Signs of Spring
The School of Lectio Divina
Written by Tod Twist
Springtime is an acquired taste in the upper Midwest—the warm days with their buds and blossoms team up alongside the surprise snowfalls and the grey rain for a package deal. The Benedictine Center of St. Paul’s Monastery had a long-awaited taste of Spring this month. After pausing programming because of the pandemic, we were able to host the School of Lectio Divina retreat again, our first big in-house program since re-opening the Benedictine Center last September.
It was a joyous time for many reasons. Good will was the general mood of the time. The entire Monastery community and staff welcomed an ecumenical group from nearby Minnesota locations with two retreatants joining us from out of state. Retreatants joined the Sisters for daily prayers and shared meals in the dining room again. Retreatants walked the labyrinth and the grounds while considering God’s voice and presence in their lives. Everyone saw people face to face again, not just through our screens.
With the guidance of Dr. Kathleen Cahalan, we encountered rich and challenging teaching from the monastic tradition about our inner lives and practical ways to listen for God’s leading through the words of Scripture. Kathleen brought us a carefully curated look at life-changing wisdom that we could understand, engage, and take away with us. She’s a rare person who brings together the expertise of a scholar, the skill of a teacher, and the heart of a practitioner. She shares from her life journey—from her heart—and is ardently committed to having the people at the School of Lectio encounter God in their own hearts through the knowledge and truth that she brings.
The School of Lectio Divina is about paying attention to God’s leading through an encompassing practice of listening to God—through Scripture, nature, and experience. The style of Lectio Divina that we were practicing is termed Sustained Lectio, in which we engage in an ongoing dialogue with God through a particular Scripture text over time. There’s no rush to get on to the next passage until you’re led to a different one. Taking some time allows Scripture to speak on several different levels and also allows each of us to perceive God’s presence and promptings in ways that reach our hearts.
Monastic tradition holds forth treasures of wisdom and practice, and the School of Lectio Divina aims to present both teaching and transformation. In past offerings of this retreat, we’ve aimed at silence when we were not in teaching sessions. In truth, our silence was not ironclad during this retreat, but after a pandemic how could it be? How could we hope to keep two years of interrupted conversations and postponed visits totally at bay? The Rule of Benedict urges moderation and gentleness when dealing with people, and we urged retreatants toward silence even while we rejoiced at quiet words and knowing glances. Part of our silence involved quiet evenings where retreatants could journal, create art, take walks, or be receptive to whatever can only emerge in silence. Our over-stimulated world is no friend to silence—and comfort with silence takes a while to learn—but each of the retreatants seemed to find enough inner quiet to receive something new and helpful from the experience.
Another feature of the School of Lectio Divina is providing spiritual companions for retreatants to process and discuss what they are learning and experiencing. We call these staff members Lectio Companions, and our hope is to provide a positive experience of spiritual direction for retreatants—an experience that they might continue after the retreat ends. Our Lectio companions were touched by the depth of the spirituality of the retreatants and how seriously they engage in their spiritual lives.
What a great group of people! What a great moment! We shared hope and life over the days we spent together, and with God’s grace we will be offering the School of Lectio Divina again soon.