Lectio Divina Transformation
“CONSIDER THE RAVENS; THEY DO NOT SOW OR REAP, YET YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER FEEDS THEM.”
What was on my mind at that time was scarcity. Fear. Economic insecurity. In 2017, I lost my 27-year job as an office manager for an engineering consulting business when my former employer suddenly died. I was cut loose. In February 2018, when I was a participant in the School of Lectio Divina, I was trying to resolve the matters of my former boss’ Estate-- and dealing with an ocean of stress. Professor Kathleen Cahalan asked our class members, one by one, what are you trying to leave behind? I muttered something about the snarly Estate problems. Kathleen nodded in sympathy: Well, you have a lot on your plate, don’t you? I now know that it is rare, if not unheard of, that an Estate in Probate is all smooth sailing. I now know better.
Luke 12:24-30 was the Scripture passage that came to me, possibly in a dream, to meditate upon for five days. This citation was written in Kathleen’s large colorful script and pasted to the wall on a giant Post-it Note in the Benedicta Riepp Room, where we worked together for five days.
It was heavenly to enter into the sacred silence at the Monastery and almost forget about my problems. It was a cold and snowy February, but we were safe and protected within the monastic walls. We prayed three times each day with the Sisters. I watched the snow fall outside of the high Chapel windows. We were even snowed in that weekend—so there was not even a possibility of leaving. Our cars in the parking lot were completely buried, their automobile shapes barely recognizable-- just large white mounds. We were barricaded from the outside world by our prayers, the Sisters’ prayers, and the heaping piles of snow.
I will never forget it.
I prayed to know God’s will for my life. I prayed for answers. I prayed for peace. The softly falling snow twirled down to earth as a blessing on all of us.
Lectio Divina, or holy reading, as we were learning, is mostly about remaining open. We practice opening to the Word of God that speaks to us through the sacred scripture passage. A word or a phrase you hear will resonate with you. (Are you not more important than birds?) And this phrase, this image, will stay with you as you meditate on it in an almost subconscious way until you finally intuitively know what God is saying to you: Yes, you are more important to God than birds, and if you just trust Him a little more, you will know that He will always feed and sustain you, and He will never, never abandon you. (And which of you by worrying can add one moment to your lifespan?)
Journey of Revelation
Kathleen talked at length about the process of letting go of afflictive thoughts. These thoughts are barriers to union with God during prayer and lectio divina. We learned the technique of the “arrow prayer” to banish these unwanted mental diatribes: by memorizing short scripture passages that can be recited constantly throughout the day: “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation. Whom should I fear?” Through using this centuries-old technique, we can pray without ceasing, and keep God in the forefront of our minds, rather than our afflictions.
What began to unfold for me over the next few days was a journey of revelation, being nourished by the word of God, and seeing the various symbols from my Scripture passage open up in my life and become tangible: I learned that a raven carried food to Saint Benedict, hidden away in his monastery in northern Italy, when others were trying to poison him. Since I was now employed at St. Paul’s Monastery and deepening my spiritual life here, the appearance of the raven as a rescuer in the life of Saint Benedict seemed especially significant to me.
Soon after the retreat was over, I met a Native American woman whose name was Raven. Shocked, I asked what her name meant in her culture. “Strength,” she said.
I received things I could not imagine: answers to my questions, graces, blessings healing my uncertainty and fear. It was not an easy time. The Estate problems grew worse. But there were other unforeseen miracles, other answers: Stay on the path, keep moving forward, unwavering in your faith and Trust God. The process of remaining open to God’s word can then became a fantastic daily encounter where you hear God speaking to you through other people, through signs and symbols, characters in books and movies, even cryptic messages in car license plates.
Seek First the Kingdom . . .
On the final day of the retreat, the snow ended, leaving behind a pristine white landscape in which I could see more clearly. After our last class session was concluded and we said our tearful goodbyes, I was drawn even more tangibly to the fields of my Scripture passage, where the ravens find their sustenance and the lilies are arrayed in more splendor than Solomon’s robes. I drove directly from the Monastery parking lot to my land in Pine County, Minnesota-- 100 miles north. I sat on my favorite hill with a sweeping view, facing East. I had a mystical experience of nature that day, the sun dazzling the snow, God’s warmth and brightness enfolding me: so much love. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all of these other things will be given to you.” I have learned this over and over again since February 2018. I continue to be fed, nourished and transformed.
Nearly two years later, I have had a more recent experience with lectio divina of the Gospel of Luke as a Confirmation class leader at St. Ambrose of Woodbury. Father Nick Froehle told our parish group one November evening in the crowded sanctuary that lectio divina is an ancient Benedictine prayer form that leads us into a closer personal relationship with Jesus. He proceeded to lead 300 teenagers in a session of lectio where he slowly read Luke 5:1-11 in three separate intervals (The Call of Simon Peter the Fisherman). “We have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,” Peter tells Jesus, hungry, broke, utterly hopeless. “Set out into deeper water,” Jesus commands him. When the miraculous fish are then spilling over the sides of the boat, flopping and shining and limitless, breaking their nets, Peter exclaims in shock: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” The large sanctuary space of Saint Ambrose was completely silent. The teenagers were rapt. I felt this scripture passage go through my heart like a spear. I became in that moment like Peter: so humbled by the constant care and goodness, the endless bounty of the Lord.
The School of Lectio Divina at the Benedictine Center of St. Paul’s Monastery continues to invite us to always set out into deeper water. This is where we will find the real answers to life’s questions and see the unforeseen miracles happen before our eyes. Go deeper. Hold on. You will be astonished.