Tag Archives: lectio divina

Define the Divine

We are gliding toward that full moon in Leo (drama!) which is followed a couple days later by the Saturn-Pluto square. Here, to quote an informed observer of the planets, “immovable object (Saturn) meets irresistible force (Pluto).” Which role will you play? Me? Count me out of the whole scene. I am the thing with feathers these days. You can find me at the top of the pine tree with Emily.

#797, c. 1863

By my Window have I for Scenery
Just a Sea — with a Stem —
If the Bird and the Farmer — deem it a “Pine” —
The Opinion will serve — for them —

It has no Port, nor a “Line” — but the Jays —
That split their route to the Sky —
Or a Squirrel, whose giddy Peninsula
May be easier reached — this way —

For Inlands — the Earth is the under side —
And the upper side — is the Sun —
And its Commerce — if Commerce it have —
Of Spice — I infer from the Odors borne —

Of its Voice — to affirm — when the Wind is within —
Can the Dumb — define the Divine?
The Definition of Melody — is —
That Definition is none —

It — suggests to our Faith —
They — suggest to our Sight —
When the latter — is put away
I shall meet with Conviction I somewhere met
That Immortality —

Was the Pine at my Window a “Fellow
Of the Royal” Infinity?
Apprehensions — are God’s introductions —
To be hallowed — accordingly —

She can look out her window and see an entire ocean where the rest of us would find a pine tree. The question that stays with me is: “Can the Dumb define the Divine?” She answers the question in the next line two lines: “Definition is none.” There is no way to attach words to something that springs from the mind of God. We keep trying. Writing poems about it. In the end, Emily draws us nearer and nearer to the non-verbal experience of the words, if that’s possible. Sounds and syllables that move us like a gentle tide toward a sensed apprehension. If it weren’t so lovely, the tree, the wind, the fragrance of the pine, it would be maddening to know it, while also knowing simultaneously, the definition falls short.

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Day of the Dead

As of this writing we have progressed into All Souls Day, and Emily has some odd ideas on her mind.

#551, c. 1862

There is a Shame of Nobleness —
Confronting Sudden Pelf —
A finer Shame of Ecstasy —
Convicted of Itself —

A best Disgrace — a Brave Man Feels —
Acknowledged — of the Brave —
One More — “Ye Blessed” — to be told —
But that’s — Behind the Grave —

I wish I knew what she was getting at here. Shame of Nobleness? Shame of Ecstasy? Some mornings, like today, I don’t feel like wrestling with her. Today, following the practice of lectio divina, I will let her words rest in me. Allow the phrase that wants to stick to me, do its work. “A finer Shame of Ecstasy.”

Last night I went to a Day of the Dead ceremony, offered by our Vodou community. I dressed as the Merry Widow, which has been my theme for a couple of Halloweens running now. What can I say? It works for my mood. I wore a long dark purple gown and a black top hat, festooned with yards and yards of black, gray and purple mesh tulle. I also wore one final black mesh veil over the whole thing that fell over my face. My friends didn’t recognize me. I was so well hidden.

For the ceremony last night, we honored and invoked Gede, the Vodou guardian of the dead. He is a trickster and fairly crotch obsessed. No respecter of boundaries, he is attractive and untrustworthy. Typical guy.

At the height of the ceremony, I stood in the circle in a cloud of smoke from the fire crackers and incense. I felt like an island of calm amidst all the shouting and chanting and drumming. Everyone danced. I closed my eyes and floated on my feet. And I began to weep for the dead. I was filled with sadness. My chest expanded with grief. I had dressed as the Merry Widow as a joke. Ha, Ha. Then it flipped on me, and I was the widow, hidden behind my veil, protected from view. In my private space, my tears flowed. I was being private in public, standing precisely on that strange fine line.

The thought that rose to the surface was, “death of the ego.” Breaking down forms and delineations. That includes thoughts about the past, grieve it, and release it. What is any of that discernment but the ego’s effort? When the ego dies, something soft is born, tender and delicate. “A finer shame of ecstasy.” Exposure feels shaming, yet as unstoppable as the tear descending beneath the weight of gravity. Be careful, walk slowly, speak gently. Lift the veil.


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Lectio Divina

Last night I had dinner with my friend Linda (visiting from New York), her beau Terence, and their friend Brother Fred. This morning I pulled the following remarks from Emily.

#652, c. 1862

A Prison gets to be a friend —
Between its Ponderous face
And Ours — a Kinsmanship express —
And in its narrow Eyes —

We come to look with gratitude
For the appointed Beam
It deals us — stated as our food —
And hungered for — the same —

We learn to know the Planks —
That answer to Our feet —
So miserable a sound — at first —
Nor ever now — so sweet —

As plashing in the Pools —
When Memory was a Boy —
But a Demurer Circuit —
A Geometric Joy —

The Posture of the Key
That interrupt the Day
To Our Endeavor — Not so real
The Cheek of Liberty —

As this Phantasm Steel
Whose features — Day and Night —
Are present to us — as Our Own —
And as escapeless — quite —

The narrow Round — the Stint —
The slow exchange of Hope —
For something passiver — Content
Too steep for looking up —

The Liberty we knew
Avoided — like a Dream —
Too wide for any Night but Heaven —
If That — indeed — redeem —

So Brother Fred, who is affiliated with the Benedictine order although he is not a priest, explained the topic of his doctoral thesis. It concerns preaching through a meditative practice called lectio divina, which relies on readings from scripture as a springboard into contemplation, the idea being that the holy spirit awakens through “eating” and “savoring” the words. Not reading them for meaning or analysis, but absorbing the words as a slide that plunges one into a non-ordinary state of consciousness that lies beyond words—the realm of holy spirit or awareness of “god within”. The monastic orders of the 12th century popularized this practice, most notably through the Rule of St. Benedict. The practice requires first that one quiets the mind and body by establishing a regular time for meditation in a place that is free of all distractions—no newspapers, email or horoscopes.

Also called “feasting on the word”, lectio divina consists of four steps or rungs in the “monk’s ladder.” First you take a bite (lectio) which is to read the words. Then you chew on it (meditatio), which means writing it down or reading it aloud. Here the mind wants to grasp the meaning. Then you savor it (oratio) which is to place the printed page away from you and wait for the word or phrase that wants to stick to the soul do its work. By meditating on the words, one waits passively for the words to manifest. The idea is that whatever portion of the passage is most relevant, that part rises to the surface. Not necessarily the whole passage but whatever small part of it is most needed, one word perhaps. The soul knows what it wants to hear.

The last part is digestion (contemplatio) which is that you stand up and go about your business with the word (engaged by holy spirit) active within you. You let the word inform your day. Allow the word to manifest itself to you and through you.

When Brother Fred described this practice to me, I shouted, “My god! I’ve been practicing lectio divina with Emily! All this time, and I didn’t even know it.” This took some explaining, but Brother Fred agreed that the text one uses for meditation doesn’t really matter. The scripture is not regarded as the literal word of God, but a tool for the practitioner to awaken the “god within”. The words are a mirror reflecting back to the reader what may be dormant and yearning for expression. You could do it with nursery rhymes . . . theoretically, at least.

Here I had been communing with Emily, having lively conversations with her in my sleep, and thinking that I had gone well and truly buggy—when in reality I have been experiencing just a regular old mystical encounter with the divine. What a relief.

It’s also nice to have this doughty Latin phrase for what I’m doing. Lectio Divina! With a feminine suffix, no less. I remember that much from high school Latin. And how nice to know I am in the company of St. Benedict and all the others.

Thank you Brother Fred.

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