from ‘General to ‘Particular’ Light
The most challenging part in Lectio Divina is ‘Listening’
The practice of Lectio Divina involves three movements: I- Preparation II- Listening III- Putting into Practice.
The first part gives us the spirit in which we practise Lectio Divina. It takes little time but it actually permeates the entire process of Lectio. The third part is the goal of Lectio: by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we put into practice a Word we have heard from Jesus. On a practical level, experience shows that the most challenging part in Lectio is the second: “listening”, where by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we become capable of “hearing” and being touched by a practical word given to us by Christ.
Experience shows that the process of Listening is longer and more complex than we might think at first sight. It involves at least five stages:
1- Listening to Jesus’ word by reading in order to understand the text.
2- Listening to Jesus’ word by reading in order to discover Christ’s will.
3- Listening to Jesus’ word by reading until only one light is seen.
4- Listening to Jesus’ word by reading until the light becomes clear.
5- Listening to Jesus’ word by putting it into writing so we become more aware of the word received, and to have it ready to be put into practice (optional but recommended).
The various progressive phases of listening are normal for every human being, especially the need to read the text of Holy Scripture many times in order to compensate for our weak memories. In fact, for many today memory is very weak. This, however, was not the case a few decades ago, or even further back when culture was more oral and transmission was preferred through oral means and memory. Memory consequently grew stronger. When we read the passage about Mary: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19) we are faced with a time where memory was still capable of retaining information with great ease. In this light “pondered them” could be translated by: “often dwelling on them in her mind”, which means constantly repeating them in her mind.
This initial effort is dependent on a previous phase: to gather everything that happened and to “keep all” of it in the mind. This is the role of the memory.
“Listening”, next, is a listening “through”… listening to God who speaks through the words and facts of an event.
Stages 3 and 4 require great delicacy when listening.
Providing we listen carefully, with all our heart, the supernatural action of God, will cause his words to come alive and capable of “talking” to us. In this case some words in the two or three readings start to talk to us, all in one and unique light, as if alive. We are touched by one light, one meaning, for example, mercy, love, forgiveness, patience,… At this stage, stage 3, we are facing the supernatural action of God but we do not have a clear practical insight on what to do exactly. The notion received is two abstract, in the sense that it is too general.
The first temptation now is to take this notion and apply it by ourselves to an area in our life that needs it. This, however, constitutes our interference in the process of the descent of the Word of God in us.
As the drawing reveals, we ourselves can create a diversion in the normal course of the action of God’s Light, and we bring it down applying it to an area different to the area God wants to act upon.
Another much more common temptation is to first rejoice that the supernatural action of God has started – the proof is that the two or three texts are saying one thing – and secondly, at this point, not to progress toward a clear indication of God’s will received at the end of Lectio Divina. Some would think that this was a complete Lectio Divina, while others will remain with their hunger unsatisfied by not having seen anything practical emerging from their lectio, with no change of will being indicated and nothing practical to perform.
What has really happened is that Lectio has been brought to a halt in the middle of the stream of thought, and although a light is being offered, it is left hanging between heaven and earth. (see the diagram below)
Apologies for making the following comparison because it might seem very brutal and inappropriate, but if we stick to its real meaning it will help: when Lectio is stopped at this stage, Lectio is ‘aborted’, which means it fails to reach our will, where it fails to achieve fruition. Fruition, therefore, means to allow God’s light to descend until it reaches the point that God desires to touch in our will. This is the end of stage 4 (see diagram below).
More significantly this indicates that between where we are and the region God wants to reach, there is still some work to do in order to facilitate the way for the Light to descend. See in the diagram below the part that is left in darker blue:
The image of the motorcade will clearly illustrate this. When an important political personality is travelling, sometimes we have two sets of motorcycles opening the way for him or her. Similarly, we are not the Light, we do not direct the light. We just open the way for it, descending closer to our will that needs to be healed. Thus we humble ourselves, we beg and ask, being more attentive to Jesus’ whispering (remember Elijah’s gentle breeze), telling us what He wants to change in us. This entails another effort to be humble and beg being made to allow what is now already supernatural but too general, too abstract, to become precise, clear and practical. Only when the light has reached our will, indicating, first, a practical area that needs changing in our heart, may we then consider that fruition is in sight.
As a conclusion, therefore, when we practise Lectio Divina, and when we start to sense that the supernatural light of God is starting to appear, occurring when the two texts say the same thing, it is important not only to rejoice with gratitude, but to continue to open the way, humbling ourselves more and more, asking the Lord to tell us how He want to incarnate the word or light or indication He is revealing to us. Only humbling ourselves will open the way for Jesus’ Word to reach us, touch our will, heal us, challenge us, enflame us. Within reason, therefore, we should not stop Lectio until the grace of God has touched us.