This month, I was speaking, with Taleteller, Locksley, and Danceswithweasels in attendance on a rainy evening. I’ve been doing some reading into practices of Christian meditation, which I shared with the group. I think there’s a lot to be learned from Christian practices, though there are some obvious points of difference when you are a Druid…
I started with an overview of the history of Lectio Divina, or divine reading. We talked about how in the early church, reading was often compared to ingesting: taking Scripture into your body. You’d be changed by the experience. It was conceived of as a conversation with God, one which could only be answered through the reader’s actions. There was an emphasis on learning texts by heart, and on gaining an understanding of the text on multiple levels. I talked through several of the types of questions one could ask of a text during lectio divina: What are the words saying or describing? What is the literal meaning? What is the concrete, historical reality to which this refers? What is divinity teaching through this reality? What doctrine or mystery is alluded to? And how does this teaching or mystery relate to me here, today, in my life?
Traditionally, Lectio Divina has several steps; the Wikipedia page (research!) lists 4, but I found 5 mentioned in my reading, as put together by Hugh of St Victor. 1) Reading the text. 2) Meditating on the text. 3) Prayer. 4) Performance (where you perform the virtues/learning you have identified in the text–this one’s missing from Wikipedia!). 5) Contemplation.
Christianity has Scripture to work from, whereas the ancient Druids forbade writing any of the sacred knowledge down, which presents something of a quandry for Druids interested in sacred reading. So we had a discussion about the kinds of things that one could read through this method, and our past experiences reading, for instance, Welsh and Irish and Norse myths. A few of us thought it might be worth going back to these myths with this approach!
Next, we moved on to discussing contemplation, or the prayer of the heart, where the soul enters into mystical contact with transcendental reality. The work I read mentioned the need for practical discipline in preparation for contemplation, and that it often came after a lot of experience with prayer, discursive meditation/lectio divina, and so forth. The process of contemplation is a process of gathering the soul’s faculties inwards: emptying all images and sense perceptions from the mind, the mind gathering itself together, turning inward and considering itself, and then the soul rising above itself, making an effort to contemplate divinity. The experience is often short-lived, and the theology I was reading suggested that it was only attained by grace: you can only make it to true contemplation by a gift from divinity. You can’t get there on your own!
We wrapped this section with a quick discussion of living active lives in the world versus lives of contemplation, and some of the theology that I’d found suggesting that it’s possible and, in fact, desirable to live both kinds of lives. We closed with a side note on visualisation: most of what I was reading emphasised that meditation should not aim at having visions. There is a practice of Christian meditation that involves picturing yourself at various Biblical scenes–but that’s all I’ve been unable to uncover. So where did the pagan practices of guided meditations/journeying come from?
Finally, I’d compiled a bunch of questions for discussion, which Taleteller and Locksley demanded should be put up on the blog for reference and future discussion.
Questions for Druids!
- What kinds of things might we “read” through lectio divina?
- What is the role of memorising and learning things by heart for us?
- What kinds of practices might lead toward contemplation?
- How do we maintain both our active and contemplative lives?
- What do we think about the idea of the world being full of “readable symbols”?
- Do we include prayer as part of our spiritual lives?
- What are the challenges and benefits in adapting/adopting Christian techniques in our spirituality?