Contemplative Moment in Lectio Divina.
In his book “The Way of Paradox” the Spiritual writer Cyprian Smyth reminds us that in our Catholic tradition there are two paths to the Contemplative moment. He describes it in terms of a journey to the top of a mountain…where God waits to meet us. There are two ways to the top: the direct route, up the rock face; or the indirect way, that follows the meandering path. Both are valid.
In the “direct way”, we go to into the presence of God by “switching off,” as it were, from ordinary everyday life, people and situations. It is the experience of “withdrawing” physically, mentally and emotionally from the world around us and coming to an inner silence which disposes us to encounter the presence of God at the top of the mountain. If we go into God’s presence via this “direct path” it is imperative that we come back down via the “meandering path,” and as we do so, recognizing the presence of the same God in ordinary events, happenings and encounters in the life of the world around us. This is crucial because the greatness of our Catholic Christian tradition is precisely its stress on the presence of God within life, within people, within nature – the truth of God incarnate.
The other option is to journey to the mountain top and into the God’s presence via “the meandering” path. On this path we enjoy experiences of God’s presence along the way – recognised in ordinary everyday events and happenings – in “the beauty of the surrounding hills, the valleys, the mountain streams, the wildlife…etc” The danger with this indirect route is that we might linger and loiter so much along the way, enjoying God’s presence as we go, that we might never actually reach the top of the mountain. And yet reaching the top – the Contemplative Moment – is an experience that God desires for all his children.
The experience of the contemplative moment in Lectio Divina is clearly the fruit of journeying on the meandering path.
The beauty of Lectio is that we come to the contemplative moment, at the end of a long meandering path which involves reading, meditation and prayer, in which we recognize God’s presence in ordinary life, ordinary people and everyday situations. There is no shift of consciousness necessary: no need to switch off “this world” in order to switch on to God’s presence. We come into the presence of God from where we are – rooted in the realities and issues of family, neighbourhood, society, nation, and world.
In the context of a Lectio Community this contemplative moment describes a point that you come to on your journey with the passage. After journeying for so long with words – at the reading, meditation and prayer stages – we now find ourselves naturally quietening down and the silence becoming longer and deeper, as we are drawn more and more into the presence of the God, whom we have encountered in the passage, and in the various offerings and prayers that we have made. This loving God, whose presence has been “hidden or concealed” in the various events, happenings and encounters that we have celebrated in our meditations, now comes to the fore, and takes over, and draws us to himself.
The words become fewer and fewer and the presence of God becomes stronger and stronger until we come to a point where there is no longer any need for words, and we find ourselves simply resting, trustingly, in the presence of God, allowing ourselves to be held and carried by the loving “embrace” of God.
Some find it helpful in dealing with ‘distractions’ to allow one or two words from the passage, that have become special for us, and in many ways sum up our experience of God’s presence in the passage, to act as a ‘mantra’ that keeps us focussed on this presence. Repeated over and over in the quiet of our hearts the mantra draws us into deeper and deeper silence until we no longer need to say “our word” anymore, and the awareness of the presence of God can take over completely.
Like children who have played and worked all day in the knowledge of the presence of a loving parent, we are now ready and content to be picked up and held by the parent and to rest in his/her loving embrace. Or you might compare it to the experience of becoming captivated and absorbed in the beauty of the setting sun in whose light and warmth we have moved all day. This is the contemplative moment.
This moment is always gift of God: we cannot force it or make it happen. All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive this gift. This is precisely what Lectio Divina offers us: it can bring us to the edge of the “lake”, and if we find ourselves carried out onto “the water”, this is always God’s doing.
Some Lectio traditions speak of the contemplative moment as a fourth stage in Lectio, but in its most primitive tradition it was celebrated as another form of oratio or prayer. This makes sense because there is a contemplative element in all the earlier forms of prayer – Thanksgiving, Repentance and Petition – an experience of trust in God’s presence and God’s love. What happens in the contemplative moment is that this “God dimension” comes to the fore, and becomes the dominant reality, holding and absorbing us.
The experience of contemplative moments nurture in us a contemplative attitude which is the ideal of the Christian life – to live in the midst of the world with an attitude of trust that God is there, that God’s love is there, that God is at work in our lives and in the life of the world, moving everything towards wholeness and harmony.
It is important that we are able to talk about this “moment”, to recognize it, welcome it and celebrate it, not boastingly but humbly, accepting that being in God’s presence is part of our birthright as children of God