The registered participants of the Fr Francis Jordan School for Formators are automatically signed up for our spiritual retreat based on the dynamic of lectio divina. It is a part of our formators’ program. We are asking all other persons, who are interested in participating in the retreat, to sign up. Thank you.
Lectio divina: A Spiritual Path Addressed to Everyone
Lectio divina retreats, conducted by the Salvatorians at the Center for Spiritual Formation in Cracow, Poland, are based on a centuries-long tradition of praying the Word of God. The practice may be used by all the faithful: schooled as well as unschooled, priests, as well as religious or lay persons. Lectio divina proposes a specific type of spirituality and a radical form of Christian life. Lectio divina comprises four stages of praying God’s Word: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation). Embracing lectio divina in faithful and patient a way becomes helpful in a prayerful grasp and interpretation of the Word of God. When one fully yields to its working it can accomplish a oneness with Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who then transforms a human life and becomes its Lord. Lectio divina is also a valuable way of discerning one’s vocation in life: “It is in fact by the light and with the strength of the Word of God that one’s own vocation can be discovered and understood, loved and followed...” (Pastores dabo vobis, 47).
A person who wishes to embrace lectio divina is expected to make a fundamental choice, namely, to put the Word of God in the center of his or her life. It is to love the Word of God above anything else. It is to listen to the Word of God and absorb it with all his or her being: with the mind, the heart, and the will. However, developing in oneself a love for God’s Word and the ability to receive the Word demands a specific form of asceticism. It is to allow time for listening to the Word of God, spending time ‘in the wilderness’ accompanied by the Word of God, enduring in God’s Word, protecting it in one’s heart and praying it. If the Word of God is lived in this way, it will help the person in question live his or her life in a responsible way and fulfill the duties that come with it. Put in the center of one’s daily life, the Word of God will order and purify it by eliminating chaos, anxiety, and selfish attitudes. God’s Word will then become the point of reference for one’s daily choices. It will teach a person to seek the will of God and to respond to it. It will educate him or her towards contemplation in everyday life. It is precisely such a lifestyle that our lectio divina retreats can help those who embrace this path to develop spiritually in the daily reality of their lives.
What is the essence of the dynamics of lectio divina retreats?
The dynamics of lectio divina retreats are based on the four stages of praying the Word of God, namely, lectio—meditatio—oratio—contemplatio, which determine the main points of each day of the retreat. Day by day, the participant is guided to experience his or her personal encounter with the Word of God, which is lived ‘in the wilderness,’ in individual prayer and in absolute silence. He or she is invited and prepared by the retreat master to embrace the four moments of the day:
I. Lectio: Read the sacred text faithfully and attentively as if it was dictated by the Holy Spirit especially for your sake. God’s word, which has been written down, must nevertheless be heard and absorbed by you with all your being.
- Find a quiet place: one where you will be able to find also inner peace.
- Read the chosen text slowly and in a low voice. Such a manner of reading will make your entire body participate in the act of reading; moreover, it will make memorizing easier.
- Try to read the text with all your being: with your mind, heart, and will.
- Try to find a keyword in the text: one that grasps the essential message of the entire piece for you.
II. Meditatio: Try to understand the text as deeply as possible. Ask yourself the question: “What is God saying to me?” Meditation is a gradual introduction to the mystery of the Word: it involves sharp focus of the mind and a pursuit for the truth that is to be found. Try to focus on the Word rather than on yourself. The richness of the Word will help you know and understand yourself. Stop reading to study the piece which has focused your attention. Adhere to the words that cause wonder or anxiety in you. Repeat them and reflect on them. Like Mary, keep the Word, reflecting on it in your heart and await the light for comprehension.
- Begin reading the piece in a low voice.
- Keep repeating the word or the sentence which has focused your attention. Let yourself become ‘saturated’ with it.
- Seek for the exegesis of the Scripture within the Scripture. Try to find the link between a given word or sentence and/or another piece of the Scripture that comes to mind.
- Try to keep in your heart the words that appealed to you most deeply and protect them.
III. Oratio: Speak to God now. Open your heart to him and tell him about the experiences His Word causes in you. Pray in a simple and spontaneous way, using the fruit of the preceding stages: lectio and oratio. Let God enter into your heart and talk to him from your heart. Listen to the movements of your heart. Honestly express them to God as you praise him, thank him, and implore him
- Praise God and thank him for being who He is in your life.
- Recall the workings of God in your life.
- Implore Him, call Him, and express your suffering to Him.
- You can pray in this manner at any moment or at any time you choose, e.g. during the Eucharist, during the Liturgy of the Word or while praying the Rosary.
IV. Contemplatio: Stay by God’s side with all your being. Pray by means of your presence. Contemplation is the time of a silent sigh of the Spirit, a time of solace in God, of speaking heart to heart. It is an hour visitation with the Word.
- Try to remain silent, motionless, and focused.
- Open yourself up to the grace of contemplation. Be with God wherever He is.
- Abide in the experience of waiting and searching. The most important thing is to develop a strong and lasting relation with God Himself.
- Try to perceive yourself, others, and the events that happen the way God can see them and allow His grace to inform everything. Once you accomplish a vision from the perspective of God, you will find peace.
The purpose of the retreat
The purpose of the retreat is to open oneself up to the saving power of the Word which can transform one’s life. An intense experience of prayer ‘in the wilderness’ is supposed to help the participant become fond of the Word of God, to get to know its spiritual taste and to open himself or herself to its calling. Personal prayer is supposed to result in an increasingly deeper experience of the power of God’s Word which aims at transforming the entire history of a person’s life: past, present and future. In the course of the retreat the participant is guided to discover and experience the power of the Word of God and of the Spirt acting through it, since it is the Spirit that inspires the person so that he or she can find the whole truth about his or her life. The Word of God has the potential of reaching the deepest and most hidden corners of the person’s heart and to pass judgment on its desires and thoughts. Lectio divina results in a specific experience of the ‘fecundity’ of the Word of God, which engenders new life in the human being by purifying and healing the person, by saving him or her here and now. The Word of God is capable of entering even the bruised history of a human life and is capable of healing it and rendering it holy. Mary, who listens to the Word, who keeps it in her heart and protects it, who confronts it with her own life, and who gives birth to the Word, is a special patroness of those undertaking the path of retreat. She is a paragon for them to follow.
Spiritual accompaniment in the retreat
Having entered the path of prayer by means of the Word of God, one should not proceed on one’s own, resorting merely to one’s own strength. The more a participant yields to the working of the Word of God, the more he or she should seek help from a person experienced in the realm of spiritual direction. Thus, each participant in the retreat receives individual guidance from a spiritual director who assists him or her in this personal experience and discernment of the challenges posed by God’s Word. The Word of God speaks to everyone in a unique, unrepeatable way. The dynamics of this retreat takes into account precisely the ‘uniqueness and unrepeatability.’ It takes into account the ‘pace’ and the level of intimacy with God a given person has developed. The spiritual director assists the participant in an individual process of opening up to the Word of God, of receiving and responding to it entirely. The spiritual director prays together with the participant, listening to the Word, to its calling and to its movements. The spiritual director’s accompanying presence becomes most important at the delicate time when the participant, in prayer, confronts his or her life, with the Word of God. At a time when the Word acknowledges and strengthens what is good and when it guides him or her towards a crisis which will purify and eliminate the temptation to follow one’s own path rather that the path the Word of God delineates.
Conditions of participation in the retreat
1. A desire and decision to embrace an eight-day personal retreat lived in absolute silence.
2. An experience gained in personal formation through praying the Word of God. Two possible ways to prepare for the retreat are: attending the School of Praying the Word of God, which offers regular courses in the Center for Spiritual Formation in Cracow, and the practice of praying the Word in daily life based on the “Notebook of Spiritual Exercises” published by the Center for Spiritual Formation.
3. It is vital to have the ability of self-observation and a have the desire to voice one’s inner tensions and difficulties that occur in the process of personal prayer by means of the Word of God.
Compiled by Fr. Krzysztof Wons, SDS