Let's continue our reflection on prayer.
A few weeks ago we considered the proposition that the Christian has only one problem and that is prayer. We considered the need to give time to prayer - significant time, prime time - and the difficulties associated with doing this.
When I suggested we all wanted to 'get ourselves a prayer life' many of you nodded your heads energetically in agreement. So having come to agreement on the need to pray we next ask: How do I pray?
We all seem to be able to pray from time to time, when the mood grabs us, or when we have something serious to pray about, but how do I pray every day? How do I keep going? What should I do?
Without prejudicing any other form of prayer I want to speak on that way of praying called Lectio Divina or Sacred Reading. I'll try to give a glimpse of this ancient method of prayer which, coincidentally, solves many of the problems associated with daily prayer - like the question of distractions, routine, what do I do? what do I say? etc.
This book I'm waving at you is a Bible! It's the word of God; we begin our reflection from this basic fact - it's the word of God.
The whole universe was created by the word of God. God said: Let there be light, and behold, there was light. He didn't use a hammer and chisel or a saw, he made us by commanding it with his word. Let the waters be divided ... let life teem on the earth ... let the sea be filled with fish.
To us humans he gave life with his breath. I wonder if he spoke a word at that moment. Maybe he said 'Love!'
How did Adam and Eve fall? They disobeyed his word. He told them not to - but they did.
Then God spoke a word of promise - a Redeemer.
On Mount Sinai God gave us a word to live by, the Ten Commandments. The prophets reminded us of this word of God and constantly exhorted us to live by it.
Finally God sent the Redeemer. Who was he? He was the Word of God - made flesh - and his name was Jesus.
The word of God is all that Jesus is - loving, forgiving, creative, healing, strengthening, correcting, comforting, disturbing, powerful, irresistible - and lots more.
The word of God is not to be taken lightly - it is also, and at the same time, the action of God. Everywhere we read: God said ... and so it was!
This is true of Jesus too. Jesus says to the leper: Be cured ... and he was cured.
Well, the word of God is found also in the Bible. It goes on creating, healing, loving, strengthening, forming, comforting, correcting and disturbing us. And where the word of God is - living, active, powerful - God himself is not far away; in fact he is truly present.
So what about Lectio Divina?
Let me firstly give you an image. You're on a railway platform waiting for the train. Are you really waiting for the train? No, you are really waiting for the arrival of the person who is on the train. It would be silly if the train pulled in and we all stood around admiring the train and ignored the passengers.
Admiring the train is what's called Bible Study. Lectio Divina is searching for the passenger.
And you know which passenger I mean, don't you - it's God himself - the God of love - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It's easy to slip from Lectio Divina into Bible Study and its a dangerous confusion. For Lectio Divina you really only need a good Bible with some good footnotes. You can always do some Bible Study at another time. It's important not to confuse the two.
Lectio Divina, as someone once said, is not studying the bible, it's letting the bible study you.
So now we are ready to open our Bible. I always like to begin on page one of any book and so I open to Genesis. In many ways the Bible is like the door belonging to a house. This door has no lock and can be opened any time we like. And when we open this door we find a huge house occupied by a vast number of the most interesting and wonderful (for the most part) people you could ever meet.
In this house live Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Sarah, Joshua, Saul, David, Rebecca, Esther, prophets, kings, judges, men and women and lots of children - AND GOD HIMSELF - and JESUS, our Lord and Master.
Do you know these people? You should. They are the ones who preceded us in the faith and as we watch them living out their faith, with all their difficulties and trials and human weaknesses and fears we quickly come to realise that their lives are our lives - they are our elder brothers and sisters - that we are really looking at ourselves. As they learn about God, so do we. As they experience his love and mercy, so do we. As they hear the word of correction, so do we.
Have you ever been with Adam and Eve under the tree being tempted by the serpent? Have you ever stood with the People at the Red Sea trapped between the waters and the angry Egyptians? Have you ever celebrated the second Passover - in the desert of Sinai in the twilight of the evening?
Have you ever hidden with David in the cave as King Saul, who was trying to kill him, came in to relieve himself? Did you also whisper to David, 'Go on, kill him, he's at your mercy' - or did you thrill at David's glorious words, 'I will not lay my hand on the Lord's anointed one?'
In Lectio Divina there are four movements - we read, we meditate, we pray, and then, if God has been gracious to us, and we have been generous in our prayer, we contemplate.
Contemplation is a gift. It's when the Lord himself comes to meet us in this marvellous house. Suddenly he is there and we stop reading, thinking, and praying - we just sit resting, growing, being put back together - in his presence.
There is just so much more to say about this topic but there is no substitute for grabbing your Bible, finding a quiet, prayerful place, opening up and beginning. We should do Lectio every day, without fail, especially on the days we are too busy and on the days we don't feel like doing it.
Let me finish with a thought from Psalm 1:
Happy the man who ... finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh, and meditates on his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading ...