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Lectio divina

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Liturgical Verse

Lectio divina is a spiritual practice but for the purposes of this forum it could be classified as a poetic genre. As such it is a poet's response in verse to something he/she has read aloud and meditated upon. This genre invites the poet to frame the response in whatever manner they wish.

The spiritual practice of lectio divina - Latin for "holy or sacred reading" is an extension of haga - a prayerful Jewish meditation of chanted scripture. In ancient times when scripture was not readily available to all, holy men would gather to read, chant and in the process memorize scripture. They would then go off by themselves to meditate on the words and possibly record them. The purpose was not to study or analyze the readings but to absorb and connect it to their everyday lives and experiences, become one with the spirit of the words.

The origin of lectio divina dates back to the 3rd century, St Ambrose then St Augustine practiced a form of lectio divina but it wasn't until the 6th century that it became a monastic practice instituted by St Benedict. In the 20th century, in the documents of Vatican II, the laity were encouraged to adopt the practice.

Lectio divina is believed to help the practitioner "experience God in scripture" and "have a running dialogue with the spirit". Response to the sacred readings is sometimes recorded in verse. This is still practiced by many today, catholics and protestants alike. Long before I heard the term lectio divina I had without labelling it, often written small poems in response to meditation of scripture or other's poetry. It just seemed an appropriate way to complete the experience.

Japanese buddhist priest and poet Basho followed similar steps to enlightenment and often wrote responses to others' "sacred writings". He even made a pilgrimage visiting the places old poets/priests had written about and documented his responses in haiku.

                            "Feel the truth of old poets." Basho

The process of lectio divina is:

  1. (lectio) read and listen, preferably reading the selected piece out loud a few times to hear the sounds of the words and feel the rhythm of the language as well as to absorb the imagery. Listen for words or phrases that seem to speak just to you.
  2. (meditatio) meditation, setting the reading aside spend some time open to how the reading made you feel, what memories it may have touched, who or what may have come to mind during the reading.
  3. (oratio) prayer, a dialogue with the Spirit. Whether you recognize the spirit as God, Christ or simply the spirit that resides within each of us, oratio would be the attempt to talk it out and listen to the spirit of the word, Here we tap into hopes, concerns or thoughts inspired by the reading.. This is not an attempt to explain nor analyse, but should be a reaction to the spirit of the word.
  4. (contemplatio) contemplation, letting it go. You know the old saying "Let go, let God.". When we write down our thoughts we release them. Many record their response in a journal, often in verse writing in whatever form fits the mood. Specific language or phrases of the readings are often repeated as a way of connecting the experience.

    I wrote Chimes in Glosa form in response to a verse from scripture that I have carried with me since my teens. Glosa and haiku seem to be my 2 favorite frames for responses.

    Reading:A Question by Robert Frost
    A voice said, Look me in the stars
    And tell me truly, men of earth,
    If all the soul-and-body scars
    Were not too much to pay for birth.

    My Response in haiku:
    "soul-and-body scars"
    so far a bargain,
    I live!

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