"Experience a time of profound silence and praying the Scriptures as you enter into deeper relationship with God and Self. Blends a rhythm of Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and prayer with the monastic community." This description of the weekend retreat was very inviting. It offered an opportunity to be with a community of Centering Pray-ers in the peaceful and prayerful setting of the St. Paul's Monastery. I was eager to attend!
Lectio Divina, Divine Reading, is a traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the texts of scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and He was suggesting the topics of conversation. It is listening with the "ear" of the heart.
The early Christian monks would listen to the Scriptures read early in the morning in the monastery and then continue to reflect on these words as they went about their daily tasks. The meaning of Scripture gradually deepened and the presence of God was with them in their hearts and minds.
Here was an opportunity for me to have that ancient monastic experience right in St. Paul.
The weekend schedule was divided between periods of Centering Prayer and gatherings to read, (Lectio), Reflect (Meditatio), Respond (Oratio) and Rest (Contemplation) in the Scripture. We were to respond with our hearts and allow Christ to speak to us and to commune with us. We let the Scripture passage chose us for our meditation..
Then we shared in the small group as we chose. We were a group of eight people so there was time to share and listen carefully to each other. Different than a Bible Study Group we were not studying the Scripture but entering into contemplation with the passage-the Divine Reading. As we moved through the day, we were given the opportunity to "rest in God", as Gregory the Great summarized, ruminating about our words from scripture.
Sr. Virginia, the Retreat Director, choose quotes from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, and Psalms 9 and 10 for our listening Lectio. Then she suggested that we use our visual senses for an experience of Lectio Divina. An exhibit of New Testament Images by Kirsten Malcom Berry lined the monastery walkway. The artist had selected brief passages and illustrated each one with a unique style that lent itself to introspection. I had enjoyed viewing these Images while walking in the halls but had not stopped to reflect closely. After strolling again through the walkway, I was stopped by one image showing many circular lines drawn in greens, browns and blues intersecting and bisecting each other. On close view, there was a pattern to the circular design that I did not notice until I began communing with the image.
The scripture passage was "Above all clothe yourself with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony". Colossians 3:14 Standing there reading and then reflecting, the image began to open up in its meaning. I saw my life as going around in circles—sometimes slogging sometimes swirling. The brown colors suggested those times of difficulty, trials. The blue tones reminded me of joyful experiences. In addition, threading through the design was a green line sometimes shaded gold that spoke to me of the presence of Christ throughout my life. At points in the painting, the green was obscured but looking closely, it was there. Just as in my life. I was never really alone-Christ's love was always with me.
Some weeks after the retreat, I became acutely aware again of this painting and of my experience of it. Because of a family member's medical situation, this is a time of great anxiety and uncertainty- those brown lines. For a brief respite, I was walking around the park by the Mississippi River and the painting came clearly into mental focus. Yes, Christ is with me. The green line is there. I need to clothe my self with love – to respond with love to the persons involved in this situation. I need to "rest in God". He is present everywhere in this situation even though it may seem to be mysterious to me. The graces of the retreat were with me.
On a retreat, sometimes ordinary events become extraordinary. Our minds and hearts are opened to be mindful of God's presence not only in the people in our midst but nature as well. I was slowly strolling down the walkway on Saturday night to the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea. Looking out into the dark gardens, which were dimly lit by the light coming from the inner rooms, I saw a fully grown deer standing tall and proud looking straight at me. The deer had come into the garden yard to eat the from the bird seed feeder posted near the window. I was surprised and delighted to see the deer (a former "big city" girl, I am thrilled by the closeness of the wildlife to our Minnesota homes) and especially delighted to see that the deer seemed to be calmly communicating with me. We stood facing each other for a few minutes. Then I went to get my cup of tea and bringing it back, enjoyed drinking it while my new companion continued to eat the birdseed. It was moments of awe at the majesty of this beast and wonder at the gifts of nature in the safe stillness of night.
We grow in our relationship with God in so many moments. We grow through the reading of scripture, the reflecting of scripture, responding and praying the scripture and finally resting in God's presence. We then follow the lead of the Spirit in everyday events including our visual experiences as well as our experiences of all creatures.
Joan Kovacs, is a member of the Centering Prayer Group at the Villa Maria, Frontenac. She lives now lives in Red Wing and is a former member of the Coordinating Committee of the Contemplative Outreach Chapter in Long Island, New York. She is a trained presenter.