Monday, November 22, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 4

After we read Scripture, meditate on it and respond in prayer, the fourth rhythm of lectio divina is contemplatio. Here we contemplate—focus on—God with us. Rather than rushing directly into the day’s activities, we linger for awhile in his presence. We might remain seated where we are, enjoying God’s company, or we might take a walk with the Lord outdoors.

4. Savoring God’s Presence
Contemplatio is attending to God’s presence. Here we behold the beauty of the Lord. We bask in the brilliance of his light. Like taking in a spectacular view from the top of a mountain, we savor a bit of God’s splendor.

During this fourth rhythm of lectio divina, we are not analyzing anything or necessarily saying anything; rather, we fix our gaze on the Lord. David describes such attentiveness to the Lord in Psalm 27:4,

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I my dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple. (NASB)

David wants to “behold” or “gaze upon” (NIV) the Lord. In the same way, we can dedicate the last part of lectio divina to center on God’s presence. The Latin translation of “behold” or “gaze upon” is the verb contemplatio, hence the name of this fourth rhythm.

Resting and Relationship
In contemplatio, we delight in God’s divine presence. Like holding the hand of someone we love, we simply appreciate his nearness. Like two lovers sitting on a swing together, we relish God’s friendship. We experience Jesus’ closeness to us—we absorb his love. As we do so, we come to know how deeply we are cherished.

Contemplatio is not the time for mulling things over in our minds; rather, it is an opportunity to seek God’s face. David continues in Psalm 27:8,

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (NASB)

Our culture is one of activity and analysis. We like to “do” something to make ourselves useful. Likewise, we like to analyze and critique. Contemplatio is about neither doing nor critiquing. Instead, it is about relationship and resting. That makes this final rhythm of lectio divina more difficult to grasp—and much more difficult to do—for most modern Christians.

During this time we are not trying to be productive. Rather, like a relaxed Sunday afternoon with close family and friends, we want to waste time, as it were, with God. Of course, intimate time with God is anything but a “waste.” Yet, that is often how it feels to us because in the back of our minds we want to get on with our “to do” list for the day.

Therefore, learning contemplatio takes commitment and practice for most of us. We need to determine that we will not cut our time with God short in order to move on to the “important things” of the day. Instead we remind ourselves that our close connection with the Lord is by far the most significant event of the day, and we are not going to skimp on it.

Should Christians Practice Contemplation?

Some believers question whether or not contemplation is legitimate for Christians to practice. Having been told that it is “emptying one’s mind”—a form of transcendental meditation—they avoid it.

While they raise a legitimate concern, this objection comes from a misunderstanding of Christian contemplation. Far from emptying our minds, contemplatio engages our hearts and minds—but not in an analytical way.

In fact, we all participate in contemplation at various times: viewing a sunset, enjoying a beautiful painting or piece of music, gazing into the eyes of someone we love. Contemplation engages our faculties in an aesthetic/relational way. In none of these situations have we emptied our minds to enter some state of nirvana. If we were blanking out our minds, we would miss the sunset or painting or person across from us. Instead of analyzing, however, we are soaking it all in at once, as it were.

In the same way, during contemplatio we actively attend to God’s presence. We soak in his love and glory all at once rather than analyzing any particular attribute of the divine. We enjoy his presence. Such adoration and enjoyment is what David calls us to in Psalm 27 as he describes his longing to gaze up/behold/contemplate the Lord.

Finally, in this fourth rhythm of lectio divina we take time to adore the Lord for his splendor and majesty. We stand in awe of the Almighty. Like soaking in a magnificent sunset, we still ourselves in silent adoration of our God. We bask in his glory.

Many of us have experienced contemplatio from time to time at the end of Sunday worship. For example, after singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the congregation remains for a few moments in silence. This is not a dead silence by any means—to the contrary, it is pregnant with the Lord’s manifest presence. We touch God’s grandeur and awesome holiness.

Such times of silent awe are priceless. Our theological belief in God’s holiness is changed into a live encounter with that holiness. The more we experience God’s righteousness and utter divinity, the more we will be transformed by it. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 states, “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory” (TNIV).

Adoration in God’s presence does not need to be limited to singing our favorite hymns or worship choruses. It can become part of our regular devotion to the Lord as we take time for contemplatio. We must remember, though, that we are not seeking an emotional high or spiritual experience. Rather, we are attending to God’s presence and adoring him—simply because he is worthy of our attention and worship! Experiences, per se, will come and go. Emotions ride up and down. Our focus, however, remains fixed on the Lord. That is what contemplatio is all about.

Try it this week. After your Scripture reading, meditation and prayer, “hang around” for awhile in God’s presence. You may be able to focus for only a few minutes at first—that is okay. A short time may be all that you are ready to encounter.

Like looking into the eyes of someone you love, this interaction can be deeply intimate and very intense. As a result, you may not always be able to maintain your focus for very long. Your mind might begin to wander. That is normal. Rather than become discouraged or upset with yourself, gently gather your attention back on the Lord. You might do so by reviewing your Scripture passage, or you might refocus by softly speaking the name “Jesus” or “Abba,” centering your thoughts back on the One you love.

Also, you may not be able to practice this fourth rhythm of lectio divina every day. Take time for contemplatio as you are able. The more you experience it and enjoy it, the more you will look forward to those uninterrupted moments alone with God!

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your excellent posts on lectio divina. As a spiritual exercise it is something that is missing from our practices, especially amongst Evangelicals to our loss.

    I agree with you that that contemplation is often misunderstood, often mistaken for Buddhist meditation. Contemplation is the human experience of engagement of our hearts and minds with the Divine.