+THE PRESENCE OF GOD THROUGH READING Chapter Talk 31 March 2019
This morning I thought to share some reflections on spiritual reading from a book on Discernment by Henri Nouwen that may have value for our lives. We are all dependent on others to help us clarify our path along the spiritual journey into divine life. Spiritual reading or Lectio Divina is one of the chief means we have for exposing ourselves to the wisdom or spiritual insight of others so as to enlighten our own paths.
We use reading in order to acquire knowledge or to master a field but spiritual reading is different. Nouwen tells us of a:
“reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires, a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words.. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people. As we learn to read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God’s voice. Discernment requires not only reading with the heart but being willing to put down the book we are reading to just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.”
You may be aware of the fact of how Henri Nouwen came to learn the art of spiritual reading. It was from Fr Louis or Thomas Merton whom he considers “one of the important spiritual pioneers of the last century.” Nowen writes of Merton as one who “also witnessed to me about how to read the people placed in your path, as well as events and signs of the times. God is always speaking to us, but it requires spiritual discernment to hear God’s voice, see what God sees, and read the signs in daily life.”
God is continually drawing near to each of us and to our community amid the daily circumstances of our lives and of our life together. If we are spiritually attentive, if our hearts become interiorly free every day provides the means of becoming spiritually transformed into the living presence of Christ, for our own benefit and for that of all those around us. It is all about seeing deeper into the events that surround us, of opening ourselves to grace under whatever way it seeks to fill our lives.
Like Mary, the mother of God, each one of our lives is to be full of grace, as we too allow Christ to grow and come to maturity in us. Angels may be coming to each of us if we have the faith to recognize the divine visitors and are able to respond to the invitation they may have for us. I know that reading The Story of the Soul, the life of St Therese of Lisieux when I was in minor seminary was transformative in my life as it opened for me the meaning of contemplative life.
How many of us here have been deeply moved by what Jean-Pierre de Caussade called the “sacrament of the present moment.” His book assures us “that God is speaking and revealing his will in every moment of every day, and that we can discern God’s presence and guidance through simple prayers.. when, each moment becomes a sacrament of joy, gratitude, and loving acceptance of the will of God manifest in that moment.”
Thomas Merton was himself profoundly changed by his spiritual reading of the book called The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson. There he learned to experience God for the first time as “pure being, non-contingent and independent of any act of existing.” As Merton wrote in his own words:
“.. I discovered an entirely new concept of God—a concept which showed me at once that the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple and accurate and, what is more charged with implications which I could not ever begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training.”
We have been hearing a lot in the Liturgy these days about opening ourselves to the presence and power of the Word of God. We as monks are continually being exposed to the inspired Word in the Divine Office and Eucharist each day. We are in a privileged position but one demanding of us an inner quiet if we are going to hear with our hearts and be moved by the Holy Spirit. Only then does it have its full effect in our lives. One of the early desert fathers tells us: “Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation.
So whether it is our time spent at spiritual reading, at the Liturgy or whatever work we are asked to do, we have many opportunities to experience the presence of a continual and deeply loving God. God’s love for us uses every opportunity to become manifest so that ours may become one with his own.