Centering prayer does not work; Lectio Divina does not work; there is not a spiritual practice on the planet that “works.”
We know when something “works,” right?
When you sit down with family…
(the people who know you BEST!)
…on the best day of the year…
…you open that perfect gift…
(What is your perfect gift? An iPhone? iPad? Xbox? Playstation?)
The second you open that gift you know it “worked.”
The present gave you overwhelming joy, the feeling of love and appreciation, happiness beyond happiness. This is how we know something “works.” Something is doing its job and fulfilling our every need when we experience joy and stop experiencing “want” or “need.” We know when something works!
Lectio Divina, centering prayer and other spiritual practices are so counter cultural to that message of happiness and joy that comes with the opening the best Christmas present. We do not expect a Christmas morning experience with Lectio Divina. I know it is not something I look for or expect to happen. In fact, I expect nothing…and I am content with nothing. (Well…I practice being content with nothing…)
As a requirement for my United Methodist History class, I prayed with Lectio Divina six days a week for nine weeks. I choose my iPod as my starting point. First, I created a playlist on my iPod and named it daily prayer. Using my iPod had a few advantages: I could adjust my time in prayer by adding or deleting songs, it allowed me to clip the beginning or ending of audio tracks, and if I fell asleep in the midst of prayer (oops!) I could stay asleep because the end of a playlist means the end of all iPod generated sounds! Nine weeks ago, my playlist contained three tracks: a piano solo, Lectio Divina when in doubt by Rev. Todd Spencer, and finally O Lord Hear My Prayer by Taizé Community Choir. Every Monday I delete the old Lectio Divina Podcast and replace it with the new one.
Having it on my iPod made it easy for me to make adjustments. For instance, I found that I was uncomfortable moving straight from Lectio Divina to O Lord Hear My Prayer, there was not enough transition time between the two. To fit my needs, I added Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation by Sounds for Life between the two tracks. Only to discover that the Tibetan Singing Bowls were too loud, (especially if I had drifted off to sleep! Ouch!). Luckily, this is an easy fix in iTunes; I just turned the volume of this track down. Unfortunately, adding the Tibetan singing bowls made my total time in prayer too long. iTunes allowed me to cut out some of the singing bowls, which was enough of an adjustment to the time. I think the ability to make small adjustments like this made the assignment more manageable and enjoyable.
As the weeks went on, I also adjusted what I did while praying. I tried an assortment of activities while listening: I walked or sketched, sometimes I followed along with the text, and occasionally I would journal or blog after praying. Some of these adjustments grew out of impatience, others out of the need for a better fit. For instance, I often had a hard time focusing. Suddenly, I would catch myself planning, scheduling or thinking about homework. However, when I read the scripture while listening to it I could focus with ease. This adjustment fit my spirit. On the other hand, drawing had the opposite effect. I can draw OR I can listen, I cannot do both at the same time! Two things that were most helpful were blogging and journaling in response to the time I spent in prayer. Every time I responded in some way, it was a deeper more meaningful experience.
Journaling or blogging was important whether in the form of a written prayer or a quick sketch (which worked just fine after listening to the text!). This assignment led me to the discovery that I need to respond in some way, it is not a place for me to receive something; instead, it is a time for me to join in conversation with God.
Relationship, Growth, and NOT Christmas
What did I get out of it? Let’s be real…it was never anything like Christmas morning! There was not a moment when I was suddenly overwhelmed with joy and happiness because of this newly opened gift. Spiritual practices, including Lectio Divina, do not offer the instant fulfillment our culture has grown to expect from Christmas Day. We often believe that change must happen in a “WOW!” moment. The tradition of Lectio Divina exists in a world that moves much slower. We slow down to enter into that world. Growth…from baby…to child…to wise adult, takes decades, not a moment or two. This ancient practice seeks to remind me to slow down. It holds me lovingly in God’s hands and gives me the courage and confidence to grow and learn. It is a slow process.
I did not experience Christmas morning but I did find time and space to think about what was works and what doesn’t. I cannot draw and listen at the same time, but I can read and listen. I can rest or walk away when I am done, but putting effort into responding is an important part of growing my relationship with the One that is always inviting me closer. So, no Christmas morning, no dramatic change…but day after day, year after year, decade after decade, I am shaped by God.
P.S. As an interesting addition to my practice of Lectio Divina this quarter: For an (unrelated) history course we created projects in groups. A member of the group suggested that we create a project on Lectio Divina. So, by a random coincidence I also studied the history of Lectio Divina AND had the opportunity to have a few conversations with other students/pastors. What a great experience :-) Anyway, here is one video that we created for our project. (We also created a Google Site: Lectio Divina)