One of our facilitators read the six verses comprising this particular Psalm of David maybe four or five times. In my initial response, I thought, “I already know this.” My mind started racing ahead, trying to beat him to the finish line by saying the next verse before he did. So much for contemplation.
The second time through, my mind shifted and I started trying to recollect when David had written this Psalm. Was he on the run from King Saul? Was it accompanied by stringed instruments in the temple days? I’m a Bible study teacher through and through, so my mind went to context. That's all good, but it's not really meditation.
Finally, about three or four times into the recitation of Psalm 23, my mind got still. I honed in on the words. Only the words. It was like they had a life of their own. Real, breathing life. I smiled at the idea of God preparing a table for me for I love a well-prepared table. At the end of the exercise, our facilitator asked if there was a phrase that stuck out to us in the reading? A certain idea God had for us. He encouraged us to spend a few minutes praying to God about that phrase.
I shall not want.
How unoriginal; I got stuck on the first line, but it was God’s word to me. Here I was at a retreat where I didn’t feel like I belonged. There were published authors and various other writers who had been doing this a lot longer than me. God wanted me to hear it loud and clear - He had me right where He wanted me. He’s writing my story. I shall not want theirs. So, one by one, I shared with God the areas of my life where I did want something, and I gave them all to Him.
This past spring, I attended a mini conference with other writers, the day before we embarked on the Festival of Faith and Writing event at Calvin College. We did a number of exercises during our time together, including an examination of Psalm 23, using the Lectio Divina tradition. The story you just read describes my experience doing this spiritual practice. And in case, like me, you're wondering what Lectio Divina is:
(literally) “divine reading" and it describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us.
Traditionally, Lectio Divina has four separate steps: read; meditate; pray; contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God. (ocarm.org)
I grew up in a traditional church. That is, traditional as I defined the term. My mom, my brothers and I attended a small country church that offered us pretty much the same style of service it had offered for a hundred years. I relaxed in that familiar rhythm. As a teenager, my family moved to a church in town and I found a similar worship style, with an adult choir singing the familiar hymns, and a spattering of praise and worship songs thrown in the mix. The church found itself transitioning into the more casual praise songs of the 80's and 90's. Then, in college, my worship got bigger as I attended a mega church, complete with a choir and orchestra. I still listen to the worship CDs our musicians made from this church. What a blessing!
The more studying I’ve done, I have expanded my views on worship. It can be one person strumming his guitar, a violinist playing solo, a large choir with instruments, or even me humming a tune while I vacuum my house. Further, I know now there are lots of ways to worship God, well beyond the musical realm. I’m still learning about many of them.
In all those years and all those churches, I had never come across the term Lectio Divina. A term so new to me, I’m still studying the definition. This practice is traditional as well (like 800 years and counting), but it wasn’t ever a part of my tradition. I’ve taught from God’s Word since I was in high school, yet I never meditated on passages of Scripture like this. That is, until last spring, at a writer's retreat. For the life of me, I cannot get over this. I’m not being critical of the churches who raised me, but I do spend a lot of time these days wondering what else I’ve missed. What beautiful elements of the faith are foreign to me because they’ve been left out of my Protestant, Evangelical tradition?
Therein lies my point and I’m going to be writing a lot more about it in order to process how I feel about these ancient church traditions I didn’t know one thing about for 40+ years. I grew up convinced my denomination worshiped Jesus right. Yes, that also means I thought your denomination worshiped Him wrong. I didn’t say that out loud (very often), but it was there in the deep recesses of my heart.
Now, I hear about these new-to-me spiritual practices and I want to incorporate them into my faith. Not because I've become convinced they are “right” and my way was “wrong.” My heart still longs for an invitation hymn at the end of every church service, whether the musicians offer one or not. I cry every time a Sacrament is celebrated, even the ones I didn't think I believed in at all. I want to know about these spiritual practices too because they offer me more of Jesus. Repeatedly, I'm finding new ways to study Scripture. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be seeking with all our heart, mind and soul? We used to sing a song in that small country church… “Fill my cup, Lord; I lift it up Lord; Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.”
Well, I may not know what I’m talking about when it comes to ancient spiritual practices, but I’m diving into these deep waters. I'm holding up my cup and asking God to fill it. I'm being stretched and my soul thirsts for more. Come, Lord Jesus.