As with The Artist's Rule: Nurturing your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, reviewed on StoryCircleBookReviews, I savoured Christine Valters Paintner's Lectio Divina as my morning reading practice.
Lectio divina essentially means "divine reading" of sacred texts, during which we "enter into an encounter with God." While the ancient practice has its roots in Judaism, Valters Paintner refers to the scriptures of different religious traditions, including Hebrew, Christian and the Qur'an, throughout the book. There are many passages from which to choose for your own practice.
Paintner invites an exploration of lectio divina in Part One of the book. "Listen with the ear of our heart" is the central movement of lectio divina and one of the rules of St. Benedict. His wisdom is very valuable to life in the twenty-first century when we would be well-advised to move mindfully through our days, remembering everything, objects and people, as sacred.
In Part Two, the four movements of Lectio Divina are fully described, chapter by chapter. They are—Lectio's Call to Awaken to the Divine, Meditatio's Welcoming with All Senses, Hearing Oratio's Call of the Spirit, and Resting in Contemplatio's Stillness and Silence.
Each of the four movements is a "process of contemplative unfolding" for which the author has her own terms: shimmering; savoring and stirring; summoning and serving; and slowing and stilling. She has done so well in organizing the information of a practice that is not meant to be linear, and in creating examples for contemplation that are inviting and peaceful.
I particularly enjoyed the beautiful writing of the author's "Invitation to Practice" in Chapter Five, "Listening for God's Voice." It is a reminder of a ritual such as lighting a candle to help signify something holy. The words of gentle advice are from someone of our own time who also has a busy life during which she makes the time for contemplative prayer.
The poetry explorations in the chapters of Part Two are especially delightful. I was happy to write a haiku, cinquain, an acrostic poem and a seven-line poem. Many of the quoted passages in the book are from the author's students as well as the works of poets and writers we have come to love—Thomas Merton, Kahil Gibran, Rumi, Hafiz and Rainer Maria Rilke.
All the chapters build upon one another and it is a pleasure to reach Part Three, "Reading the World," which includes so many more possibilities: Vision Divina: Praying with Images, Audio Divina: Praying with Sound, and "Nature as Sacred Text."
The last chapter, "The Sacred Stories of Our Lives," contains some wonderful ideas for praying lectio with life experience, the body, dreams and even the newspaper. The questions for reflection at the end of all the chapters are very useful for a contemplative journaling practice.
The Appendices include guidelines for designing one's own retreat experience, lectio divina as a small group experience and a mandala for colouring.
Whatever your spiritual tradition, there is value in this book for heart-centered prayer. In the words of the author, "In moments of simple kindness and compassion, in the quiet knowing of my heart's desires, in the profound impulse toward life in every moment, even in my weeping, which witnesses to my capacity for great love, I don't ask whether God is speaking. I ask whether there can be any place void of this sacred song."
Christine Valters Paintner is a Benedictine oblate, writer, teacher, and the online abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery dedicated to nurturing contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of Water, Wind, Earth and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements and The Artist's Rule: Nurturing your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom.
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