This year our Advent study is on praying with the Bible, using the book “Praying Scripture for a Change” by Tim Gray as a guide. This book is my favorite introduction to “lectio divina,” the classic method of entering into a prayerful dialogue with the Scriptures. I hope that these reflections also help as a general aide in growing in prayer during this holy season.
The first classic step is “Lectio” – “reading.” It is important to begin with the right mindset. Our goal in prayerful reading is not just “getting through” the book, but savoring its content. This can be challenging for us since we often are focused on efficiency in our life. Instead, we should focus on growing in our relationship with God. We should take some time to reflect on when/where/how we will prepare to pray to help focus and avoid distractions (although the most important thing about praying is to actually pray! Don’t put off prayer just because a situation isn’t perfect), and then begin our reading with prayer.
If you are wondering what to pray with, I recommend the upcoming Sunday Gospel (which can be found at usccb.org under “Daily Readings”) or just reading through one of the Gospels chapter by chapter.
As we read, we should pay attention to what strikes us in the passage. Maybe it is a verse that encourages and inspires us, or a verse that challenges us or confuses us. Our goal at this point isn’t to begin to process it, but to discern where God is calling us to enter into our meditation and prayer. The remaining steps will guide us in how to respond to this passage.
Throughout this week I shared a number of additional thoughts on Facebook, which I will list below. Next week we will consider the second step: Meditation. God bless!
Monday: We can’t completely avoid distractions in prayer, but we can take measures to stay focused. St Charles Bellarmine offered this challenge at the last synod he attended, and I offer it as an invitation to reflect on the place, time, posture, and environment that might help us to enter into prayer: “Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?”
Tuesday: Another key way that we can help to be attentive and focused in our prayer/reading is to begin with a prayer. Here is a classic prayer to the Holy Spirit, drawn from Psalm 104:30 – Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.” O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Wednesday: Here is a very helpful reminder from the Catechism about dealing with distractions in prayer – sometimes we get flustered by them, when really what is needed is a simple response! “To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified” (CCC 2729).
Thursday: St Ignatius Loyola often recommends in his Spiritual Exercises that the reader imagine themselves in a scene of the Scriptures. We may be an onlooker, or place ourselves in the role of someone in the scene. This can help us to enter into the passage that we are reading and spark details to bring to meditation and prayer.
Friday: A final piece of advice for this week to help engage and focus on the text we are reading is to see the way that it connects with the Old or New Testament. St Augustine wrote, “This grace [ie, the salvation of Christ] hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament.” The parts of the Bible are interconnected, and so looking for connections to other passages is another approach we can take during our reading to help prepare for our meditation.