O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
Part of the benefit of the season of Lent is recognizing how much we desire God. The psalmist today says, “My soul thirsts for you”. When we remove some of our distractions it can become very clear to us of how much we need and want God in our lives.
During this Lent, Emmanuel’s focus is on the three pillars of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. For the past two weeks the intergenerational formation team helped us to learn more about fasting, both the why we do it, as well as what distractions may keep us away from God. For these next two weeks the focus is on prayer, inviting God into our lives. Come to their presentation after the service and you will be presented a variety of approaches to prayer. In the week ahead, I encourage you to try at least one of them.
This morning I want to describe a traditional way to pray, called Lectio Divina. Lectio and its offshoots can also be used as a method of Bible study.
There are variations of Lectio. We have used a few of these at Emmanuel in the past. One variation is the basis for the program “Pray as you Go”. By the way, this is still available on the web and can be used by individuals or groups. Just google “Pray as you Go”.
The traditional form of Lectio Divina has four basic steps.
As one begins this type of prayer, it is important to be in a quiet environment without disturbances. And then to sit still for a moment or two to calm your thoughts. As you begin say a short prayer to the Holy Spirit to bring guidance during this time.
The first step is Lectio.
Read the scripture passage you are using aloud. Do this slowly and prayerfully. Don’t just skim the passage and say, “I remember this story”. For this type of prayer, the story is not the point. Instead listen as you slowly read for a word or phrase that God has prepared for you on that day. You may want to read the passage more than once, if at first no phrase or word stands out to you.
The second step is Meditatio.
When a word or phrase strikes you, stop reading and rest with it. Repeat the word to yourself. Ponder it, reflecting on what it means to you. Let it interact with your thoughts, hopes, memories, and desires. Your mind may take you to something in your history; let that memory soak in. Or it might take you to something you hope for the future; stay with that for a moment. Return to the word or phrase and repeat it.
The third step is Oratio.
After you have focused on the word, formulate a prayer from your heart. What do you want to say to the Lord in response to the Word he has given you? Enter into the conversation with God.
The fourth step is Contemplatio.
Rest in God’s presence. Sit still with God. Empty your mind. Remember that contemplation is not your action but rather it is allowing God to act in you. Sit at peace in this time of quiet rest with God.
Then, as you finish say a short prayer of thanks for this time spent with God.
Those steps again are Reading God’s word, Hearing God’s word, Responding to God and Resting with God. Lectio Divina is a quiet and slow process. It will not be rushed. You must give the scripture time to work into you.
I chose to use this method with today’s story of Moses and his call from God. Over a period of a couple of weeks I used the Lectio method with today’s Old Testament passage and each time a different phrase or word stood out. I am going to tell you the phrases as well as some thoughts that came to me in my reflections on them. Remember that these did not all happen at one time. This was a process I did over many days. I will tell you these in the order they appear in the passage, though this is not the order they came to me.
Here are my reflections.
“The bush was blazing and yet it was not consumed”
For those of us who enjoy fire pits or fireplaces with real logs we know how fascinating a controlled fire is. However, fire is dangerous, and it can quickly destroy everything in its path if we are not careful. It is no wonder that when Moses saw this fiery bush that would not burn up, he had to pause and give it his full attention. Moses stopped what he was doing to focus on this bush and when he did, he was rewarded by hearing God call his name. God uses many ways to get our attention. Some are more dramatic than others, but He will get our attention.
Sometimes these attention getters are in a church season, like Lent or the Triduum. These yearly events offer reward if we make use of them. Sometimes God will grab our attention in seeing something in the natural world. If we pause, the beauty of God’s creation is overwhelming. It could be a sunset or the stark nature of trees without their leaves, or a particularly large group of deer in a field, or …Again we see God’s hand and hear his word if we stop and see. Sometimes unfortunately our attention does not turn to God unless it is a time of sorrow, a death or serious illness of ourselves or a loved one.
God will get our attention.
“God called to him.”
What special times these are when God calls using words! We have no control over when, or even if, we might ever hear God’s call in words. It would be nice if we would have this type of clear message. In so many ways Moses was fortunate to have heard God speak to him in such a direct fashion.
In last week’s Old Testament passage Abram received God’s message to him in a vision or dream. And that is also a way for us to hear God’s direction for our lives. Sometimes though, our sense of call is not this straight forward and yet it is no less a call from our Lord. We might experience God’s will for our lives through other people and what they may say to us, or ask of us. At other times we will find a great sense of calm as we are considering the options facing us and we will know in our selves that this is what God would have us choose.
These times of discerning God’s will may be lengthy or may be short. Prayer, spending time with scripture, discussing the choices with a trusted advisor can be helpful. Sitting quietly with the question and not thinking of the options is also a very special way of prayer. Giving God the time to speak and yourself the place to listen is what most often brings resolution to your questions.
Moses was most fortunate that he heard God speak directly to him, giving him the task that God had chosen for him. For us, most often, discernment is work. Answers unfold over time rather than quickly.
God does call us.
“I will be with you.”
Moses’ reaction was the same as yours or mine would have been, why me God? Why do you choose me; I cannot do this. God reassures with these words, “I will be with you”. In effect, God reminds Moses, and us, that we are not ever doing something we are called to do on our own. This phrase offers comfort and reassurance to God’s people throughout time.
He will be with us.
God’s name is I AM, not I do or I will be or I was, but I AM. God is the one in charge. We as human beings respond to God’s I am. We are not human do-ings but human be-ings. Spending time being with God is as important as what we do. We need this time of being nurtured by God in order to accomplish anything he has called us to do.
Moses is told God’s name for all time is “I am.” He is the one in charge.
“The bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” God will get our attention.
“God called to him.” God calls to us.
“I will be with you.” God will be with us.
“I am.” God is all.
Preparing for this sermon, using the Lectio method, was fruitful for me. I encourage you, again, to try a new way to pray in the week ahead. As the psalmist reminds us, we are hungry for God, our soul thirsts for him.
Prayer is one way God will feed us.