by John Forman
Lectio divina on Matthew 11: 25—30
[Lectio divina, an ancient art once practiced by nearly all Christians who could read, is a technique of a slow, contemplative reading primarily of scripture that enables a deeper union with God. The practice is one of the precious treasures and defining characteristics of Benedictine monastics, together with the daily liturgy and manual labor. The technique has four basic steps. In the first step, lectio, we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's word for us this day. Once a word or a passage speaks to us in a personal way, we "ruminate" on it. Consider the example of Mary in Luke’s Gospel "pondering in her heart" what she saw and heard of Christ. In the second step, meditatio, we take in the word and allow it to interact with us. The third step, oratio, is prayer understood both as dialogue with God and as the offering of ourselves to God. Here we allow that which has touched our hearts and upon which we have pondered to merge with our deepest selves. The last step is contemplatio in which we simply rest in the presence of God. In this wordless, quiet rest we return to the silence that began our session.]
[Lectio] “I thank you, Father…because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants…”
[Meditatio] This passage seemed especially appropriate as I anticipated taking my daughters to St Paul's to help out with the people gathering to learn about Godly Play. Not just because it talks about children, but because I think it describes an essential approach to learning for all of us.
Jesus makes a distinction that is very similar to one made by researchers in adult development between a “knower’s” mind and a “beginner’s” mind. Adults become intelligent “knowers” over time as we learn about and become good at business or nursing or teaching or raising children. Being a “knower” is not a bad thing by itself. It’s just that when we are so certain of what we know, new patterns or approaches become hidden from us…we overlook them. That tendency is why magic tricks work for adults, but is usually lost on children. Sleight of hand relies on the audience “knowing” that a silk scarf can’t disappear or a coin can’t pass through a sheet of rubber. Adults are astonished when a magician does exactly what we “know” can’t happen…little children are less than impressed with the “magic” because they simply trust that the magician can do what they say they can do.
Part of the intent of Godly Play is to work with children’s natural tendencies toward their God-given openness to possibility. I also don’t want to romanticize the mind of an infant…these are people who are still learning how to walk and use a toilet after all. So it’s not their “smarts” that Jesus is referring to….it has more to do with trusting, curious openness …the “beginner’s mind” that we all have. When adults look at the world with “beginner’s mind,” we can assume that what we know is only part of the story and that allows us, as the founder of Godly Play, Fr Jerome Berryman says, “to move forward imperfectly into the unknown,” which includes seeing setbacks as just part of the creative process.
There’s a story about a village in India where people were living in poverty. They did have two things in abundance: a large number of women who could carry heavy loads and a lot of unused land. Taking on a beginner’s mind, they decided to combine the two. The women dug a huge catch basin and used the dirt to build a dam around it. When the monsoons came, the dam caught the rains and filled the catch basin, which kept the village’s wells from going dry. They had enough left over to sell to irrigation water to farmers outside the village.
I think Christ is inviting all of us to, first, adapt a similar “beginners mind” that is less focused on what we know or lack and one that is more open to possibility…to exchange our heavy burdens for light…maybe even the light of illumination or the insights that are hidden until we ask: “what if?”
“What if you slept,
And what if, In your sleep,
In your dream,
You went to heaven
And there plucked
A strange and beautiful flower?
And what if,
When you awoke,
You had the flower in your hand?”
John Forman is a member of St Paul’s who serves at the altar, leads St. Paul’s intercessory prayer team and is a Eucharistic Visitor. Outside of St. Paul's he is a Benedictine oblate of Mt Angel Abbey and an organizational development consultant and executive counselor. John is the managing partner of Integral Development Associates.