philip on the practice of Lectio Divina:

I have been reading the Gospel of Matthew for my lectio. Lectio is part of the monastic way of life. It is a slow and prayerful reading of the Scriptures. In our Benedictine tradition, this practice of the slow and prayerful reading of the Scriptures is fundamental. The purpose is to know the Scriptures profoundly and this can take place only over a long period of time. This type of knowledge of the Scriptures is focused on encounter with the Word and no on some form of academic knowledge. It requires a daily commitment on the part of the monk. At Christ in the Desert we have a small booklet that we call our Customary.

It sets down for the monks some of the things that we do and sometimes how to do them. Regarding Lectio, the Customary tells us that a monk must strive to spend at least a half hour each day in silent prayer and at least one hour each day in this practice of prayerful reading with a focus on Scripture.All of us who have been monks for a number of years know that it is easy to avoid praying and to avoid reading Scripture. It sounds so easy at first.

At many levels it is easy. But to make a commitment for the rest of my life to read Scripture every day in a slow and prayer way? That takes strong will power. In our community, it is one of the important areas in which a monk must be formed. We all recognize that daily perseverance in this practice does indeed deepen our relationship with the Lord and our understanding of His word. There is no other way than to begin and to stay the course.Over the years I have been more or less faithful to the practice of Lectio.

In some of the seasons of my life, I have been deeply faithful. At other seasons, I have been lukewarm—but knowing that I needed to return to the faithful practice of Lectio. In the years when I have been superior of the community, at times I did not find time to do Lectio and still have time to do all the other things required of me. As I grow old in this task of leadership, there is more time available to me because I have delegated lots of the things that I used to do. Slowly I returned to a more or less regular practice of Lectio.

The way in which I have struggled with Lectio is typical of most of the struggles of my spiritual life. In my youth, I had lots of energy and enthusiasm for the spiritual life. Then I lost a lot of that energy and enthusiasm and yet kept on trying. As I mature in these later years of my life, I find the energy and enthusiasm are returning little by little as long as I keep trying to do what is right.At times I have felt that my life was useless—even though from all outward ways of looking at my life, it seemed fine. Inside I knew the struggles to remain faithful. I preached about the ideals of the spiritual life and yet found myself totally abandoning them or avoiding them.

I have written these letters now for almost twenty years and at times I felt a complete fraud because my personal inner life was in turmoil. Because of my awareness of the tradition, however, I had an obscure understanding that perseverance would finally help me. So I continue to persevere. Over the years I can honestly say that prayer has sustained me and that Lectio continues to feed that prayer. I am not yet completely consistent in praying and doing Lectio every day—and by that I mean private prayer. I am almost always present for the public prayer of our community here at the Monastery. When I was young, however, I was told right from the beginning of my monastic life: if you are not faithful to private prayer, your public prayer will become empty in time. I think that is true.

What I come up against, over and over, is my own resistance to being faithful, even when I know that I live better when I am faithful. The spiritual battle, for me, is often just overcoming this resistance within me and doing what I know will truly give me life. In that sense, my spiritual life is a choice of my intellect and will and is not about following how I feel. If I feel good in prayer or in Lectio, that is fine. However, if I do not feel good in prayer and in Lectio, that also is fine and I must commit myself to this faithfulness. I am a lot more faithful both to private prayer and to Lectio now than I was in my younger years. I still keep working at being faithful because it is a commitment that brings me life.

Read more from Abbot Philip’s Notebook.

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