In Wednesday’s post, I shared with you the process medieval monastics used to read and remember the Scriptures. Discovering and studying the way of the medieval has been deeply satisfying, a gift and practice of delight in this particular season of living. You can go back and revisit that post here.
In this post, I hope to offer suggestions for how you might also “go medieval.” Considering all we are facing in our country right now, I’d say going medieval isn’t a half bad idea. The foundations for my suggestions come from reading Beauty of God and Journey of the Mind to God, as well as studying various spiritual practices which find their roots in medieval monastic culture.
“The soul must be awakened to the reach of its profoundest yearning: for the ‘Beauty, ever ancient, ever new,’ ‘holy delight,’ form beyond all the grace of created forms, most beautiful of beings, and Beauty of all beauties. Once glimpsed the charm of God’s Beauty [decus] can sweep the heart upward, to Himself, the swelling fountain of unfailing sweetness that alone can satiate the soul’s deep thirst for beauty.” –Robert O’Connell, Art and the Christian Intelligence in St. Augustine
“[The universe] is a beautifully composed poem in which every mind may discover, through the succession of events, the diversity, multiplicity, and justice, the order, rectitude and beauty, of the countless divine decrees that proceed from God’s wisdom ruling the universe.…The creature is not merely a creature; the creature is a sign that points to something beyond itself….the universe of things is a universe of signs, whose ultimate significance is the Sign-Giver.” –Bonaventure
Let’s begin with this: there are no hard rules for how you go through this practicing and praying in the way of the medieval monastics. What follows are suggestions—meant for going through slowly and over time–for engaging fully your imagination, emotion, and intellect. All that is necessary is positioning your heart, mind and soul as an apprentice on one hand and a lover on the other.
- Take two or three minutes to slow down. Take several deep breaths to help clear your mind of distractions. Invite the Holy Spirit to come, dwell with you in this time and space. Ask him to enliven your senses, fine tune your emotions, and sharpen your intellect. Ask him to be come and fully be your Helper.
- Open to the passage of Scripture you have chosen to read and re-member; to ‘memorialize.’ Before you begin reading, actively engage your five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, sound.
- Lectio|Outward. Read through your selected passage. As you read continually ‘tune into’ your senses. Ask: What do I hear and see? What might I taste? What does this place smell like? What does it feel like against my skin? Imagine yourself in the scene as either the writer himself, or another character or object within the scene. Or maybe the writer’s intended audience. This is easiest done with narrative passages or the New Testament letters. However, even passages in Psalms and Ecclesiastes can be accessed through a multi-sensory examination.
- Make notes of your multi-sensorial impressions. You will likely read through a passage several times for creating and layering the scene. With each reading, ask yourself: How do these sensory details enliven my understanding of what I’ve just read? What emotions are evoked within me as this passage becomes three dimensional? How is my curiosity further sparked? Following the possible answers to these questions alone can lead you into a deeper meditation, an inward “chewing on the passage” for the purpose of internalizing the text into your moral character.
- Meditatio|Inward. Read through the passage and any notes you wrote during your lectio time. What words does your mind “snags” on? What words catch your attention? Make note of these. Focus on one to study at a time.
- Attend deeply to any of the following questions: What do I think of when I consider this word? What images or ideas come to mind? Where else does this word appear in Scripture? What is the context surrounding the word each time? How might these other uses of the word (and their varying contexts) enliven and bring meaning to the word as it is used here? More personally: What images and understandings are evoked within me as I consider this word? Why does this word capture my attention in this particular season of my life? How might the Holy Spirit be leading me to live out this word (or idea or image) in the here and now of my days? This last question borders the lands between mediatio and contemplatio.
- Contemplatio|Upward. Leading from the last questions above: bring all you have imagined, learned, and meditated on thus far and lay it as a bowl of incense before the Lord. Ask him to turn it all into a pleasing aroma for his glory. Ask him to miracle your inner seeing, so you might follow him ever further into his Beauty.
- Here is the full manifestation of “Delight in the Lord.” As you continually engage in the work of moving through a biblical passage with the help of the Holy Spirit: examining it in a multi-sensorial way, engaging your imagination, allowing it to inhabit the full interiority of your emotions and intellect, and then connecting it to the greater story of the Word made flesh, you position yourself at the thin line between Heaven and Earth. The veil is drawn back, the Kingdom Eternal and His King revealed.
“Then I saw a new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” –Revelation 21:1-3
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.” –T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton