Meditation – lectio divina uses repetition to savor God’s love for us
When I was 17-years old I met the girl who would eventually become my wife. She was 16-years old. That first year, she went out of town with her family at Christmas to visit relatives and was gone several days.
During the time she was away from home, she mailed me a letter, which I quickly sliced open to read the 2-page hand written letter.
And I re-read it and re-read it and re-read it.
Why did I repeat reading a letter whose contents I already knew? What facts did I hope to learn? What new knowledge was I seeking to gain by re-reading the letter? You guessed it: none.
Rather, I kept re-reading the letter in order to feel her presence and to savior the "I love you" lines. After a while I would fold the letter back up and gently slip it back into the envelope from which it came. Hours later I would fetch the envelope again and repeat the whole process.
Welcome to the meditation stage (meditatio) of lectio divina (sacred reading).
Think of the prayer lectio divina in terms of food. The first stage is reading (lectio) which we explored in the last column. This is like putting the food that is on your plate into your mouth. In this column we want to investigate the second stage of the prayer, meditation (meditatio). In this stage we chew up the food in order to break the food down into smaller chunks.
Now, when most people today hear the word "meditation," they most likely think of sitting silently with eyes closed mulling, over holy things.
Not so in this instance.
Rather, this second stage of lectio divina is devoted to a conscious repetition of the word or short phrase you selected during the first stage of the prayer. And this repetition is done aloud; that is, you slowly, but audibly, repeat the word or short phrase.
In this second stage, the purpose is the same as was my purpose when I read that love letter: to feel with God, to savor God's love for us.
This is why I advised you to select either a single word or short phrase in the first stage of the prayer. You want to be able to know it by heart. You want to make it become the very fiber of your being. In order for that to happen you have to gnaw on that word or phrase. Chew on it. Taste it. Suck out the marrow over and over and over again. This is more easily done with small bites.
Furthermore, meditating in such fashion on this word or phrase puts it in the context of your own experience. As you repeatedly chew on it, that word or phrase is no longer something distinct from you, but is something that you make your own. When that word or phrase from Scripture is so masticated, it is no longer something that was written thousands of years ago, but something you make your own, something you author.
This is where the notebook and pen come into play. To help you better make that word or phrase your own, write it down in your notebook. Don't just scribble it. Rather, print it; taking your time with each letter. Again, the idea is to savor the experience of printing the letters so that the words become a part of you.
Furthermore, coming back to this word or phrase at different periods of time allows for new meaning or nuance. The beauty and wonder of Scripture is its capability of different meaning to the same reader at different times. We are not the same person today than we were a year ago. Re-reading the meditation you write down in your notebook today is going to be different when you read it next year.
Now, for the $64,000 question: how long? How long should I meditate? There is no right or wrong answer. My rule of thumb is this: do so as long as you feel the stirring of the Holy Spirit within you. This could be forty-five seconds, three minutes or half an hour. Who knows?! "The wind blows where it wills" (John 3:8).
Next month, we will delve into stage three of lectio divina: prayer (oratio).