I had been talking to Sister Lynn D’Souza, OSB about the way people interpret dreams and often feel God is speaking to them in the stories and symbolic situations of their dreams. I had thought that one could also interpret life and its events as messages from God. In some situations, I tend to stop and ask myself, “If this were a dream, what would it mean?” Sister Lynn had said that in Benedictine spirituality this is called “Lectio on Life.”
Here, Sister Lynn was referring to an ancient Christian prayer form called Lectio Divina, a way to reflectively, interactively and contemplatively pray with Scripture, attentive to God’s personal message to you. The Benedictine Order is known to have been the ones to develop this prayer method the most with over a thousand years of diligent experience.
“Lectio on Life,” she explains now, is “a holy reading of our own lives.”
She says we should remember that God’s word as we know it in the Bible was originally oral salvation history; told and retold by God’s people; reflected, prayed and applied over millennia under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was first the collective “Lectio on Life” of the people of Israel and later of the early church before it was the written word.
Our personal “Lectio on Life” is a prayerful look at our own salvation history.
We know God is present in the world around us in various ways. God is present and reflected in nature, in events and in other people. We know that God is at work in our lives. The trick is cultivating this awareness, often through the attentive, open-hearted reading of scripture that is Lectio Divina.
If we build a good foundation of interior prayer and a receptive reading of scriptures, the sense of God’s messages to us through living will come to flow naturally.
Mary’s life is the perfect model for this reading of life. She “read” and “reread,” so to speak, the life and person of Jesus again and again as she saw it unfold. We hear her ask for light, “What does this mean?” when she doesn’t understand, “pondering all these things in her heart.”
The Gospel is active and real in our lives, too. The spirit of Jesus is truly within us. We should treat him that way and pay attention when he is speaking to us through our life, which he shares with us.
Sister Lynn advises that when we meet someone, we listen to what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us through that person and in the conversation.
If there is a repeat pattern in your life, a situation or string of similar situations that is coming up in your life, ask God, “What does this mean?”
Sometimes there will be a word, a song, or maybe a book people keep mentioning or recommending. Just pay attention in a friendly, open, gently curious way. Ask God to keep talking until you get the message.
If you have a strong emotional reaction to some event in your life or in the world, ask yourself, “What is God trying to show me in this?” Even a situation people will say “brings out the worst” in us, Sister Lynn says, could be God “bringing out the worst” by lifting it to the surface, up to the healing light of the Holy Spirit. Take that view of times like that and let God work with you. Ask, “Where can I grow in this?”
Even in unavoidable suffering, Sister Lynn says that she tries to reflect on the suffering of Jesus for us and that she is sharing in it as an offering for souls, or as a consolation to the Lord.
“Every interaction we have is an opportunity to draw closer to Heaven,” she says, “….or… away from it.” We laugh. “Detours are of our own making, We are on a journey though, and there are no coincidences.”
She tells the story of a woman who was discerning whether to enter the monastery. She prayed inwardly, “Send me a rainbow if I should continue.” It was winter, so she figured a rainbow would be unlikely. When the woman got to her car and turned on the radio, the song said, “This is the rainbow you’ve been looking for.” She recognized her sign.
At one time, Sister Lynn and some of the other sisters of her community left with permission to experiment with a slightly different way of life based on prayer and adoration. They lived like this for a good while. At one point they felt it was time to discern together whether to return to their original community or not. They began to pray about this. Then it seemed that the readings at mass and the Liturgy of the Hours they prayed together were all speaking on the theme of the return of the exiles. They knew God was telling them to go back and rejoin the others.
Since then, Sister Lynn feels that God has gone out of his way to speak words of encouragement to her, to reassure her that her desire to try the other way of life was not wrong, and had been an inspiration and time well spent. He has spoken to her about it through conversations with others, in events as they have played out in her life.
In her early days of being a sister there was a period of sadness she had to struggle with about never having a baby. Then one day the Old Testament reading at mass was Elkanah saying to Hannah, “Am I not more to you than 10 sons?” She felt Jesus was speaking directly to her, and immediately she prayed, “Lord, I love you more than anything.” She added that she has never felt sad about that again since.
“Sometimes God is funny, too” she says.
On the night before her birthday, before she went to sleep, she had said, “Tell me happy birthday in the morning, Jesus.” In the night, she heard a strange alarm going off. She got up, stumbling around her room trying to find where it was coming from. Finally, she found an old watch that she hadn’t used in years going off in her closet. She pulled it out, noticed the time, laughed. It was exactly midnight. Jesus had said happy birthday to her right as it became her birthday.
For more about how to pray Lectio Divina, visit my personal blog bethanyhangout.com, where I have written about it.