Lectio Divina: A Word for Me
Once upon a time there were two sisters, Mary and Martha, who had Jesus as a dinner guest. Martha, a first century ancestor of Martha Stewart, created an impeccable meal. Mary created—well, Mary was a first century ancestor of couch potatoes and just sat at Jesus’ feet. Isn’t that how the story goes? For much of my life, at least, that was the story line of Luke 10:38-42, and it suited my thinking and lifestyle as I raised my family and pursued a number of very Martha-like jobs. (Child care provider? Mary’s need not apply.)
Things Changed for Me
I probably would have been content, albeit frazzled, to remain a 21st century Martha look-alike my whole life if two things hadn’t changed for me. First, I entered into a second phase of life that called for a less frazzled and simpler way of being, especially when I was diagnosed with health issues that required me to move to the slow lane. Second, I integrated the practice of Lectio Divina in my daily prayer, an approach that asked me to engage Scripture in a slower, more Mary-like way.
My paradigms of how to be a person of faith and in ministry no longer matched the person of faith and ministry I was growing into. I soon realized I needed to spend time in prayerful Lectio Divina with my old friends Mary and Martha.
A surprising thing happened when I dusted off this story and read it from a deeper, more contemplative place. I realized that there was someone else in this story: Jesus! Not only had I forgotten about the guest of honor all these years, I had never listened to what he had to say to Martha and to me: "Martha, Deb, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. Isn’t it time you two chose this better part?”
Scripture on My Heart and Mind
In my fatigue and my health concerns, I realized just how much I wanted and needed to hear Jesus say: “DEB has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Eventually, in my time of Lectio and prayer, that’s what I heard. Jesus was calling me to a more contemplative life, a time of sitting at his feet along with Mary. Even better, I realized that Jesus had never asked me to choose a Martha lifestyle or a Mary lifestyle in the first place; he was asking me to be Deb and to listen to him.
I spent the next month reflecting on this new way of looking at my life with Jesus. I also applied to the Benedictine Center’s School of Lectio Divina. What Scripture passage, if any, has been on your heart or mind? the School’s questionnaire asked me. No surprise, I answered Luke 10:38-42.
The School of Lectio Divina
I arrived at the Benedictine Center on a bright, chilly February afternoon ready to take on the School of Lectio Divina. I expected a great week. After all, I was a pro at this Lectio thing, and I would just kind of hone my skills and enjoy the time of continuing education the School provided me for my work as a spiritual director at a spirituality center. Surprise Number One: we would be working with one text and one text only during the week. Surprise Number Two: the Scripture passage that I had listed on the School’s questionnaire would be my text. We had the option of changing to something different, but were reminded, “The text chooses you.” So, I waited to see if another text would come forward and claim me for the week. Nobody showed up, except Mary, Martha, and Jesus. Once again, I sat down to chat with with my old friends through Lectio.
Sustained Lectio, that’s what we were doing. We studied, prayed, and pondered our passages over and over and over again. We discovered that Scripture spoke to us in different voices: literal, symbolic, moral, and the rare mystical voice. Listening for those different voices within the voices of Jesus and the two sisters pulled me ever deeper and more personally into the text, the Sacred, and myself than I would have thought possible. Daily we met with a spiritual director which gifted us with time to explore and ponder with someone else the insights we were gleaning from our study and prayer. We were welcome to spend time in the monastery library with different versions of Scripture and commentaries to get to know different expressions of our passages and the thoughts others have had on them. Being a lover of books, my times in the library were pure gift.
Comparing different versions of Luke 10, those subtle differences in expression, allowed me to hear beyond the literal words on the page and hear the moral voice, the voice of the text that spoke to me and my life personally. Verse 39 became my verse, my threshold into a new way of understanding my life as a contemplative in the making with Mary as my companion: Mary “seated herself at the Lord’s feet and stayed there listening to him.” Mary’s purposefulness and determination touched me profoundly.
A Word for Me
Questions and their answers came in a steady stream as I pondered Mary and me staying and listening at the feet of Jesus. What did I need? I needed the Martha voices in my life to be answered by Jesus, and I needed to stay listening. What did I want and need Jesus to say to Martha? Leave Deb alone! She’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing—sitting and listening to me. What did I need Jesus to say to me? I needed to him to tell me about his love for me which meant I needed to be there to hear his words. When I placed these questions and answers beneath the lens of my life, I realized that Martha and her words are symbolic of all that would try to coax me from being who I authentically am: a growing, maturing contemplative. Martha’s voice expresses all the voices that would attempt to shame the growing contemplative heart within me as lazy and unproductive.
The real joy of all this is that nobody has to agree with me and my Lectio! This is my word from Jesus, coming to me personally and privately to grow me in my walk of faith. Take a poll of one hundred people practicing Lectio with Luke 10, and there will be one hundred different words from Jesus. There is no one size fits all in Lectio Divina. But there is challenge. Knowing that the word I hear in Lectio is a living word, a word for me, means that I can’t just let it go. I need to listen to it, and even more I need to give it room to root and grow in my life so I can grow. I need the courage to change, to become more of who I am to be. So, I seat myself at Jesus’ feet like Mary and stay there listening, growing, and becoming more Mary and less Martha.
With Dr. Kathleen Cahalan
March 27 - April 1, 2020
The Benedictine Center of St. Paul’s Monastery's School of Lectio Divina adapts the ancient monastic riches of sustained lectio divina to contemporary people. Through an intensive retreat experience set in the rhythm of life at St. Paul’s Monastery, participants receive teaching about lectio, spend time meditating on a sacred text significant for them, have the opportunity for individual spiritual direction, and participate in reflective conversation with other participants.