Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Change for the Better

Prayer is an integral part of the Christian’s journey toward a real, personal relationship with God. God gave us the gift of prayer because of His desire to love us and abide with us, but I must admit that there are times when prayer doesn’t seem like much of a gift. On the first page of Dr. Tim Gray’s book, Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, he cites a quote from C.S. Lewis which grabbed my attention:

Well, let’s now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish…And we know we are not alone in this.

Maybe my experience of sitting down to pray and immediately becoming fidgety, distracted and nervous was not so uncommon. I was stuck on how to move from the desire for deep prayer, to actual conversations and experiences of God’s presence. I knew I needed direction and structure in prayer in order to grow in my relationship with God and in holiness.

Praying Scripture for a Change instructs the reader in the practice of lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”), an ancient method of prayer developed in monasteries. Through the practice of lectio divina, countless Christians throughout the centuries developed intimate connections with God in prayer. Dr. Gray emphasizes that “the normative way God speaks to his people is through His Word, especially in the Holy Scriptures,” which are not bound by time. God’s Word is personally addressed to each one of us, to the intimate details of our lives. The timeless and personal nature of Scripture “opens up for us the other half of the dialogue of prayer.” This is truly a secret of the saints and their close connection with God. As St. Augustine wrote, “When you read the Bible God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God.”

Lectio divina consists of four steps or stages that naturally build on one another: the careful reading of Scripture (lectio), meditation or a deeper reflection on what emerged during the reading (meditatio), a dialogue of prayer with God where one expresses the movement of one’s heart during meditation (oratio), and contemplation “which is the experience of God marked by joy and peace” (contemplatio). In a metaphor taken from writings by Guigo, a Carthusian monk, Dr. Gray compares lectio divina to a four-rung ladder reaching to heaven. Guigo believed that if a soul ascended the four rungs of the ladder (lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio) in the proper order then the ladder would lead that soul to heaven.

Praying Scripture for a Change is set apart from many other books I have read on prayer because it puts a heavy emphasis on application. Each “rung” of the lectio divina ladder has its own chapter in which Dr. Gray gives detailed examples of how to read Scripture, squeeze out the best parts for meditation, go before God in prayer about the parts of our life that are touched on in the passage, and finally, how to receive the gift of contemplation: God’s loving gaze which brings such joy and peace.

In the last chapter, Dr. Gray adds a fifth “rung” to the lectio divina ladder: operatio (Latin for “work”). In order for lectio divina to “bear fruit that lasts (John 15:16), it must result in a life of virtue. The Word must be “made flesh” again and again in our daily lives.” Our response to God and the movements of our heart that result from practicing lectio divina cannot be in word only. Dr. Gray gives a number of examples of “operatio” in his book, such as making a concrete resolution at the end of prayer time in order to live out God’s Word or concentrating on a particular virtue during the day, such as patience or kindness. Not only does “operatio” provide focus in striving for holiness in everyday life, but it also cultivates humility; in noticing our imperfection concerning these resolutions and virtues, we understand more and more how much we need God’s grace and guidance in His Word, in prayer, and in the sacraments.

Before reading Praying Scripture for a Change, I tried to practice lectio divina with very little information and as a result, very little fruit. Now that I know the “rungs of the ladder” and have Dr. Gray’s excellent examples, I am much better able to practice lectio divina; God’s word has become a foundation for my prayer, my experience of God’s love in quiet moments, and resolving to live virtuously. I know that I am still in the beginning stages of cultivating a deep and fruitful prayer life, but now I have the structure and direction I need to be even more open to God’s grace through His Word and prayer using the practice of lectio divina. If you are looking for direction and depth in your prayer life, spend some time reading Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina. With God's grace, Holy Scripture, and a little bit of help from Dr. Tim Gray, you will surely grow in prayer and in holiness.

This review was written as part of the Catholic Book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina.


Anonymous said...

I think I should read that book! My prayer time has been poor to nonexistent... :( ~kara

Anonymous said...

The latin derivatives are so beautiful - that in itself draws me to the "rungs of the ladder". I pray in ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplications. Listening to God, by Marilyn Hontz, advanced my relationship with the Trinity.

Well written review!