This morning, I want to explore with you a spiritual practice called Lectio Divina, or sacred reading. This method of praying with scripture is very ancient; it began with the desert mothers and fathers during the church’s first few centuries of life. There’s an excellent chapter about Lectio Divina in The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault. She writes:
The early monks talked about “ruminating” scripture: not ruminating on scripture (as in pondering it), but ruminating it like a cow chewing its cud. Lectio Divina is a time-tested way of “chewing scripture” feeding on it, absorbing it deeply into one’s being where, like all food, it provides nurturance and energy for growth. . . . The practice is based on the wager that scripture is a living word—not just history, not just facts and figures you can read in a book, but a source of ongoing personal guidance that can speak to your heart in the here and now, offering insight and uncannily timely assistance. (p. 150)
Lectio divina is generally a solitary and silent practice. However, there is also a richness that comes when we modify this practice so that it can be done in community, as we do each Wednesday evening, and now, in our worship service.
I want to begin by giving you a framework in which to receive today’s text from Romans. What I hear in this text, in a nutshell, is that daily life is worship. “Present your bodies as a living offering, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” “Bodies” here are not separated from, or in opposition to, minds, hearts, and spirits. Paul is simply remembering that we are embodied creatures. Worship happens when our bodies show up in the world with reverence. Worship means making an offering to God of all that we say and think and do. These times of virtual church seem to present an opportunity to get serious about the worship of our daily lives.
I recently made a pilgrimage to the space in north Minneapolis dedicated to silent prayer, which Barb described at the beginning of the service. I’m glad that our congregation was able to support this effort, because opening up a space for deeper reflection strikes me as a key element in the process of reimagining public safety. Prayer lays the groundwork for the radical change we need. That’s what Paul is talking about: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” In order to respond to the world’s problems with faith and faithfulness we need to enter a safe, open space within ourselves that listens and learns, that responds to the stirrings of the Spirit. And, yet, we can, and must, find that quiet space, that sacred hum in the middle of noise and activity, amid the hopes and fears, annoyances and delights, injustices and dilemmas of ordinary people. In that sense, a tent pitched in the parking lot of a strip mall is a very appropriate place for prayer. Believe it or not, prayer is at its best when the smell of fried food hangs in the air, and golden arches loom above, as flies bite ankles and masks belabor breathing, amid the roaring and screeching of traffic on a busy city street. Because—the renewal and transformation at the heart of the Gospel is always connected to, and enmeshed with, daily life.
Now, I’m going to share my screen with the Romans text on it. Just the first five verses. Listen, as I read it two more times, with silence between readings. Listen with your heart, as much as your ears. Listen for a word or a phrase that tugs at you, that speaks to you, that seems to be particularly for you.
Romans 12:1-5: I appeal to you therefore, siblings, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living offering, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
Now, I would ask you to post your word or phrase in the chat box. It’s fine if you’re repeating what someone else already said. That amplification is part of the process.
Now, I’m going to give you two minutes of silence to ruminate your word or phrase. Repeat it to yourself. Let your mind go free. Let memories and experiences bubble up. Let feelings arise. Ask what food, what nutrition, there is for you in the text. How is the Spirit speaking to you through this text, touching your daily life? You’ll hear a bell at the beginning and the end of the silence.
Listen to the text one last time. If you wish, you can share something about your experience of prayer. We have time for a few comments. If you’d like to say something, make a note in the chat and I’ll call on you. Or you can write your reflection and post it in the chat for us all to read.
[People share reflections.]
I’ll close with the words from the meditation we heard earlier, shared at the northside prayer space, as an expression of hope for our future:
Pray with love and hope and peace;
pray with kindness, goodness, joy;
pray with compassion. Pray with power.
Then, in the Amen, become your prayer.