Sister Veronica Mc Dougall, osb
Sharing Lectio Divina
The Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict was founded in 1857 in Australia by Archbishop John Bede Polding, OSB. Daily praying Lectio Divina and the Liturgy of the Hours nourishes us to live compassionately and to seek justice for those on the margins of society. With this in mind, I wish to illustrate some ways of praying Lectio Divina with people living in various situations which assist them and us in deepening relationships with God.
The Sisters of the Abaokoro community in North Tarawa, Kiribati, go to the local village on Wednesday evenings for Lectio Divina with children, parents, families and seniors, anyone who comes to the Maneaba (Meeting Place).
Sr Juniko in Temaiku, South Tarawa, Kiribati, has weekly group Lectio Divina with tertiary students attending Kiribati Pastoral Institute (KPI). Young women inquiring about religious life meet with her after their classes on Tuesdays. Sitting outdoors in a circle, they listen to and ponder the Sunday Gospel. After the second reading “they pray about the Words which have spoken to their lives or hearts.” Sometimes Juniko shares first, then invites another to share and so forth. Not everyone shares her reflection but they are all listening. The time together closes with a hymn to Mary and a short prayer.
The students attending KPI come from the different coral atolls which make up the Republic of Kiribati. The people are dependent on the sea for their livelihood and basic needs. Resources are very limited. For example, availability of fresh water is lessening as salt levels rise due to climate change. They are dependent on support from neighbouring countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
Australian Sisters went to Nagasaki, Japan, in 1948 to help in the aftermath of World War II. Today in Nara, our Sisters conduct Scripture classes in the convent and parishes. These classes include a period of Lectio Divina. Some of the Japanese Sisters are ministering to earthquake victims in Fukushima. Sr Haruko Morikawa working with the people says:
“I have Lectio on Sundays with Christians and non-Christians. The participants are eager to pray around the gospel. When they share the words of the Gospel, their experiences of trauma and sorrow are included and their hope is to be healed among us in the community”.
Every night the volunteers pray around the Word.
“We are surrounded by fear, worry and hope-lessness. We can feel that our hope comes only from God”.
The Good Samaritan Communities in Bacolod, in the Philippines, minister with people living in squatters’ areas and the prisons. Sr Leonie Duenas introduced the children attending the Good Samaritan Kinder School, 4 and 5 year olds, to Lectio Divina as preparation for Sunday Mass. They listen to the Gospel story in their own language. Those who wish then share a word or phrase they heard which is meaningful to them.
Sister Anne Dixon is ministering to the people in the Bacolod prisons.
“In the jail I have Lectio with up to 30 women every Friday afternoon. We read the gospel for the following Sunday three times, a different woman reading it each time. After the third reading each woman shares a word or phrase. After quiet time some share their reflections on the word/phrase. We always conclude with joyous singing, and sometimes dancing, mostly instigated by them, sometimes by me!! It is like they need this light-heartedness after sharing so deeply with each other.”
Anne began this structure after two years of informal Scripture sharing, during which the women began to feel comfortable with her and each other. They share in their local dialect, because “if they are to share from the heart, their heart is their own dialect”. For Anne it is an amazing experience:
“Many of them cry while sharing. It is very emotional because always they tap into their lived experiences, particularly around their alleged crime, their families and their jail experiences. Each of them can relate to each other’s sharings, so it is not just the sharer who cries. It is a bonding time, which helps them cope with the harsh reality of over 30 women living in a very small space together”.
These women, who have not thought about God’s love for them in a long time, have in their grief reached out. The resulting gift from the continual practice of Lectio Divina is that they all experience God’s unconditional love for them, no matter what they are accused of in court. If Anne is not able to go on a Friday, the women will always have their Lectio without her, which reinforces to her that they love this special time.
On Wednesdays, up to twenty women from squatters’ areas attend Prayer sessions at the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre with Srs Grace Marcelo and Anne. Various forms of prayer are being experienced among which Lectio Divina is one. Over time the women have become more comfortable with sharing a word or phrase. However they are still hesitant at sharing reflections. Some do not have the language even in their dialect to share. They are still growing in confidence. Maybe other avenues of sharing reflections can be introduced such as through art.
My teaching of Filipino Seminarians and young women in Initial Formation for religious life meant giving them a variety of experiences in prayer. Lectio Divina was very prominent and called for creativity in presentation. Personal and group Lectio were invitations for us to go deeper into the Word and grow in personal relationship with God. The Psalms and Gospels were explored; mandalas and personal psalms were created in response to the four-step model of lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. Psalm verses were “learnt by heart” as commended by Benedict, another form of lectio and meditatio. The words became part of one’s self.
Living now in Sydney, I am ministering with asylum seekers and refugees from various countries. Teaching English to the adults and tutoring children, I sometimes hear their stories. Amidst their words of suffering, grief, deprivation and separation from family and culture, I hear words of hope, resilience, courage, inspiration and longing to become contributing members of our society.
At present I am exploring how Lectio Divina could help refugees in ‘trauma recovery’. At first I am considering the Catholic South Sudanese community in Sydney with whom I am connected in ministry. A group of women already meet for Bible Study and I am interested in giving them a different experience in reading Scripture. They identify with biblical stories such as the Exodus, the Exile and the Flight into Egypt. The community’s Pastoral Care Worker told me that Parables such as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are helpful in dealing with some of the issues her people present. Matthew 25:31-46 identifies core values both culturally and spiritually for the Sudanese. In my reflection, I feel the Book of the Psalms and the Book of Consolation (Isaiah, chs 51-66) hold a wealth of wisdom and emotional insights for pondering. Sentiments expressed in the Lament Psalms, such as anger, loneliness and desolation are identifiable today in people’s lives, especially those who have experienced persecution for various reasons. Psalm 139 speaks of God’s intimate love and knowledge of each person which boosts selfworth. God’s promises of restoration and the creating of new life bring hope and trust in a loving God as expressed in The Book of Consolation in Isaiah.
Like Sr Anne in the Philippines, I would need to build up trust with the group; attending their Bible class and after some time introducing the idea of Lectio Divina. It is important for me to learn from this group of women and perhaps adapt the traditional Benedictine way of Lectio Divina to best suit their culture, beliefs and traditions.
Lectio Divina is an ancient practice that continues to be relevant for the world of today. It is adaptable and flexible and as such offers us as Benedict’s followers great possibilities for making a worthy contribution to people’s search for God in a world beset by complexities and paradoxes.