Lectio Divina: An Ancient Practice for Today

Some people are naturally contemplative. Being quiet and present to the moment seems to come more easily for some. That’s not me. I’m a talker. As a natural extrovert I’m energized by being around people and being busy.

Yet for sometime I’ve been striving to find a balance between my tendency to talk and be busy and a longing to be more quiet, reflective, attentive. Four years ago I was introduced to Lectio Divina, a Latin term meaning ‘divine reading’.

This practice was introduced to Christianity in the third century by a bishop named Origen. In the 6th century a monk named Benedict began to incorporate Lectio Divina as a recommended practice for his fellow monks.

Benedict and the Word

The practice is simple. Lectio Divina is a practice of reading the ancient texts from the Judeo-Christian tradition and sitting in silence. The earliest practitioners believed that scripture was a ‘living word’, which when spoken becomes animated by the Spirit of God. Lectio understood in this way becomes a

place of meeting

between the reader, the listener and that great mystery we call, Spirit.

Each Friday morning for the past four years I’ve gathered with a small group of practitioners. Three times we read the scripture for that coming Sunday’s worship service. Each reading is accompanied by a question: What image or phrase speaks to you? What questions or insights come to mind? What wisdom will you apply to your life?

Following each question we sit for 5 – 10 minutes in silence. Sometimes we respond briefly to the second question. The ‘good stuff’ however comes with the silence.

Reading the same passage three times allows us to hear at a deeper level. The silence which follows allows the hearer to become ‘steeped’ in the ‘word of God’ (think of a good cup of tea that becomes richer the longer the leaves are allowed to steep in the water).

I must add that there is something wonderfully moving about sitting in silence with others. Together a collective energy emerges. All religious traditions know this to be true.

Our word religion is from the Latin ‘religio’, which means to attach or re-attach to that which is sacred. Since the third century Lectio Divina has helped people to attach and re-attach to that which we believe is good, lasting and true. Lectio takes to the heart the wisdom of the prophet Isaiah who 2700 years ago said: “Listen and your soul will live.” (Isaiah 55:3).

Note: First Baptist Church in Beverly has an open group every Friday morning 7:15 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. 221 Cabot Street, Beverly MA. Or, ask around in your local community for an existing group or invite a few friends to start one with you. As you listen you will be blessed and be a blessing to others.

My Mentor in the Christian Life

Don Hutchinson 2For twenty years I’ve been mentored in the Christian life by Don Hutchinson.  During this time I’ve had the great privilege of being Don’s pastor.

Don is a gentle soul who has been a prophetic voice for the full inclusion of our gay sisters and brothers into the life of the church and as full citizens in society.

Don and his life partner Lee Swantek worked to bring down walls of division and prejudice within the church and wider community.  Don and Lee were the ‘go to guys’ within the congregation and wider community when anyone had a need.  They regularly volunteered to drive people to medical appointments in Salem and Portland.  Through their generosity of spirit they showed us what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

 Don and Lee were committed spouses for 42 years until Lee’s death from cancer several years ago.  The depth of their love was evident during Lee’s long illness.  When Lee died, his funeral was held at First Baptist McMinnville, Oregon and it was my honor to officiate.  Don was surrounded in love by the congregation.  Because Don and Lee taught us well, we their church were not closeted in our grief. We were able to fully honor Lee and Don as a couple, as one of our own.

Said Don:  “Our goal was to wear down people with kindness. To wear down people’s resistance and fear.  To show that we are simply normal people like everyone else with the same needs and dreams as anyone else.  God made each of us the way we are, some of us are gay and some are straight.  Each one of us is perfect.”

Since Lee’s passing, Don who is nearing 80,  continues his gentle and persistent witness.   He understands that by helping to take down walls, he is freeing us all.

To Don, I say:  “Thanks to you and Lee for teaching me how to be a better pastor and follower of Jesus.  Thank you for expanding the hearts and minds of so many of us at First Baptist and in the wider community.  The good you and Lee have done will live on in each life you have touched.”

For Don and Lee, I echo the words of scripture:  ‘Well done good and faithful servants, well done.’

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

DSC_3384For ten days in January, 15 people from McMinnville, Oregon travelled to La Pimienta, an isolated village in Nicaragua.  Our age range was 13 – 77.  We  partnered with an amazing health ministry called AMOS (A Ministry of Sharing).  AMOS works with 32 isolated communities to provide basic, sustainable  health care.

AMOS only helps if  requested by the community and only after the community elects a health committee and health promoter to work with the staff.   The model is intended to build upon the capacity of the local community to improve their own health.

The church I serve and travelled with (First Baptist McMinnville), has made a financial commitment to provide the essential capital necessary for the local leaders to do their work.  For $6800 for each of four years, we provide the community with a dependable revenue stream sufficient to provide: a basic pharmacy for 400 people, a stipend for the health promoter and funding to bring in AMOS medical staff each month to supplement the work of the community

For the  past five years we’ve sent a team from the church to work under the guidance of local leaders.  This year we built and installed 39 bio-sand water filters and did health screenings and home visits.  Dr. Marcy a pediatrician, has visited the village four times and has seen a significant improvement in the health of the children.

It is amazing how God leverages the humble efforts of village leaders, with AMOS staff and a modest size church in Oregon, to bring about a synergy that saves lives and offers hope.

I go for selfish reasons.  Yes, my/our efforts help some.  But we who go are inspired by the hope of the villagers who work towards a better tomorrow for the sake of their children.  If they can do so much with so little, how can we not return to our relatively affluent communities and work for the common good?

It is amazing what happens when we leave our comfort zone and make new friends and face new challenges in a place like La Pimienta.  God has a way of expanding our hearts and imaginations as to what is possible.

Earth Day: Working for the Common Good

Blackstone RiverI remember sitting on the banks of the Blackstone River on a beautiful day in April 1970, listening to the great folk singer and prophet Pete Seeger.  Pete was giving a concert from a barge anchored to the slow-moving Blackstone, in honor of the first Earth Day.  On that day citizens across our nation had worked to clean up trashed and polluted areas in their hometowns.   I was 14 years old and I had spent the day with my cousin Tom,  pulling shopping carts and old tires out of the shallow reaches of our local river in Cumberland, Rhode Island.  

Life Magazine had recently labeled the Blackstone as ‘the most polluted river in America’.   The Blackstone had been the workhorse powering the American Industrial Revolution, since the first Cotton Mill had been built by Samuel Slater in the 1790’s. 

Since that first mill the river had been lined with textile mills that drew power from the river and poured their industrial waste directly back into the water.  By the time I came along the mills had long since closed but the chemical waste remained imbedded in the river silt.  The chemicals had killed off the fish and decimated the birds.  Biologists labeled the river as a biological dead zone.

Rachael Carson in her landmark book Silent Spring, published in 1962, awakened the conscience of our nation to the price we pay for our neglect of mother earth.  On April 22, 1970 thousands across the nation looked around at our polluted water ways and toxic landfills and said ‘no more’.  It was the beginning of our national awakening to our responsibility to be stewards of the earth, for this generation and generations to come.

On that  first Earth Day after a day of working to clean up the Blackstone, hundreds listened to Pete Seeger sing a song of hope for the river.  He spoke of nature’s ability to restore and regenerate.  He reminded us that taking care of creation was a sacred trust.  

43 years later as you  walk alongside the Blackstone River you are likely to see people jogging along a newly built footpath and seeing parents push their children in strollers.  You’ll watch the trout dimple the water as they rise to feast from an insect hatch.  A woman casts her fly as she stands chest high in her waders casting for that elusive trout.  At the same time a Great Blue Herron casts its own shadow on the water as it looks for its next meal. 

And as you walk or canoe along the Blackstone the words of Pete Seeger our great American Prophet continues to remind us, that taking care of mother nature is a sacred trust.  The Blackstone is a story of resurrection and regeneration and a reminder of what happens when people of good will come together for the common good.  Happy Earth Day and keep up the good work.

A Christmas Wish: 26 Acts of Kindness

In the last few weeks we’ve been inundated with images of random violence.  From the shootings at Clackamas Town Center Mall in Portland, to the murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14th.  We are shaken by violence in places normally thought to be safe.

What can we do?  How can we honor the lives of those lost and reaffirm all that is good?  With gratitude to the resiliency of the human spirit, people are responding in the most imaginative of ways.   One movement is 26 Acts of Kindness Campaign, which encourages individuals and communities to offer 26 expressions of kindness.  Imagine what happens when people throughout this nation and around the world respond to the challenge to grace others with kindness.  Each act in honor of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook.

The website www.RandomActsOfKindness.org offers wonderful ideas for gifting neighbors and strangers with expressions of kindness.   It can be as simple as giving someone a prime parking spot, or deeply listening to someone, or buying a homeless neighbor lunch, or volunteering at school or serving others through your church.  The only limitation is our imagination.

In Judaism there is the hebrew word khesed, which means loving kindness.  The challenge is to offer each day at least one khesed, without drawing attention to oneself. 

Jesus said, “be compassionate as God is compassionate to you.”  The word compassion means to ‘suffer with’.  To be compassionate, is to enter into the pain of the other, to respond with loving kindness, in word and in deed.

In response to the needs and challenges of our time, Jim Wallis, the Christian activist writes:  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  We are the ones who can reclaim our society from violence and indifference.  We are the ones who make this world a more loving, just and hopeful place. 

Jesus was born into a world of violence and uncertainty.  Herod the cruel King was on the throne.  Yet the lesson of Christmas, is that the violence and uncertainty of any moment in history, will never have the last word.   And what is our role in the Christmas story?  To share God’s love, to be God’s khesed.

May you be both blessed and a blessing this Christmas.