So here we are, in the week that brings us Christmas. Even though we’ll be at Mass twice in three days, this is a week where it’s easy to forget to actually pray. I’m no sage of spirituality but as my Christmas gift to all of you, I’ll share a prayer exercise that’s been tremendously fruitful in my own life. It’s called ‘Lectio Divina,’ which literally means ‘Divine Reading.’ Although it’s a way to pray with Scripture that’s ancient, Pope Benedict has said it “will bring to the Church… a new spiritual springtime.”
Before you get started, you need to find a place to pray. Hopefully there’s a perpetual Adoration chapel somewhere near your house – I mean, where better to pray than next to Jesus? If that doesn’t work out, find a spot where you won’t be distracted. You’re going to need to spend some time in silence. It seems awkward at first, when you realize just how loud it is inside your head… but after a while (for me it’s usually half an hour) you’re actually in a place where you can listen to God as much as you talk.
Quiet enough? Okay, now it’s time to read your Bible… yes, dust it off and crack it open. Read the Nativity story in Luke 2:1-20. Don’t just skim through it because you know the story, but read through and linger on each sentence. Maybe read it a few times, and try to notice different words or phrases as the jump out to you. This is the first step, called ‘Lectio.’
What does it feel like in that stable? What are your senses? Is it cold? Stuffy? Can you hear the animals, or are they quiet in the presence of the Creator? What about Mary and Joseph? A manger wasn’t their first choice for a place to stay tonight.
Take a few minutes to sit and be in that moment. Pray through what you experience and let God speak to you. It’s a lot more about listening than about talking, and about seeing what God wants to show you. There – in that stable – is God Himself. What is he like as a newborn? How does creation itself react at the Incarnation? How do you react? What goes through your heart as you look into the manger and look at Jesus? What are your emotions? What prayer is on your heart? As we place ourselves in this moment, we are in the second step called ‘Meditatio.’
Now – that prayer that’s on your heart? It’s time to pray it, to turn it towards God and respond. The emotions and thoughts that have come out of meditation easily move us into authentic prayer – conversation with God. This is ‘Oratio.’
Finally, it’s time to contemplate… a heavy word that really just means to sit and think. Take a few closing minutes to sit with God. What did He show you? What did you say to Him? Something I like to do is journal in this time so that my thoughts don’t get lost once I’m back out in daily life. ‘Contemplatio’ is the last step.
I’m going to challenge myself to take some time for these four steps during the holidays. If you’re looking for a new prayer experience, I’d encourage you to try it too.