// joined-up thinking (2)

I’ve blogged before about Lectio Divina, the ancient practice of “divine reading” (read about it here), and this afternoon gave us a chance to practice it all over again as an intern team. Eugene Petersen describes it as follows:

Lectio Divina comprises four elements: lectio (we read the text), meditatio (we meditate on the text), oratio (we pray the text), and contemplatio (we live the text)… Reading (lectio) is a linear act, but spiritual (divina) reading is not – any of the elements may be at the fore at any one time.

There’s still something beautifully simple in that, in that straightforward adjustment of your mental processes to look differently at a situation. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul prays similarly that the Ephesians will have the “eyes of their heart enlightened”, and there’s a lot to be said for that; sometimes you need your eyes opened to simply look differently at a passage or situation. It’s very easy to fall into seeing things a particular way, or even (especially when you work for a church) to stop viewing Scripture or time with God as sacred in any way, shape or form…

The past month or so i’ve been working on “practising the presence of God” – a phrase that was coined by the monk Brother Andrew, who famously spent much of his life working in the kitchens of the monastery in which he was resident – and it amazes me the tangible sense of stillness that i feel when i actively decide to focus on the presence of God with me, right now. Well, why not? God declares that He “will never leave us nor forsake us”, and if He’s true to His word then that means that His presence is with us right now; we may not be able to feel it, necessarily, but that doesn’t change the truth of that fact. So, with that knowledge in mind, it’s possible to view any moment as sacred – we are those who have been invited into God’s presence, and that’s a truly incredible fact.

What really struck me today was putting that theory into practice in the outside world, though. Lectio Divina i’ve done before, and sure, it’s an amazing practice; it’s always astonishing to see the way in which God speaks to and through a range of people, bringing out nuances and subtleties that you’d never noticed before. But today our speaker encouraged us to take it out into the streets; to look for the ways we can see God’s presence evidenced in creation as we walked throughout the centre of Oxford, to see the metaphors and images sketched all over this world which tell of Him and His character. The Psalmist puts it like this in Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard…

I love the idea that every moment has the potential for holiness, gratitude, and awe. Don’t you? If Lectio Divina is all about choosing to look differently, and if practising the presence of God is all about choosing to acknowledge (and rest in) what is already true, then what that means is that is possible all the time; it’s just a case of learning how. Of learning what it means to still yourself, to slip out of habit and see things the way they really are. Our group walked through Oxford today and came back with bright eyes, having looked differently at things they’d seen a million times before, and in doing so having seen the limitless potential for this practice; the way in which it provides a doorway to wonder in all we do and see. “Open my eyes, that i may behold wonderful things in Your law”, the Psalmist declares elsewhere, and that’s a great prayer to pray as we start out each day; the author Brennan Manning said something similar in his cry of “I asked not for perfection; only give me wonder”.

It’s not the answer to all our problems, true, but it does get you thinking. It gets you thinking about how much you take for granted, or simply rush past on your way elsewhere. It gets you thinking of how easy it is to get through life without acknowledging God, or thanking Him for all that He’s done, or even being aware that He is at work at all. And it gets you thinking about how much more there is to see if you started looking for it…

“Lord, open my eyes that i may behold wonderful things in Your law.”

    • mark simpson
    • January 13th, 2010

    Lovely blue-sky thinking.

    How about your class take a walk round devastated Haiti with your wonderous smiles on?

    Stand amongst the emergency service workers and declare “look for the ways we can see God’s presence evidenced in creation”…

    It was not leafy Oxford that inspired Brother Lawrence’s trust in God’s providence, it was a tree stripped bare of its leaves. Life, barely, raw and cold and harsh. This is where God was to be found – through and in the pain and labour of daily serving “for His sake”. This was where BL’s unrivalled joy came from, in the pain and harsh reality of life, away from the comforts that so often sheild us.

    Even in his death, BL asked that he not be shielded from the pain of his condition, turning onto the side that would bring more agony, for the love of his Saviour.

    Why did your team not return in tears? Did they not see the homeless? The berieved? The abused? Those trapped in dead-end jobs or unemployment? Those shackled by drugs, drink and other addictions? Those dealing with marriage, sexual, and relationship anguish? Those parents who grieve daily over children taken from this life so far too early? Those struggling silently with eating disorders, lack of self-esteem, abusive relatives, friends and workers?

    Oh, dear God please, please help us to “slip out of habit and see things the way they really are”…..


    • Tom
    • January 15th, 2010


    You’re right, of course. I would say that it’s difficult to capture the whole range of experience in one short piece, though, and i am aware that this is just a record of subjective experience, rather than a detailed exposition of how we relate to the world. (I hope i’ve counterbalanced this elsewhere.) But i am like you- i am too acutely aware of those things that you mention, and much of the time i have to force myself to feel joy at the world around. Much of life is in learning to suffer as Christ suffered, but wouldn’t you agree that joy is a necessary method of sustenance in the midst of the darkness?

    I am acutely aware of the darkness- but i also find myself having hold on to the fact that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. Surely we have to hold onto that, or we lose all possibility of redemption, in this life at least? It’s difficult to look at the world without cynicism or bleakness- like things don’t have any hope. But isn’t there any value in looking past the way things are to the way things were originally designed to be?

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