Lectio Divina–The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer

by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD
(published by Skylight Paths Publishing, June 2011)

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Expanding the ancient practice of sacred reading beyond scriptural texts to include visual art, music, nature and your own sacred stories.

Lectio divina, which means sacred reading, is an ancient contemplative practice of listening deeply to the voice of God in sacred texts. In recent years there has been a reclaiming of the riches of contemplative prayer forms of Western traditions. Through the practice of lectio divina you become present to each moment in a heart-centered way. Gradually, the practice of lectio expands your capacity to sense God’s presence until all of life becomes a cascade of prayer.

Drawing on her own experience as a monk in the world, Christine Valters Paintner breaks open the movements of this spiritual practice. She makes them accessible to the contemporary reader who longs for a more pervasive experience of the holy in the everyday but lives far away from the sanctuary of a monastery. She includes simple, engaging and meaningful prayer experiences that include:

•A simple, heart-centered practice to connect with the infinite Source of compassion already dwelling within you for those times when you long to cultivate more kindness toward yourself

•A series of contemplative practices to reclaim the lost art of savoring, to listen to what is stirring deeply within your heart and to receive the gifts of silence

•Expanding lectio divina beyond scriptural texts to include visual art, music, nature and life experience

•Suggestions for group experiences and times of retreat

From the Afterword: The Divine Presence is Everywhere

Always We Begin Again

It is wise to hold all of these worthy goals with humility. Benedict describes his rule of life as a “little Rule for beginners,” and because we are human we will continue to stray from the path we most deeply long for. Life will intervene and throw us off track. We will need to bring ourselves back again and again to the practice.

In Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes that doing yoga and not doing yoga are the same. What he means is that sometimes when we return to our practice after having left it for several days (or weeks, months, years) we often have a deeper appreciation for what we have lost than if we had not strayed. “Always we begin again” are perhaps the four most important words to me in Benedict’s rule, and I repeat them often to my students in contemplative practice. Beginning again is essential. We fall away, we lose our will to persevere for so many reasons. The problem is not with the waning of our inner fire and perseverance, but with not returning again at all. When we realize we have not meditated in days, and so our minds have become hard with judgment and self-criticism, we find ourselves even further from the peace we might experience than if we had simply returned to practice without anxiety.

Kabat-Zinn also asks, “Can you see that not practicing is an arduous practice?” What he means is that we each have a life practice, although it may not be conscious or intentional. When we cultivate compassion and peace in ourselves through lectio divina, meditation, chanting, yoga, or any number of possible practices, it spills over into the rest of our lives. When we have no intentional practice, we may move through life full of anxiety and resentment, with no way to hold grief and the struggles of life. To have no practice becomes the most arduous kind of practice. When we remember this, returning to our practice comes with greater ease because we recognize how much harder life is without it.

Does God Really Speak?

The underlying assumption of lectio divina is that the whole world is, in fact, a text of sacred revelation. All experience has the potential to be revelatory, and God is singing one unending song, seducing each of our hearts, so the call is to listen, to attune ourselves to the words God utters into the world. As we have discovered in this book, the way God speaks is elusive and often mysterious, for God’s voice is the language of dreams and landscapes, of art and music, of dancing and poetry. It does not lend itself easily to a world conditioned to sound bites. In moments of simple kindness and compassion, in the quiet knowing of my heart’s desires, in the profound impulse toward life in every moment, even in my weeping, which witnesses to my capacity for great love, I don’t ask whether God is speaking. I ask whether there can be any place void of this sacred song.

Advance Praise for Lectio Divina–The Sacred Art

With her characteristic perceptiveness and grace, Christine Valters Paintner here revitalizes an ancient way of reading the universe. Lectio Divina–The Sacred Art is a beautiful reminder that, if only we can slow down enough to see again, the heavens are still proclaiming the glory of God.

–Paula Huston, author of The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life and By Way of Grace: Moving from Faithfulness to Holiness

In Lectio Divina — The Sacred Art, Christine Valters Paintner reveals how one of the central practices of ancient Christian spirituality remains meaningful and relevant for the third millennium. But this is more than a mere introduction to sacred reading — it's a creative and holistic invitation to a deeper spiritual life.

–Carl McColman, author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

What a highly practical resource we have in Christine's work on Lectio! As a regular Lectio practitioner and group facilitator myself, I enthusiastically recommend this book for both private and communal use. The applications are rich, creative, and expansive!

–Wil Hernandez, Ph.D., spiritual director and author of Henri Nouwen and Soul Care: A Ministry of Integration and Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection

Drawing on a wealth of experience and knowledge, Christine introduces us to the ancient prayer tradition of lectio divina, and then opens rich new possibilities for its practice. An excellent resource, it will find a permanent place on my shelves and be taken down frequently.

–Nancy Bieber, author of Decision Making and Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way