Lectio THEN (June 1, 2009)
“like a tree planted near streams” (New Jerusalem Bible)
I feel like I’ve been more like a tree planted in the flood plains of the Kalahari Desert of Africa. I tend to have times of intense growth, and then once I’m full (for the moment) lapse into dry seasons, seasons of drought and near starvation. I wish I had healthier “eating” habits, with more frequent meals where eating less help keep me more satisfied so that I don’t overeat at one meal, then skip the next meal, then overeat again, and so on to the deterioration of my health.
As I imagined being transplanted from the desert to God’s backyard, I could hear God telling me that I needed to be pruned. I asked if this is what has been happening to be for the past year. She said yes. Being far away from the context and climate that has shaped my identity has provided the opportunity for God to prune all the wild growth – the spindly branches and twigs, all the attempts to make myself look or be a certain way in response to my environment. As a result, my “self” as tree is wild and unruly, without shape or definition. By being pruned, sunlight is allowed to reach the places that have been hidden and the fruit that lies dormant there will have room to grow. The fruit is for the health and nourishment of others, which is what I really want.
For a while now I’ve been wondering if it is possible to be in a great deal of emotional pain, and yet be spiritually healthy. I feel I may have stumbled upon an answer here. It’s like Rilke says, in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Try to love the questions themselves… do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them… At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
I know that I can trust the Holy Spirit as she goes about her work, pruning me in the garden. After watching her take such loving and gentle care of my dry bones yesterday, I know that while the pruning may be painful, it is done with the utmost love, care and gentleness.
I pray that I would be able to submit to that pruning with joy, knowing that it is God’s active love and care for me. I pray that my desire to be steeped in God’s word and in prayer would continue to increase, that it would go down deeply and take root, transforming me at the very core of my being.
Lectio NOW (September 27, 2010)
“its leaves never wither” (New Jerusalem Bible)
I love this Psalm. It’s a great one for the designation of “number one”. What an image: “like a tree planted near streams; it bears fruit in season and its leaves never wither, and every project succeeds.” Most of the time when I read this Psalm or hear it being read, my mind dwells on that image of the tree, with roots that grow deep and are continually watered. It is a big tree, healthy and strong.
Verse two of the psalm says that one “who delights in the law of Yahweh” is like this tree. One way of delighting in the law is to immerse oneself in Scripture. And I think to myself, if only I could be like that tree, and discipline myself to have those streams of life constantly flowing over my roots! What a good person I could be then!
This time around, however, I was attracted to something else: “its leaves never wither”. And I was still thinking about those roots being bathed in the stream, and how the leaves would indeed wither without being watered and how they fall before their time during dry spells.
But the leaves! What about the leaves themselves? Are they only the byproduct of a healthy tree where the roots do all the work? Of course not – the leaves have their own job and part to play in the health and wellbeing of the tree. They gather the rays of the sun and produce energy for the tree. The roots would die themselves if there were never any leaves. A tree needs both roots and leaves.
While it is good and necessary to be rooted in Scripture, alone, it is not enough. We must also be people of prayer. People who sit still and gather the energizing, life-giving rays from God. The ancients knew this of course. The twin practices of Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer go hand in hand.
I have at times been better at practicing one or the other regularly. But not both. And in this reading I feel drawn to accept the invitation to find a way to integrate both into my regular daily practice. It’s hard. I’m not really a creature of habit. I struggle to maintain routine, and at the same time I crave it.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the image in the first psalm, of a tree whose roots are watered and whose leaves do not wither. This is “the way” that the psalmist points those who would be “blessed”. And so for me the way is clear: Lectio AND centering prayer.
God, I feel you drawing me closer to you through this practices, but you know I can’t do it without you. And so I pray for the desire to pray, and I pray for the desire to be immersed in Scripture. I pray that the words of this psalm would go down deep into my heart and transform me, so that I might be like the tree that comes from the mustard seed in the Gospel of Matthew: “it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (13.32)
What do you hear in this psalm today?