Some time ago I started leafing through Lectio Matters: Before the Burning Bush, written by Mary Margaret Funk, a Benedictine sister in Beech Grove, Indiana. Lectio is an important part of the prayer rhythm called for in the Benedictine Rule of Life, and Funk describes sustained lectio divina as "an encounter with the living God within our loving hearts. This is our individual practice that prepares us for liturgy, selfless service, community life, friendships and an ecclesial way of being in the world. Sustained lectio divina is a way of life. Rather than an exercise that we do daily, lectio is what we do all day long."
Drawing on the methods of the ancient Alexandrian Catechetical School, sustained lectio is the approach she taught for years at the Beech Grove School of Lectio Divina. In her own summary:
Lectio divina is an encounter with God:
This encounter with God is to listen with the ear of your heart. Lectio divina is our burning bush. We take off our sandals and bow our brow to the ground: our being bows before the living God. We invoke the Holy Spirit to bring to mind our particular text to use for lectio divina in the coming months.
We linger with this text for months, or until another text rises from underneath our consciousness.
Funk, p 3
I was intrigued, as I have been increasingly conscious of the similarities between paying attention to the shimmer or tug of a word in lectio, of an experience during a daily prayer of awareness (consciousness examen), and of a visual when doing contemplative photography. All call for noticing with the inner eye or ear of our heart.
Funk emphasizes beginning by asking the Holy Spirit to show us our text. I wondered what my text would be if I tried this, but it was a busy time and I set her book back on the library shelf.
Some time later I realized that the text had chosen me. I kept encountering Luke 10:38-42, the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary. I returned to Lectio Matters and began drawing on Funk’s teaching.
After some months with this prayer approach, I began wondering how I could share some of what I was finding. It didn’t feel like a sermon or a book. I needed a bite-size format, something where I could explore one element at a time, put vague thoughts into words, and share it with others. So here we are, one tessera at a time, creating a mosaic of this encounter between Jesus, Martha, Mary, and myself. I expect that for some time these tesserae will be a random mix of the literal/logical (looking at language, history, culture, exploring what the text says) and the symbolic/intuitive (memory, imagination, creative play – exploring what the text says to me), depending on what I am drawn to work on in a particular week.
Tesserae are the small cube-shaped tiles of ceramic, glass, or precious stone that are used to make a mosaic. Over the next while, I will be creating verbal tesserae, short essays exploring different bits of my ongoing lectio divina on Luke 10:38-42, Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary. Eventually, perhaps, we’ll discover the mosaic picture these tesserae create.
First, a word about lectio divina, or divine reading. Lectio is a centuries-old practice for reading scripture prayerfully. We approach the text seeking to encounter the living Word, an encounter that shapes and transforms us. We read a short passage slowly, noticing a word, phrase, or image that stands out for us; we stay with that phrase, savoring it and letting it echo in our hearts and imagination; we respond with prayer interaction through words, thoughts, and feelings; we move beyond words to rest in God. (Check here for simple directions on this way of Praying with Scripture.)
I have done lectio in multiple ways over the years, sometimes reading a few lines of scripture in the morning, discovering a word or phrase that has echoed throughout the day. For several years, I regularly went to www.sacredspace.ie/daily-prayer, an online website whose gentle questions guide the reader through lectio with the day’s chosen passage. I’ve also done group variations, where a weekly fellowship group looks at a passage together. And the contemplative photography I have been sharing on this blog is itself a sort of lectio divina, with the text being God’s creation.
With this story of Martha and Mary, I have been doing a sustained lectio divina, a way of going deep with a text that I encountered in Lectio Matters: before the burning bush, by Sister Mary Margaret Funk, a Benedictine nun from Indianapolis. More on this in upcoming Tesserae.
Sharing tesserae from a sustained lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42
Tesserae: small cube-shaped tiles of ceramic, glass or precious stone used to make a mosaic, or in this case, brief essays on some element of lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42.