>One of the more important skills to develop as you practice lectio is the capacity to stop the mindless chatter that goes on in the back of your mind – sometimes even in the front!
You know what I mean. There you are, blissfully contemplating a parable or healing miracle of Jesus, and you notice that half of your mind is thinking about dinner, or a football game, or some conversation at work. Usually what we end up doing is introducing another voice into the mix: The Librarian, whose sole job is to walk around saying “Shhhh” very loudly to any and every extraneous thought that pops up.
But this is not what lectio is supposed to be like! What we are actually striving for in lectio is dialog. Yes, by all means stop your monologs or inane chatter. Stop long enough to get into a real (and lively) conversation with Jesus.Your goal is to reach enough emotional stability and a strong and healthy enough mind that you can give up all the chatter motivated by passing moods.
When having a conversation with a wise and deeply learned person, we ask few and pointed questions and then listen with all our attention to their wisdom and knowledge. How much more so when talking to God! But, unfortunately, for those of us who went to college and learned how to read ads, it is easy for us to confuse TV jingles for wisdom, and a sales pitch for insight. Our hearts are really more like a very large loudspeaker blaring tirades which reinforce our petty grudges (aren’t they all?), prejudices, idle wishes, sexual and power fantasies, old songs, reruns of past events (with editing to make us look better) — and the rest of our thoughts are hardly worth bragging about!
A little thought experiment: would you pay attention to this if it were the radio? Better yet, suppose it were a radio broadcast of someone else’s mental chatter, someone you have no interest in. How long do you think you could stand it?
As Christians we are called to love the Lord our God with all our mind, our hearts, our strength. Lectio is a way to train ourselves to do just that: to develop the capacity for profitable thinking, a kind of thinking that is both in our heads but also in our hearts. A kind of thinking that permeates our whole bodies, our whole self. We want to hear God saying “Well done.” We all want to make sure we have not buried our talents in the sand. Our minds are too incredible a resource to be wasted in sinful and sloppy thinking.
Lectio teaches us how to think. During Lectio we focus only on the New Testament because it is the most direct path to God, and further, we focus only on the Gospels because this is where God is most clearly and obviously acting, in human form, as Jesus. We look at every sentence in the Gospels and think through it. But “thinking” is a complex task. So let’s break it down a little bit.
First we learn how to think through events and understand how the same event can have multiple interpretations (i.e. we compare the Gospels for example). We also learn how every event can have an impact on many different people in many different ways (for eg. how a healing looks from the perspective of the sick person, or a Pharisee). We begin to take time and really think through events – this begins to undermine our prejudices, our expectations, our hard heads and hard hearts. We learn to be open to surprise, to the unexpected action of the Holy Spirit.
But that is not all there is to thinking. We must go further. We must develop, through the power of the Holy Spirit, a capacity for discernment. We work very hard at trying to grasp how Jesus could always act out of love, even when he seems to be angry or sad or frustrated. How can love be angry? We seek, constantly, Jesus’ heart. In other words, we are trying to grasp the mind of Jesus.
So, even though it seems there is not much going on, a person doing lectio is doing tremendously hard work.
The results of a regular practice of lectio are manifold. Primarily we are learning to think on purpose: our thoughts are focused on what we want to think about. We are paying attention to God and learning how to follow Him. We become good shepherds of our thoughts, and we do not let the sheep wander around aimlessly, but instead keep them together, leading them along, or down safe paths. Our thinking becomes more solid, anchored on the solid Ground of Jesus. We are beginning to build our houses on Rock, not sand. Over and over, as we sit with Jesus, and as our minds wander, we return to Him: “What is He doing now?” Over and over we keep asking “Where is Jesus?”, “What is Jesus thinking?”, “Why did He do that?”, “Why did He say that?” Over and over we come back to watching Him and only Him. We wonder about virtues, we think deeply about sin and death and life. In short we engage life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The habit you acquire of noticing and weeding out useless thoughts is very profitable, but not nearly as profitable as the habit of strengthening your useful ones – because those are the ones you will need when you leave the church and go out into the world. You begin to be able to switch to better thoughts when you find yourself caught in inappropriate or unprofitable ones. You begin noting that the such-and-such a thought is worth remembering or is beneficial in some way (usually this comes from a line of Scripture). Or it may occur to you that someone needs your help; some insight may spontaneously appear – this is how you begin to really pray, when you join the Holy Spirit in His prayer. Or you may think that some inclination to sin is really not worth following up on, so you drop it.
The results of regular lectio practice is a mind filled with a sense of well-being, of happiness, of victory in Christ. It is not vanity or conceit to congratulate yourself on producing such thoughts – and it is very appropriate to be grateful and thankful to God for them.
One more thing — when you take the time daily to sit down and open your Bible, you are halfway to Heaven already! The next half hour is simply an intensification of what you can do on a daily basis, and the work (we call it the “work of God”) can, and will, spill over more easily into your active ministry – and secular life becomes an ongoing opportunity to stay prayerful and make each daily task an opportunity for lectio, to serve God, and to bring the Good News of salvation to the whole world.