Meditation Series Part Two : Lectio Divina

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.

Psalm 119: 103

Lectio Divina very simply means Divine Reading. Formally it dates back to the sixth century, when the practice was started by Saint Benedict. I personally think it predates Benedict, though, going all the way back to David singing his songs in his caves, and on into the Jewish tradition of reading or singing words of those same song for hundreds of years afterward.

The beautiful concept behind Lectio Divina is that drinking deeply of the words of scripture is a powerful practice all on its own. God, through the words themselves nourishes us. The divine words take root, they transform us from the inside out as we allow them to enlarge us. It is a very different practice from study of the bible, which requires more mental exercise, discussion, and logical thinking. In Lectio Divina we lay effort aside and let the words work on their own.

Traditional Lectio Divina is made up of 1. Lectio, or reading, 2. Meditatio, or meditation, 3. Oratio, or prayer, and 4. Contemplatio, or contemplation.

At Shekina, we practice Lectio Divina a little differently, simplifying it into the same format that all of our meditation takes. The guide begins with the preliminaries, leading the group into quietness and a meditative state. The meditation itself follows.

The guide has prepared a few verses of scripture to read. He may give a small amount of background information if he feels it is needed. This is kept very brief and simple: "These are songs that King David wrote when he was fleeing for his life, over 2500 years ago."

It is wise to read eight verses of scripture or less. Likewise, if you are practising in a group, it is a good idea to carefully choose your passage, keeping the different people in your circle in mind. If you have people who are new or fairly new to the Bible, keep to simple, clear verses, rather than anything heavy in theology.

Read the whole passage slowly to give a sense of the context of the verses, then read verses with a large amount of silence between them. Ideally, take three to four minutes of silence between each phrase or verse. You may repeat the verse halfway through the silence, as a reminder, or simply read the verse once. Whether alone or in a group, the guide should always have something to help them tell time. Four minutes can feel long or short to the guide depending on how much they have entered into the text themselves. The guide can't count on knowing when the time is up.

If you are practising Lectio Divina, keep these things in mind:

We process things in many different ways. Often, with scripture or ideas, we process them intellectually, in study or pondering. The practice of Lectio Divina is an opportunity to let God speak through the words themselves as we breathe them into us. Consider allowing the more creative parts of you into your meditation.

Let the words grow inside of you. Test how they feel, what they sound like, how they are shaped, what pictures they bring into your mind. And do not be afraid of silence, of pictures that seem to go down different trails. Lead your mind gently back to the words, run them through your heart, and listen.

Remember that meditation is an exercise of the spirit, just as healthy eating and activity is an exercise of the body. Meditation is not magic, as physical exercise is not magic. You don't do crunches for one day and wake up to find yourself with an abdominal six-pack. Some days you may feel as though you heard the voice of God clearly, or you realize something in meditation that you never knew before. More often, you are nourished by the Divine words, uplifted by the Presence. A lifetime of this nourishment will cultivate a healthy soul.

Lectio Divina is a quiet moment to come to the water, to drink deeply of the water of life, to go back about life refreshed.

If you practice in a group and utilize the talking circle, you may find yourself tempted to argue points of the scripture, or bring up everything you know about the passage. Try to concentrate your sharing down to the very essentials of what you experienced during meditation today. As the word is living, you will have a very different experience with it than you did ten years ago. Allow this to happen! Don't attempt to keep your experiences stagnant.

Some ideal first passages for Lectio Divina:

Psalm 23, Psalm 63: 1-8, Psalm 40: 1-5 and there are of course many more.

My friend Evan Howard has just co-written a book on Lectio Divina. I haven't read it yet, but Evan taught us what we know about meditation, and I can't wait to get my hands on it.  You can find the book, Discovering Lectio Divina, Bringing Scripture into Ordinary Life here.

 

Meditation Series Part One: The Order for Shekina Meditation.

Here I'll explain the form our meditations take. It works really well for us, and it's simple and lovely. (I'll be using parts of the Guide to Meditation that Cate wrote for us.) Shekina meditation is guided meditation, which we do sitting in a circle. In our communities different people take turns guiding, and the guide leads the people in the circle through each part of the meditation.

Shekina meditation has four main branches, with an optional discussion at the end. 

During the introduction, the guide will explain a little about our meditation. For instance, "Welcome to Shekina Meditation.  By use of the Holy Scriptures, we intend to create a safe place for the Divine Presence to speak. We have experienced and believe that God desires connection with us, and wants to visit us with wisdom and love.”

There may be other things that the guide brings up during the introduction. I sometimes mention that we are not alone in meditation. We are together as people, in our circle, and the Spirit of God is present in the room, the Divine Presence. The guide may give a short background on the scripture being read, if it is a scripture, without giving too much instruction into what the scripture means, since the point of the meditation is to be open and allow the Spirit to speak to each person.

The second branch of meditation is what we call the Preliminaries.

During the preliminaries, it is the guide's job to prepare those who are in the circle for meditation. We often arrive flustered and hot, straight from rushing from somewhere or (for me) from giving children their breakfast. The preliminaries take us past that and into a quiet space, ready for depth and silence.

*If you are doing this on your own, you should make sure to spend a good amount of time on preliminaries. I have arrived late at meditation and missed the preliminaries and the meditation was a totally different experience for me.*

The guide directs the people in the circle to focus their attention on the different physical and emotional realities of the moment.

She draws attention to breath. To sounds. To the fact that others are in the circle. She directs the people in the circle to take their cares and imagine putting them away for a while. To make a quiet space of expectation. She asks the people in the circle to slow their breath, to be comfortable, to relax their shoulders. She uses a lot of time to do this, silence and a calm voice.

This brings the circle into the next branch of our form. The meditation.

We always have content during meditation, and in the coming weeks I will introduce several types of meditation. This part of the time will usually run from 20 to 30 minutes, or maybe longer if the meditation involves moving around or going out and coming back (contemplation of nature, for example).

The main thing the guide (or you, if you are doing this on your own) needs to remember is not to be afraid of silence. The silence always feels longer for the guide! Others may just be entering into a dreamy vision or true depth with a scripture and a jumpy guide can rush the moment. Give a lot of space. Less is more. I'll cover this more in the different types of meditation.

The last branch of the meditation is sharing.

To us, sharing is an extension of meditation, as the act of sharing and of listening to one another is an act of love and receiving from one another. It is acknowledgement that we aren't doing this alone, that we are together, even in our silence.

For our sharing times, we have a talking circle, passing a talking stick, a tradition that we got from Rainbow Gatherings, but which dates back to many First Nations tribes. The talking stick is a simple way to honor the speaking person. The rules of a talking circle are simple. The person holding the stick is the only one talking, with everyone else listening. The stick is passed around the circle and each person has the option to share or pass freely. We allow the stick to go around the circle twice, in order to give people more than one chance to speak. And the guide always explains the function of the talking circle, then passes the stick in order to let the person to her left or right go first.

During the talking circle, each person shares what occurred for him or her during the meditation. We really try to honor the time, to continue our quietness by listening, and when we have the stick, by not commenting on, correcting or responding to what any person says. It is a time to share briefly and personally, not a time to teach or give a long exposition. One of the main values of Shekina Meditation is to form a space that is open for people of any amount of experience with the Christian faith, from none whatsoever to years and years, so it is important that each person feels safe, welcome, and honored.

When the talking circle is over, the guide may feel led to offer a short prayer, or not. It is up to her to decide. She may also feel that it is a good idea to take a few more minutes of silence before heading straight into discussion. It really depends on how the group is, and how the meditation has gone.

There is often a time discussion after the talking circle, time that is more free. This would be the time for people to weigh in with their opinions and experience. (Respectfully, of course.)

And there it is, the structure we have been using for years now. The wonderful thing about this structure is that we find ourselves able to use it in any context, in any place. It is versatile and ready for the moment.

Next in this series, I'll be talking about the type of meditation we practice most: Lectio Divina.

Practice

"What is your practice?" you may ask someone. Depending on who they are, they may give any one of a myriad of responses.

"Sixty pushups, then a five mile run, every morning."

"A pint of ice cream in front of the TV after work."

"Sundays at the park, on a blanket, with a book."

"Scales for an hour, then whatever symphony I'm currently learning."

"Kung fu on Mondays and Thursdays."

In Christian spirituality, practice is essential if we want to walk a constant path, if we desire to transform along the way. Spiritual practice is anything repeated in the life of a believer, in the effort to move along on the journey of knowing God.

It could be the prayer you speak as you walk into the kitchen in the morning.

It could be a time of meditation, daily, or weekly.

It could be lighting the candles with the family in the evening, singing a song of thanks.

There are things that spiritual practice on the Jesus path is not. Our actions can not change certain immutable realities about God. With my practice I don't bring him closer, manifest anything or create anything. With or without my input, God is scarily brilliant, burning with love, less changeable than gravity. He simply is what he is: incredibly creative being, made up of good and love and terrifying strength.

The bizarre part is that there is a connection between us and this incredible being. We enter his presence knowing that we are there because he desires it to be so. He desires the space and time to dwell with us, to be circling our hearts as we wait. His heart is touched by our focus. He loves us. Crazy.

Practice is not a manipulation of God, it is not an act of changing the course of the stars. So what is it?

To put it simply, spiritual practice is a way of tricking our hearts to throw open their windows, letting light into our inner cramped, stuffy spaces.

When you practise something, you show up. As you show up day after day and you do the same thing, hopefully in the same place, you make a new crinkle in your brain. Something begins to click. You sit and your mind says, "Oh! Is it this time again? Already? Well, okay," and you've made it a hundred times easier to meditate, or pray, or open your mouth and sing.

I think the first place I discovered this was in my writing life. I learned to sit in the same place at the same time every day. I sat down and I wrote, just started. Usually, good things came. Somethings stupid, boring things came. But sitting down in that specific place unlocked the little attic door where the writing part of me lives. Doing it every day made sitting down and writing less like climbing a mountain and more like opening a door and stepping onto the front porch.

Now I rarely ever go a day without writing at least a thousand words. The more I write, the more I am open to words, thoughts and sentences appearing to me throughout my day.

I learned it next with meditation. Cate built an amazing community space in Goa, where we first started practising Shekina meditation. Now, four years later, just sitting in that space, looking at the way the light hits the red floor, I have all these memories of what it means to meditate, to sit with God in silence, waiting for his gentle words. I am immediately ready for meditation, just by sitting down. It is practice. I have good days and stupid days, where I can't reign my thoughts in. But over time, the good days out number the stupid ones by far. And the more I meditate, the more likely I am to be aware of love surrounding me all day long, the more likely I am to feel the abiding wonder of God.

There are so many spiritual practices on the Jesus path. The practice of humility, of kindness, of thankfulness, of trust. The practice of prayer and of singing. The practice of beauty and of hospitality. They are practices because they do not come naturally, without thinking, unless we have become so accustomed to the practice that they are as easy as breathing.

We do it because our minds are wonderful and slippery, capable of holding far too much information and swamping us with random trivia when we desire to be silent, or in prayer. We have to find ways to harness all that energy, to quiet the senses and make silence possible in our lives.

It's like traveling down the same road, day after day, to get home. You drive almost without thinking, keeping your eyes out for skateboards and children, for turning cars, but not really considering your route. "Home" has become engraved on your brain. So years later, after you move across town, you may be driving home after a long day and realize, suddenly, that you're on that old road home, headed back toward the old house. Your long practice has not allowed you to forget it.

This is practice. Carefully tracing out the road toward home, then taking that road again and again.

New beginnings

Shekina Community has been running in its current state for over four years now, but we have yet to really document all the twists and turns that we've taken in this marvelous life, while staying tuned with Jesus, who is straight and quick as an arrow.

So here is another beginning. In earnest this time, we will endeavor share our lives with you in words and photos. We invite you to join in with comments and emails. Let us know how our journey affects you, what thoughts come up.

For this post, I thought it would be good to explain a little of where we are. New seeds are being scattered, as Shekina as a meditative collective spreads a little further.

We have our first center, still thriving in Goa. Shekina in Goa operates for five months each year, from November to March.

Now we have little communities sprouting in Asheville, North Carolina, and Pai, Thailand. We have big dreams for land or communities in these two places. I dream of meditation retreats, of working to help local charities, of continuing our journey of knowing God and making space for him to reveal himself. We want to live intentionally, monastically, with gratitude for all we have and all we have been given. In the next posts I'll tell a little more about what we've been doing.

Post-Shekina Blues, what's the cure? (hint: more cowbell)

So we packed up and left India, and our beloved meditation center, three weeks ago. Shekina people went all directions, away from each other. It's just a short haitus until fall, when we all gather again in Goa again. 

That’s three weeks without the soothing sound of crows cawing incessantly in the background. Three weeks without the strong shekina circle of sharing. Weeks without seeing scripture in a some unexpected and revealing light. And yeah I said the crows were soothing.

Nourishment is funny. Neglect feeding yourself and you kind of start to shrivel. Keep messing around and you will need some kind of intervention, and not long after that, out come the defibrillators, and all the yelling and pounding, and ominous long beep and the shaking of heads.

Not that meditation is spiritual food, its not really, although I’m sure it looked like that’s where I was going with all this. No, Meditation is a form, its just one way to get the real nourishment in.

A lot of things can do provide nourishment. You know like truly entering into spiritual songs, hearing scripture explained by a gifted speaker, being in a crowded room full of prayer, patching the holes in your understanding by reading theology, or a quiet moment in your garden that is swimming with fireflies. Everyone has their own list I’m sure.

God is the real nourishment, and that connection is food for us. You need it like you need water. I do anyway.

Sure you can haul your shriveled malnourished defibrillator-ready carcass from place to place and make a great show of things. People might not even notice. But weaknesses always show up when strength is required. I don’t have to tell you life is a trial, do I?

That’s why I've got the blues. Honestly I was being spoiled by all the rich thick silences, the open and intentional spaces we created for nutrients, the watering holes. And I didn’t really even know it. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you've got till its gone.

So this post is turning out to be personal. Surely someone is thinking that I am selling something. But this is more of a confession than a testimonial. I know I’m putting in the terms of sage advice, but I am the real audience.

(buffalo emerging from water  - chinua ford)

Walking beside Lake Fewa in Pokhara Nepal (our latest homeish-type location), I tossed out a casual bit of trivia for my four children walking beside me. It was about how the majority about how animals spent most of their time eating or looking for food. Trivia for three of the four I should say, the youngest was surely had better things to do, like admiring the size of the buffalo poo in his path.

In fact cows and buffalo were strewn about in the unused rice fields by the lakeside, stuffing their faces with every shred of green in sight, like they always do. "They’re either sleep, or dead, or eating" I said. My son reasoned that they could not possibly moo and chew at the same time.

Then it went off in my head like a bell. In a bizarre and somewhat unromantic moment of connection with the natural world, I realized how famished I was too. There they were, fat and sassy and full of everything they needed to stay alive, think happy cow thoughts, and generally get sleek and fat, just as cows should be. I warned you that it was bizarre.

Famished for God, which is strange considering how abundant God is from one perspective. Then again, the consensus seems to be that God takes some seeking to find. Shekina community has slowly become a great place for me to do that.

Shekina Community is a community of travelers. And although shekina meditation could be used by anyone, it was developed by us and our friends and mentors as one more way to keep ourselves healthy. And its started to spread, with other spiritual communities and curious individuals trying it in their own way. But come on, meditation is hardly new, and far unique to Christians.

We just woke up to it, dusted it off a bit. Its been really transforming for many of us, so much for me that the thought of coconut trees and the sound of crows transports me quickly into worship. Our meditation center was surrounded by both.

But I’m sure you see the weakness of it all. You can't have some community or some practice as your only source of spiritual food. It was not my only inlet, but one so rewarding that I got a little dependant on it. But hey, here are worse things to be addicted to than meditation.

So, next challenge. How to practice meditation when I've been revamping the classic hours of prayer, vigils in particular. The night watches. I am a night person, but those hours tend to be unclaimed territory for me, vast expanses devoid of spiritual practice. I've been trying to seed them.

How practice community when you are not physically together. How to be strong, not weak, for the calling we have of sharing the life of God in our world of travelers. Things that require a strong and nourished spiritual body. 

Wow, I feel better already. At least I know what I need to do. 

 

 

The right phrase

We are growing this site inch by inch mostly for the fun of it. I think it's a very interesting experiment going on at Shekina, one that has been life changing for me.

I'm trying to write here as often as I think of it, (twice so far! woot!) to help give our tribe a voice, to shine some small light on this thing that has shaped my whole life. How do you talk about the things that matter the most to you? Maybe It's all about the right words. We are finding them now.

An aside: If you hear the phrase "slowly slowly" shouted from a man on a street corner in India, it's probably a good time to fake being cool walk and leave without looking back.

That's because if you hear it means you've probably done something embarrassing and moronic like; dropped your rupees and banged your head retrieving them, rolled over on your scooter while trying to set the kickstand, or blasted away a plastic chair with your unwieldy foreign thighs while waving goodbye to your friends upon exiting the local crowded chai shop. "Slowly slowly!" you will hear from some anonymous mysteriously smug stranger you had not noticed standing there before.

Any attempt to explain yourself, no matter how earnest, how obvious and undeniably true, will be met with the same phrase, "Slowly slowly" this time louder for emphasis. You should really just cut your losses and walk on.

You figure out (around the tenth time) that it doesn't have anything to do with speed, it just means be careful. Careful careful! After a little brow furrowing, anyone can kind of sort of connect going slower with carefulness. In a way. Kind of.

That doesn't make it the right thing to say in english. It's just another of the hundreds of endearing/infuriating little phrases you hear when traveling in this colorful wonderful paradoxical India. And in india it's just what they say, right or wrong.

Im a bit curious if anyone out there is simultaneously a) Indian and b) watching this site being built, and is feeling an irrepressible urge to shout that very phrase into the comment box?

Even if you did, I wouldn't be embarrassed, not of this site, notthis time. I'm enjoying watching it form before my very eyes as we wrestle it into being. honestly its fun.

Were using squarespace, which allows you to edit on the fly eight in the browser without any programming at all. In fact, two of us are doing it at the same time now. Fun, chaos, building!

Ok, end aside.

right now the big question is, how will this Jesus-minded traveler hippie neo-monastic-light, international intentional seed tribe tell it's story? what words do you use?

It's a simple idea, with a long history. Its hard to explain, but easy to experience.

How to go forward?

Easy. Slowly slowly.


;)

 

One Man's Opinion

So what are people experiencing in Meditation? Wow, great question. heres an answer (randomly selected from a pile of perfect answers) from someone new to the practice...

Today was my fourth time experiencing Shekina Meditation. However, it was my first time experiencing an imagination meditation. Rachel led the meditation. She chose the passage from the gospel story where Jesus miraculously calms a storm during a boat trip across Lake Galilee with his disciples. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. At the beginning of the meditation Rachel led us to the shore amidst the crowds of people where Jesus was calling us to himself. We were encouraged to really experience being there. This was such a powerful experience for me. There was chaos on the shore—lots of people, and lots of commotion and confusion. Then I saw Jesus. He was amazing; I was enamored. Coming into his presence made all the chaos and confusion seem insignificant. He was so pure, strong and trustworthy. My soul was fully attracted to him. I felt peace. I felt safe. I felt fulfilled. I couldn’t even remember, let alone be bothered by the fact that a seemingly life-threatening storm was coming. I felt healing just by dwelling in this place where Jesus was. But then, we were led into the experience of the storm while crossing the lake. This experience was not so ostensibly pleasurable. I suddenly became confused. I didn’t understand why this was happening. The meditation became difficult at this point. But there was another breakthrough. I realized that the way I was feeling was similar to the other disciples in the boat. How quick we were to let our troubles and fears fog our minds, to turn back and doubt Jesus. But then Jesus calmed the storm, restored our faith and brought peace to our souls.



Let me say I’m not the type to have such profound experiences, which is why I was so surprised and thrilled that I had this one. I came to faith four years ago. For the first two years my doubts were based on intellectual struggles. I’ve pretty much dealt with those and now have a strong intellectual foundation for my faith. However, for the later two years up to the present, many of my doubts have more been based on not having enough of a fulfilling, personal, experiential relationship with God. Being that I don’t seem to be the type that’s wired for the more charismatic type experiences, I think I may have discovered a very powerful life-transforming spiritual discipline here with Shekina Meditation, especially through imagination meditation. It facilitates a personal encounter with Jesus, which in turn grows my relationship with him. All it takes is some time to sit down and imagine being with him. It’s so powerful because I know that it’s not simply fantasy imagination. I know that in doing this something real is actually happening. The Holy Spirit is present, truly ushering me into the presence of Jesus. Jesus is actually really ministering to me in this time. He’s renewing my mind and feeding my soul. I’m definitely coming back for more.

.....

Nice one! and also, here's a groovy icon. Although I don't  think they are sacred (sorry my earnest orthodox family!) and don't use them at all in my own practice, I love the artwork. And yeah, I think I get it, visual meditation.

icon

Shekina Meditation, like a block party, only quieter.

So here it is, a tidbit from a hebrew speaking person who has been coming to the meditation times with us. She wrote this in a shout out to some friends, and thought it was a good insight to share...

"Mmmm mysterious! Let me explain, for some days now I've been meditating on "shekina", which in the Hebrew simply means "to dwell" (shochen) Exodus 25:8 " ... Let them build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell (shocen) with them"

The letter goes on with more words from the Tanach and some seasons greetings, but the main point is right there. It's a good excuse to talk about part of the point, the reason behind of the whole thing, which might come in handy just about now.

It was something she said after the meditation jumped out to me like an indian cow on the highway. She mentioned that when she moved into new zip code in Israel, she had to talk about where she was and who she was, just a run of the mill newbie discussion with her budding hebrew skills.

Turns out she had to say the word for neighborhood (שכונה -Shechonah) and neighbor (שכן-shochen) alot. Did you catch it?  It comes from the same root word that we get shekina. A surprisingly common and familiar word to use for lofty God concepts, don't you think?

some hood

Dwelling, house, abode, living place. Dwelling meditation. Yeah, I like it.

So go with the thought, with the implications. God wants to live with you, in your hood?

Now that's something to meditate on. Often when we start, we invoke the hope and expectation that God would do just that, reveal the presence among us, like right then and there. True, its a sobering even high goal for a one hour circle on a rooftop, if you look at it one way.

On the other hand, anything less might just be a waste of time.

P.s. The newly minted "Bizaam! Insights" category could be full of stuff like this, and better.  You know, lightbulb moments you might get during the meditation time and in discussions after. Even juicy musings on the the topic by frequent flyers. So come on down, weigh in and let it loose man, we'll supply the pulpit.

Okay, pulpit is too strong. Look, don't get all preachy, nobody likes a know it all. Just say what you learned like a normal human being, ok? ;)