Do the Scripture readings you hear at church on Sunday remain with you as you move into the week? Or do you tend to forget them—sometimes even before Mass is over? Do you usually understand the readings and prayerfully reflect on how to put them into practice?
Though experiences vary, I suspect that most of us would appreciate some help for deepening our encounter with God in his word. Stephen Binz’s Conversing with God in Lent offers just this kind of help.
In this new book, a follow-up to his earlier Conversing with God in Scripture, Binz continues to explore the church’s ancient practice of lectio divina, the prayerful reading and study of the Bible. Here, however, he not only explains lectio but offers step-by-step guidance for using it with the Mass readings for each of the six Sundays of Lent (including all three liturgical years: A, B, and C).
While the immediate focus of this book is the Sunday readings for Lent, its usefulness extends beyond the Lenten season. Many of the passages in these liturgies are classic texts that can speak to us at any time. And, of course, lectio divina itself is a prayer practice for all of life.
Lectio on the Lectionary. The Lectionary cycle of Mass readings—with its splendid arrangement of selections from the Old and New Testaments—is a logical place to develop the practice of lectio divina. This is "lectio on lectio," and readers at all levels of familiarity with Scripture can benefit.
And as Binz points out, "Lent is the ideal season for the practice of lectio divina." It is a special time to contemplate the cross of Christ, which is also the center of Scripture. Lectio can help us cultivate the deep longing for God that is the source of prayer and the goal of our Lenten practices:
When we practice lectio divina during the season of Lent, we realize that we are not so much doing something for God, but opening our hearts to the greatest gift God offers us, the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus.
Prayer in Five Movements. Lectio divina is not some highly methodical system with rigid steps, Binz explains. It is a flexible approach whose "only real purpose is to lead us to a personal encounter and dialogue with God." Its traditional components are lectio, reading the text; meditatio, reflecting on its meaning; oratio, responding in prayer; contemplatio, resting in God; and operatio, living out God’s word in daily life. Conversing with God in Lent leads us through these five "movements" for each Sunday of Lent.
Each session opens with a brief "mood-setting" exercise—a concrete suggestion to keep us mindful about entering into prayer. Then comes lectio, with the Old Testament and the gospel readings presented in full. Each is followed by a brief commentary on the context and background of the passages. Binz clarifies possible misunderstandings, focuses on key themes, and weaves the readings together so that they shed light on each other and on our own lives.
Moving into meditatio, he offers reflection questions that show how the readings connect with our own experience and address us personally. It becomes like a private retreat to consider these thought-provoking questions.
For oratio, there is a brief prayer tailored to the readings—something to help us move from head to heart—followed by an invitation to pray as the Spirit leads. Then, for contemplatio, Binz suggests a relevant, uncomplicated image or theme that can help us to rest quietly in God’s presence.
Finally, each Sunday session concludes with a creative, straightforward step to take in the spirit of the readings. This operatio helps us to avoid spiritualizing the readings rather than living and wrestling with them. The dynamic tone of these comments gets us moving and discovering the practical implications of the readings for our lives. On this down-to-earth note, the lectio concludes as an exercise—and begins in real life.
Lectio for Lent. Conversing with God in Lent helps familiar Scripture passages come alive, bringing them up close and personal through the working of the Holy Spirit. Suitable for small groups as well as individuals, it is a solid spiritual companion to the Lectionary—and infectious and challenging to boot.
This year, when you’re asking, "What am I going to do for Lent?" consider the possibility of not just giving something up, but taking something up as well. Take up the practice of lectio divina, and deepen your relationship with God!
Karl A. Schultz (www.karlaschultz.com) speaks and writes about many aspects of Catholic life and spirituality and has published thirteen books on various applications of lectio divina.Click here to buy "Conversing with God in Lent: Praying the Sunday Mass Readings with Lectio Divina."