The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 82: Contemplative Summer Week Four – Contemplating Scripture
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating scripture.
The Bible has long been described as a living book and it’s true that passages of scripture can speak to us in different ways as we read or hear them at various times throughout our lives. Lectio Divina is a 6thcentury practice that each of us can use to allow the living word to speak directly to us, where and as we are. Practiced in a community or individually, the meditative prayer method of Lectio Divina has been equated to a ‘feasting on the word’ – or the taking in of a short passage of scripture in four steps:
- The first is Lectio or ‘reading’. Consider this step as taking a bite or a first read of a passage.
- The second step is Meditatio or ‘meditation’. In this step we ‘chew on’ that passage a bit further.
- The third step is Oratio or ‘prayer’. Here we savor the essence of the passage by focusing on a word or phrase that sticks out to us.
- And finally, there’s Contemplatio or contemplation, where we digest the passage and make it a part of us.
This week I contemplated the Gospel reading of the day which I found with a quick Google search, and as you choose a reading to contemplate, you may decide to do that as well, or maybe there’s a passage that comes to you through another route, but just a reminder here that in any contemplative practice, we ask God for help, we give God time and attention, and we ask the Holy Spirit to direct any thoughts or insights from our time of contemplation. So, I’ll walk you through my experience with Lectio Divina this week, and I’ll describe some of the fruit of that time, but remember, your time of contemplation will and should look totally different from mine. The fruit of a contemplative practice will be as unique as we beloved children of God are.
Okay so first, I settled myself in a seat outside in the shade, I asked the Holy Spirit to direct me, and I read the Gospel of the day out loud. That first reading, the ‘lectio’ is our first step, and I’ll read the passage here for you so we’re on the same page.
This is from the Gospel according to Matthew.
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?”
He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted
and I heal them.
“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, after I read this the first time, slowly and with attention, I sat for a minute and asked God to give me some clarity, because honestly, friend, this reading has always kind of bugged me. I never understood why God would ordain some eyes and ears to be closed and others to be open to his message, and I never got why some who had a little bit of that message would have it taken away – none of that ever seemed fair or particularly useful in God’s plan to make his love and mercy known throughout the world.
So, as I sat, I journaled these thoughts – kind of like a letter to God, before embarking on the second step, which is meditation. In this step, we’re not analytically breaking down a reading, but we are seeking illumination with it. So maybe there is a word or a phrase that stuck out to us in the first step that we can kind of revisit here to consider how God may be speaking to us. I focused on the prophecy from Isaiah that’s embedded in the Gospel passage – I found it chilling, honestly and timely in that it seems representative of where we’re at in the church, in our country, and in the world today. It does seem to me that in this time, that there are so many people with eyes and ears closed tight to the truth in so many different ways that I found myself feeling kind of hopeless because if God won’t open the eyes and ears of his people, who will? And since most people believe that they’re operating from the truth, even when our truths conflict starkly with that of our neighbors, how does a person know that their eyes and ears are the ones that are open to the ways of God? How does a person know for sure that they are not the ones who are deluded?
Okay so then, I journaled some more and it’s important to note that as I did that, I did not censor myself at all, but just wrote whatever thought or question came to mind, and friend, I hope you will do that too. There’s no reason to hide any thought from God who made you and loves you and who already knows what you’re thinking anyway. Okay, so after a time, I read the passage again.
In this oratio stage, which is conversation with God, I focused on the people that Jesus speaks to at the end of the passage: “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear,” and I wondered just how Jesus could know that every person in his audience that day were really seeing him and hearing his words clearly.
Well, it occurred to me that they are the ones who heard Jesus directly, the ones who received his message intimately, in relationship, without the lens of another person or the trappings of an institution. This seems important. As Jesus says in the Book of John, chapter 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” It seems critical to me in this passage that Jesus knew their hearts and minds were open because they are the ones who heard straight from him. And friend, we can do that, too.
On further reading, I understood that the ones whose eyes and ears were closed to the message of Jesus had closed them intentionally because of their fear of conversion. God was never the one who kept them closed after all.
It says, “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.”
A short word study on the Greek word that is translated in this passage as ‘gross’ helped me to understand it further as: dull, stubborn, stupefied, hard, calloused, dense, or obtuse when referring to people’s hearts, and ‘heart’ here referring to the mind or emotional state.
But God is in the business of actual conversion of hearts, and on some level, we all know that’s not an easy road – it’s not one that we move ‘around’ but ‘through’. And the kind of transformation Jesus speaks of is scary, it’s certainly not a safe seat in a pew or on an altar that we sit in our whole lives, and so it’s no wonder that we’d close our eyes and ears to his message at times. Following Jesus on his self-sacrificial road that calls us to die daily to ourselves is the Christian life, but as I look at the American church today, I do wonder if that call to conversion is evident in our messaging and our action.
Well, as I continued and journaled some more, I moved toward the fourth stage of Lectio Divina which is contemplation. An image came to my mind of Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This character was a boy who transformed into a dragon because of his greed, and the only way to return to his true self was for Aslan, a lion who represents Christ in the story, to painfully and methodically remove his scales and then wash him in a well of clear water. It’s a beautiful picture of transformation and baptism, and Eustace submits to it only because he’s hit rock bottom, alone and lonely, set apart from all humanity, and desperate to return to the boy he was before. And I wonder if you’ve ever experienced a moment like this in your faith life. I know I have.
Well, this journey of desperation followed by conversion is a hard road but as I said, it is the Christian road. If we refuse to humbly submit to transformation, we can find ourselves in the group that Jesus refers to in the passage, those who have their spiritual gifts and leading taken away. And we’ve seen that in the church among our leaders over and over, haven’t we, friends? I guess the biggest insight I got from this time of contemplation is the central truth that humility and conversion lived as a pattern over and over in our lives, is the very means by which Jesus can finally heal us, giving us eyes to see and ears to hear. And this is the healing that he longs to offer us in love.
Well, that was a bit of my experience with contemplating scripture this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own with whatever passage of scripture you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related to the scripture that I contemplated this week, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. I pray that as we contemplate scripture this week, that we’ll uncover some attribute of you that we might not have known before, and that we’ll experience you anew in the living word that you offer us in love.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week four is all about contemplating scripture. As you choose a passage of scripture to contemplate as you draw near to God this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. The Undragoning of Eustace, by Jennifer Neyhart
2. Lectio Divina: A Beginner’s Guide, by Busted Halo
3. App: Laudate, an easy way to find the readings of the day (or a quick search will do the trick as well)
4. Book: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis (I highly recommend all of the Narnia series for reading by all ages – a beautiful parable of how God operates in our lives.)