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Posts Tagged ‘Lectio’

Continue to Complete

 

 

It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?  Or maybe that’s just Paul.  Whatever you call it, the phrase “continue to complete” is what struck me on the first reading of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 1.4-6, 8-11.

 

My first thought was that on the spiritual journey, we’re always striving for completion – not so much in the sense of being “finished” or “done”, but “fulfilled” and “made whole”.  That can seem a little depressing, to always be working at something that is never finished.  There’s such wonderful satisfaction in finishing a long worked-on project.

 

Ah, but I am not the doer of the action.  It is not for me to do the completing.  “The One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it”.  Well, that’s a bit of a relief.  At least I’m off the hook for getting it all finished before “the day of Christ Jesus.”  Sort of.

 

Then Paul gets to the actual substance of his prayer: “that your love may increase ever more and more”.  Most of us are keenly aware of the power of love, and the power of love to hurt.  Having your heart broken can understandably make you reluctant to open your heart up to love and trust again.  From this perspective, Paul’s prayer sounds more like a threat.  The more you love, the more you can get hurt.

 

Maybe.  But as the capacity for love grows within us, it not only enlarges our hearts, but it transforms them.  And many of the things that used to cause us pain, no longer affect us in the same way.  We are no longer so easily offended as our compassion for others becomes our primary concern, rather than the maintenance of our egos.  As we continue in this way, we are less susceptible to being tossed around by circumstances, and increasingly at peace during even the most troubling times.

 

As I began the prayer portion of Lectio, I first was thankful that I didn’t have to do all the work myself.  With not a few over-achiever tendencies, I can fall easily into the me-do-it-myself rut.  My next thought, after being thankful that I don’t have to do it myself, was something to the effect of “because I’m worthless on my own”.  And right then I stopped myself.  That’s nonsense.  Because I am, because I am a creature of God, I am not worthless.  Honestly, that’s hard to admit.  I believe things I do are worthwhile and valuable, but as a person I struggle with my sense of self-worth.  It’s one of my greatest doubts.

 

What does it mean to be “complete” then?  I think it means to have the very heart of God, and if God is literally full of love and compassion, God must also then be completely devoid of ego.  No wonder God is so good at forgiveness.

 

And that’s when a small miracle of transformation took place, right inside of my own heart.  Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, my heart grew a few sizes when it increased in capacity to love myself.  When it seems that so much hatred and fear is derived from the brokenness within ourselves, learning to love and forgive ourselves can go a long way to learning to have compassion and love for others.

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Lectio THEN: Psalm 10 (June 10, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“His speech is full of lies and browbeating, under his tongue lurk spite and wickedness”

What lurks in me?  The anxiety and dread: “He keeps watch crouching down low, the poor wretch falls into his clutches.”  This is what happens when I go into that cave from yesterday’s lectio, and I think I need to solve all my problems on my own.  But I can’t; the temptation to succumb to the lies and browbeating is too great.

“You give them courage”.  I need courage to trust you.  You tell me when I ask “Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant” that there is no distance between us.  I only need to remember you, to call my awareness to the present where you are and where you say “I AM” – I AM is a present tense verb.

I spend most of my time in the future, consumed with anxiety and dread.  When I see that cave, Lord, give me the courage to not go in and fall into its clutches.  Give me courage to call on you so that I may turn away, trusting you with the dark and scary things that lurk in that cave beneath the water.  Help me to develop and cultivate the habit of calling on you, and constantly remembering you.

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Lectio NOW: Psalm 10 (November 5, 2010) New Jerusalem Bible

Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant?

If I know someone is hiding, it makes me really nervous.  Even if I know who it is, and even if they’re a loved-one, and even if it is all in good fun, I’m still nervous.  It’s some deep, subterranean terror that takes over and all my rational faculties are powerless against it.  From there, it’s one tiny step from fear to anger.  When it is God that I sense to be hiding from me, it’s one tiny step from anger to apathy.

This psalm is full of contrasts between God and the wicked, distance and proximity, looking and hiding/turning away.  The opening question is so human, and so easy to identify with: Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant, stay hidden in times of trouble? Who has seen God come to immediate aid in times of trouble?  Maybe some of us, but most often we’re left asking why?

A bit further on, I’m stung by verse four.  The wicked in his arrogance does not look very far; “There is no God,” is his only thought. What is so striking to me is the contrast between the question in verse one about the ‘distance’ of God, and the wicked one who ‘does not look very far’.

Every contemplative (and wannabe-contemplative like me) will say that being aware is key to living a life in the presence of God.  Because God is always right here, but stuff (and other “s” words) gets in the way.  Seeing is a major human problem.

This psalm reminds me that my perception that God is hiding, isn’t the same as someone hiding who’s out to get me. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that God won’t try to trick us by giving us a snake when we ask for a fish (Matthew 7.10).  God does not aim to harm me.  But that’s what I accuse him of when I can’t see him.  Like the person whose eyes are only on his steps in verse five, I don’t see the judgment hanging right over my head.

And what is the judgment for me?  Am I a wicked one?  Sometimes, maybe.  I can certainly be arrogant, trying to do everything on my own.  And then God lets me try, and I bring judgment down on my own head, in sort of self-fulfilled prophecy.  If I act as though I am alone, then I will most certainly experience it to be true.

This psalm doesn’t give us any real closure by showing God finally coming to the aid of the oppressed.  It ends with a cry for justice, and maybe with an opportunity to choose a new way to see.

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Doh! (a la Homer Simpson)

 

This is the kind of thing that always happens to me, especially in light of yesterday’s Lectio.

I was just going along, doing something else completely unrelated, and I happened upon a sermon that I gave on Deuteronomy 4.1-14 entitled “From Law to Life”, in April of 2006.  Curious, I read through it.  And when I got to this section — Doh!

 

RETELLING HISTORY

The final section is a retelling of history for the benefit of the younger generation.  It is an affirmation of theological truth – Moses is in effect saying “these are things we know about God from our experience of God.  We have witnessed these things first hand, they are part of our lives, have shaped our identity as a people.”  In our own lives, this process of affirmation of theological truth, is the most centering, prayerful activity that we can engage in.  It acknowledges that God’s truth is the ultimate reality.  Not this construct of the world that we have developed as a coping mechanism.  We spend so much time, energy and emotion trying to exist in the “real world” that we forget to imagine what is really real.  Who do you know God to be?  What is the story of God in your life?  Maybe you’ve known God your entire life, and your experience of God is one of joy and life-giving abundance.  Maybe this whole God-thing is new and exciting and you’re just soaking up everything you can.  Maybe your life has been one of struggle, of trial, of pain, or doubting or apathy.  I think most of us come out with a mixture of all of these things.  Our lives are full of both joy and pain, both faith and doubt.

 

My first thought was “where were you yesterday when I needed you?”  But then I wondered if it would have done me any good, as I was convinced that I couldn’t just read through something previously set down, and that I had to go through the work of remembering in the moment of feeling down.

When this happens it’s kinda cool, kinda unnerving, and I find myself paying closer attention, and treading a little more lightly.

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First Experiment

One of the things I love most about Scripture is that it is ‘living’.  That sounds a little funny if you think about it.  But when I imagine that something is living, it means that it is organic and dynamic.  I am the same person I was ten years ago, but there are new aspects about my personality and my self that have developed simply by experiencing life.  And as I read and reread the same stories from Scripture at different points throughout my life, they take on new meaning and significance.  And so there is a relational quality as well, a give and take, as I enter into the story and it enters into me.

Over a year ago, I began reading and listening to the Psalms through the practice of Lectio Divina.  (I have described Lectio elsewhere, and perhaps I’ll post it here as well.)  I want to revisit those Psalms again now, over a year later, to see how they’ve continued to unfold and where they touch me now.

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