Not committing mistakes in what we say
“if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (James 3:2). What is the perfect man? The man who has synergy occurring perfectly, synergy between God’s action in him and his action. This means that he is purified and transformed in Jesus, so he became docile to the Holy Spirit: Jesus lives in him, so all what comes out of his thoughts, and of his mouth, is coming from this harmonious collaboration between Jesus and him.
This means that Lectio Divina transforms him, word by word, brick by brick, until Jesus becomes alive in Him and starts to move him with his Spirit.
Lectio Divina is meant to change the soul, act by act, part by part, step by step. One word after the other from Jesus transforms our being in Him so that He becomes alive in us. In fact each word received burns, transforms that part of the soul that produces that act into a ‘portion’ of Jesus himself.
“Perfection” is obviously expressed in all sorts of different ways, but the easiest and most palpable way to notice it is in speech. What comes out of the mouth, comes from the abundance of what is in the heart says Jesus (see Matthew 12:34). The speech reveals what is at the roots of the human being, his heart. The quality of the speech (and first thoughts) reveals the perfection of the person.
In his third advice to a religious “against the world” (the world with its thoughts and behaviour is considered one of the enemies of the soul), Saint John of the Cross quotes St James: “If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26) which is close to the initial quote: “if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (James 3:2), but he explains it saying: “This is applicable to the interior, quite as much as to the exterior tongue – to thoughts as well as words.”
From three tents to one Tent
The Mystery of the Transfiguration tells a lot about Lectio Divina.
Let us remember that the early christian liturgy took the Liturgy of the Word from the Synagogue (in the Sabbath) then added to it the Gospel and a letter from the New Testament. We have a trace of this structure in the actual Syriac Orthodox Church Liturgy. So this means, we have: one reading from the Torah (Moses) and one reading from the Prophets (Elijah) + readings about Jesus (Gospel and a letter from the New Testament).
When we listen to this liturgy, we have the impression that the three or more readings are three distinct texts, bearing three different messages. We tend to say with Peter: “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5) In fact, this is a clear indication of the sacramental challenge of the Liturgy of the Word. We need to ask ourselves: To whom are we listening? Why do we still have a reading from Moses and another from the Prophets (Elijah)? Do we have 3 texts, therefore three messages?
In fact the supernatural action of God during the liturgy of the Word is essentially led by Jesus himself.
Peter sees division, and offers to build 3 tents, according to his initial perception.
But then, the supernatural action of the Father happens: a Cloud will overshadow them, and the one and only voice of the one and only God the Father will be heard, and it will draw attention to Jesus only. “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Would this exclude Moses and Elijah? On the contrary, it will unify everything under one, and only one Tent: Jesus himself: “And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only”.
Here is how John will tell us about the Transfiguration: “And the Word became flesh and pitched his Tent among us, full of grace and truth; we saw his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).
So, the action of the Father is to ‘speak’ his Son to us and in us, to utter his Word (the Son) to us, asking us to listen essentially only to Him. The overshadowing of the Divine Luminous Cloud has this effect, to put us all under the only Tent of the Son. So, in the end, instead of seeing Moses and Elijah with him, we see only Him.
Even if we have two or three texts in lectio divina, in fact, it is one Light that we receive, one message, Jesus speaks to us.
We have everyday the same experience Peter had: initially seeing two or three texts, and finally, with the Power of the Holy Spirit (the Divine Cloud), seeing only Jesus, the only Divine Tent.
So the initial questions we asked ourselves have the following answers:
– To whom are we listening during the liturgy of the Word, when we read the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Prophets? – We are listening to Jesus. Because the Liturgy of the Word is about Him, wanting to speak to us.
– Why do we still have a reading from Moses and another from the Prophets (Elijah)? – We have them because the Old Testament is the Word of God, and as we see in Luke 24, there is a very important experience we need to have, by the Power of the Holy Spirit: Jesus opens our mind, and therefore enables us to see Him in the Old Testament: a Transfiguration of the Text of the Old Testament happens, and its letter (like Jesus clothes) is transfigured, and we start to see his Face in the text of the Old Testament.
– Do we have 3 texts, therefore three messages? – We have 3 texts, but only one message given by Jesus to us, one Tent remains: Jesus’ Tent, because He is the only begotten Son of the Father and He came to talk to us and give us his words that are Spirit and Life, Holy Spirit and Divine Life.
Become a “Doctor”
St James has this advice: “Only a few of you, my brothers, should be teachers/doctors, bearing in mind that we shall receive a stricter judgement.” (James 3:1) How does this apply to Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is not about accumulating knowledge on the Bible. It is not about knowing or studying the Bible. It is about listening to Jesus, through the Bible. The difference is huge. In extreme cases, one can have a Ph.D in Bible (Exegesis) and not be doing one single Lectio Divina.
One speaks to the mind only, left to itself. The other speaks to the will (all the person), through the mind. Of course it is better to have both, since it helps. But if the amount of knowledge exceeds the amount of “digested” light, it damages more than it helps.
The digested light is the light that we receive in Lectio and which becomes flesh in us. This is the listening process made complete (listening and putting into practice). The “non digested light” is the one we contemplate like in a mirror, and then leave it and forget: “Anyone who listens to the Word and takes no action is like someone who looks at his own features in a mirror and, 24 once he has seen what he looks like, goes off and immediately forgets it.” (James 1:23-24)
Becoming a doctor in a dangerous way is to accumulate knowledge without digesting it. It is like greed. One listens but no action is taken.
Lectio Divina reminds us of the correct use of the mind. It is not against learning, studying, but it just warns us, like St James, that the more we accumulate (like in greed) the more we have to give account. That word that we accumulate without putting into practice is already judging us.
Lectio Divina brings wisdom to a frenetic mind. The majority of us have a frenetic mind, wanting to know, but not applying what we learn. The Word of God, source of knowledge on God, on us, is not always used for that purpose: improving ourselves.
“The same tongue”
St James says: “the blessing and curse come out of the same mouth/tongue” (James 3:10). How does this affect our understanding and our practice of Lectio Divina? As we saw above there is an “inner tongue”, i.e. our mind produces thoughts. The mind (pushed by the will) is the main faculty that deals with the Lectio, in the sense that we need to have a clear understanding of Jesus’ will. The mind is sacred and should serve the lord…
What the mind and will produce (the inner tongue) require great attention from us and vigilance.
Our inner speech, our inner acts (acts of the mind and will) are very important. St James is inviting us to watch our acts, the roots of our acts. Only God sees our inner “tongue”… but our inner “tongue” is our judge: watch carefully how you judge things: if you have mercy, mercy will be done to you. The same way you judge people and things will be applied to you.
Great vigilance should be applied to the thoughts and inner acts that we produce and they should be full of God’s Grace: Mercy, Compassion, practising Spiritual Hospitality (receiving everybody, unconditionally, in our heart).