Archive for the ‘Invitation to the Jesus Life – Johnson’ Category

The Attentive Listener and “lectio divina”

January 30, 2010

I’ve been working through some new-to-me concepts in Invitation to the Jesus Life by Jan Johnson. For the moment, I’m in Chapter Three, titled “Attentive Listener”. As I was reading, something jumped off the page, and I felt I needed to investigate more thoroughly. So, here we go…

Who knew a couple of Latin words could really expand my understanding of relationship with God and others? At first the words seemed fairly inconsequential on the page. I read lectio divina and thought little of it.  Then I realized this was something the author suggested Jesus might have used as a method of “reading people”.  In fact, the original sentence that caught my attention said “it was though he was practicing lectio divina on them: reading them, reflecting on them, responding to them, even resting in who they were” (Johnson, 47). I knew I didn’t understand those Latin words, so I thought I might try to get a handle on this one.

When I did a little research, I found something that really turned out to be a blessing. For those of you who are familiar with this practice which includes four parts, please check my information. I’m thankful to have found a written work translated out of Middle English into our modern English. I hope you find this blesses you as well.

The written work is by Guigo II, and its original title is A Ladder of Foure Ronges by the Which Men Mowe Clyme to Heven. Here is an excerpt from the work as published at this link.

When I was at hard at work one day, thinking on the spiritual work needful for God’s servants, four such spiritual works came to my mind, these being: reading; meditation; prayer; contemplation. This is the ladder for those in cloisters, and for others in the world who are God’s Lovers, by means of which they can climb from earth to heaven. It is a marvellously tall ladder, but with just four rungs, the one end standing on the ground, the other thrilling into the clouds and showing the climber heavenly secrets.

This is the ladder Jacob saw, in Genesis, that stood on the earth and reached into heaven, on which he saw heavenly angels ascending and descending, with God leaning upon the ladder. From the ascending and descending of the angels is understood that the heavenly angels delight us with much spiritual comforting and carry our prayers up to our Lord in heaven, where he sits on high, and bring back down from him the desire of our hearts, as is proved by Daniel. By God’s supporting the ladder is understood that he is always ready to help all who by these four rungs of this ladder will climb wisely, not fearing nor doubting that such a ladder will really help us.

Understand now what the four staves of this ladder are, each in turn. Reading, Lesson, is busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit. Meditation is a studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill. Prayer is a devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil. Contemplation is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour. Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels. Vnde querite & accipietis: pulsate et aperietur vobis. That is to say ‘Seek and you shall find: knock and the door will be opened for you’. That means also, seek through reading, and you will find holy meditation in your thinking; and knock through praying, and the doors shall be opened to you to enter through heavenly contemplation to feel what you desire. Reading puts as it were whole food into your mouth; meditation chews it and breaks it down; prayer finds its savour; contemplation is the sweetness that so delights and strengthens. Reading is like the bark, the shell; meditation like the pith, the nut; prayer is in the desiring asking; and contemplation is in the delight of the great sweetness. Reading is the first ground that that precedes and leads one into meditation; meditation seeks busily, and also with deep thought digs and delves deeply to find that treasure; and because it cannot be attained by itself alone, then he sends us into prayer that is mighty and strong.  And so prayer rises to God, and there one finds the treasure one so fervently desires, that is the sweetness and delight of contemplation. And then contemplation comes and yields the harvest of the labour of the other three through a sweet heavenly dew, that the soul drinks in delight and joy.

Having read this, I better understand the life flowing out of the practice of lectio divina. Johnson’s chapter emphasizes the blessing of “servant listening” (Johnson, 49). If one were to engage others in conversation with this practice in mind, I can only imagine the love that would be almost tangibly felt by the other person in that moment. I’ve read that we are a “time-poor culture” these days and that the most costly gift we can give another is our time! What if we really gave them our whole selves, our time, and our ears…

I can’t really touch on this subject without considering one other thing: our relationship with our God. Since lectio divina is intended to begin with Scripture, move through meditation, become active prayer, especially contemplative prayer, we cannot overlook our relationship with Jesus, with the Father, with the Holy Spirit. Oh, my! Our relationship with the Lord would be changed if we slowed down enough to touch on these four steps. Reading Scripture would certainly begin to show us who our triune God really is. Meditating on that Scripture and His character would infuse the truth, love, and power of our God into our heart, soul, and mind. Responding with prayer would add action, depth of relationship, even reality to our faith. Contemplation feels to me like the seal of our hearts. For some reason Psalm 119:11 comes to mind.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”  ~ Psalm 119:11


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