One of the most difficult things in Spiritual Life is to explain what we are supposed to do in order to make Lectio Divina work.
In fact, often Lectio Divina doesn’t work, not because God or Jesus doesn’t want to speak to us, or the Holy Spirit doesn’t want to work in us! On the contrary, Jesus is dying to speak to us. But what we don’t know is: what exactly depends on us to make it happen, what we are supposed to do in order to make lectio work.
St. Teresa of Avila puts it in a nutshell: not knowing the difference in the way the Grace of God works between the general help and the particular help, makes our spiritual life lukewarm, makes lectio divina “abort” quite often. We are often lost between two extremes and can’t find the right measure in between. The extremes are: either to use great aggressiveness, overriding the grace of God and His freedom, acting in fact with an arrogant attitude. Or, to be too passive and fail to do what we are supposed to do! So, in the end, the Grace of God, or more precisely the personal and direct action of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t occur.
If we look at the drawing above, which shows our heart, immersed in the waters of our being, about to give itself to God, and also showing the surface of the water which is the limit between God’s being/freedom and ours, we will see illustrated three different ways to offer ourselves to God, three ways of interacting with God.
It is not uncommon for people to get the general light of God, which corresponds to the moment where the two or more texts are saying the same thing, although through different words, in different places in the texts. But the part of the journey that is paradoxically more difficult occurs, when crossing from this moment to the moment when a clear light causes us to really hear what Jesus wants from us. Why is this so?
One of the reasons is that the person, after having received the general light of the Word of God, switches to almost a more receptive mode, where most of the attention resembles a ruminating state, where the person is almost in a dreamlike state repeating the words that speak to him in each text while expecting the clear will of Jesus to pop up at a certain point, out of His pure grace.
The reality, by contrast, is that there is still an important part of the journey of the descent of the word of God in us that is as yet unfinished, that is, proceeding from (a) to (b)).
How do we go from (a) to (b)? From the general supernatural light to the particular supernatural light? From understanding that the Lord is talking about Mercy, for instance, as a general reality of the Gospel, to understanding that He is asking me to reconcile with a specific person?
Should I just continue to re-read the parts of the texts that now talk to me and wait until Jesus clarifies His request? It is most probable that nothing will happen because if this is done (i.e. switching to a more receptive attitude) we stop our collaboration with the Lord, stop showing our will.
It is as if the Lord needed a bit of encouragement to dare enter deeper within our being and point out the area He wants to heal. Lectio Divina – like any serious prayer – is an interaction between two beings, God and us, who each has his free will and is supposed to use it. If one stops showing his will and desire, it blocks the process! It is as if two persons were supposed to shake hands and one extended his hand to the mid-distance between them and the other, after having started to extend his hand, withdrew it before reaching the mid-distance. The two hands won’t meet, and in our case they won’t continue to work together – it is as if one ceased to collaborate!
The Lord will not continue to enter within us, because we are not allowing Him to do so! We are receptive, but this receptivity is passive and seems to have abandoned the aim of manifesting his own will. It is as if somebody went to see the doctor saying that he is wounded and happened to stop in the middle of the process of taking off his clothes to show the wound! How would the doctor then see the wound and apply the appropriate medicine to it? Will the doctor apply force and he himself remove the patient’s clothes? Not really! He will respect the reluctance of the patient to go further! This is in fact what is really happening! We stop in the middle of the process, thinking that by becoming more “receptive” we are really doing the right thing!
On the contrary, the desire and the intensity of the begging should increase! Not grabbing the word of God (say: Mercy) and directing it in our own way, but by directing our humble requests, face to face with the Word of God, in the right direction, namely, towards our will which is sick – in the direction of incarnation of that will.
It is by digging deeper within ourselves that we can open the way in us for the Word of God to come down, to continue its journey until it reaches the junction between the mind and the will! The word of God is supposed to point out in a certain area in our will what needs to be healed, changed and transformed on a particular day.
The temptation, however, is to unconsciously take a more spiritually comfortable attitude that will jeopardise the continuation of the descent of the Word of God in us toward our will.
Jesus himself said to the Pharisees: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31, Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17). He warned the Pharisees by saying: the persons who think they are doing well, don’t need Him. And here is the essential question that the practice of Lectio Divina reminds us of on a daily basis: are you spiritually healthy? Are you doing well? Are you ill? Are you blind? Often our attitude, or if you prefer the spirit in which we practise Lectio Divina, seems to say that yes, we are fine. This is the big risk we run when we practise Lectio Divina in a rather half-hearted way.
By faith, out of the mysterious and deep light of faith, we know that since God is God, pure, holy, immense, there must be in us (compared to Him) some dark area, some wounds that need healing, some things that need change. But we don’t see them yet! While we have this general light telling us that the will of God for us today for instance is “Mercy”, we don’t see how it applies in us! Jesus will not force himself on us, showing us what He wants to change! Faith tells us that some area in us needs healing and needs to learn mercy, needs to soften and be more forgiving, and welcoming, but we don’t know how and toward whom! Faith, true faith, tells us that we are blind; faith, true faith is pushing us in a renewed way today, out of our comfort zone, telling us that we are not fine, that we need Jesus!
We shift our attitude, from an attitude of sufficiency, to an attitude of need, dependency and indigence. We accept true vulnerability, the need for divine help and true change.
We can humble ourselves by switching our attitude from the Pharisee’s attitude (one who feels he is really fine and doesn’t really need anything in particular right now from God), to the attitude of the Publican, who has come face to face with his true self, devoid of lies, welcoming God’s light, as crude and harsh as it can be, because he knows that this is the source of possible healing. We can switch attitude, from the person who doesn’t need a doctor to the person who is in urgent and vital need of a doctor and for healing, from the self-satisfied Pharisee to the spiritually poor Publican who counts on God’s mercy.
Who begged for his life? The blind man in the Gospel. It was vital for him!
When I continue my Lectio Divina, what is my attitude? Am I focusing on my healer, Jesus, or I am just relaxing and spending some quality time with God? Am I dealing with the text, trying to figure out some message that is for me, or am I hardly able to bear my state and am asking for the mercy of God, for his healing and to show me my real illness!
Once the blind mean sees, he sees his own defect, his own lack, the space in him for Jesus.
Faith tells me that despite all the progress I might have made, I am still in need of starting today anew, and that I am a really blind person, a really ill person in need of Jesus!
This is the real question Lectio Divina pushes me to ask every day: am I in need of Jesus today or are we just nice buddies? Or a comfortable worshiper? Or just a scrupulous member of the faith who has to fulfil some sort of prayer routine just to feel that all is well?
The general help of the grace of God puts a switch into our hands every day, so we can move from the Pharisee attitude to the Publican attitude.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Humbling oneself is really in the hands of each human being! It is the heart of the art of spiritual life. We all need to learn this art!
“many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Mathew 19:30; 20:16)
Humble yourself before God and He will fill your heart. It is in your hands, within your capability, it is your decision! Gathering together your energy every day, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, this is within your capability, within your means.
Lord Jesus, show us the way to truly humble ourselves. Our Lady, help us and show us how we should even beg more once we start to see the supernatural light of God; open the way in us for the Word of God, to beg our Doctor to show us our wound by opening all our being without any condition or restriction. Show us O Mary, the journey into ourselves, the journey of descent, humbling ourselves, creating a greater space within ourselves for Jesus’ vital healing! Show us Our Lady how to renew it every day.
Remember, there are many passages in the Scriptures which give us the indication of the necessity to humble ourselves in order to receive the Grace of God, i.e. the particular help of the Grace of God, which is the personal and direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in us:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)
“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 and see Luke 14:11).
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has exalted the humble.” (Luke 1:52)
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)
“But He gives us more grace. This is why it says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”” (James 4:6)
“This is what the Lord GOD says: ‘Remove the turban, and take off the crown. Things will not remain as they are: Exalt the lowly and bring low the exalted.” (Ez 21:26)
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Ps 51:16-17)