ex libris — prayer bookshelf

In the following books a variety of authors address different aspects of lectio divina, the Church’s ancient practice of reading and praying with Scripture.

The Coming of God
by Maria Boulding
The Printery House of Conception Abbey, Conception, Missouri
ISBN 0-9701865-1-7

Praised by monastics for its spiritual depth, The Coming of God is an exploration of the many ways in which God comes to us—through events, other people, and prayer. Based on the author’s years of experience practicing the art of lectio divinaThe Coming of God serves as a credible guide for others who don’t want to fail to recognize the presence of God in their lives.

“We have to wait in obedience, listening with an obedient heart to the Father’s word, because only the obedient heart can truly listen. If we have reservations, areas in our lives into which we are unwilling to admit God, we shall not be able to hear. The root of our prayer and of our whole life with God is an unconditional ‘Yes’ that does not necessarily understand all the time what is going on, but is still given.”

Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer
by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, California
ISBN 1-58617-117-8

Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer addresses problems frequently encountered by those who attempt to devote a significant amount of time and energy to the quest for holiness. By the author of The Fire Within, a classic work on contemplative prayer based on the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and of St. John of the Cross, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer offers encouragement and practical advice for overcoming obstacles that stand in the way of spiritual advancement. In words that are particularly applicable to the practice of lectio divina, the author stresses the need for serious commitment to daily meditative and contemplative prayer.

“We come now to the taproot of our surefire program: intimacy with the indwelling Trinity. To put it simply: The main source of deep conversion is to fall in love with endless Beauty. A genuine person will gladly sacrifice for real love.”

Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word 
by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, California
ISBN 0-89870-558-4

In threevolumes about the Gospel According to Matthew, the author of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, a scholar of Greek, has applied the principles of lectio divina and faithfully recorded the results. His prayerful reading of Scripture in the language of the oldest available manuscripts has yielded a collection of personal insights with more intellectual depth than most contemporary reflections, yet less fact-focused than the usual approaches to Bible commentary. In his 30-page Introduction, the author describes the free rhythm of lectio divina in terms of fire and heart, and he focuses especially on the language of Scripture.

“In the Bible, as in all authentic poetry, the words themselves not only refer to the realities they signify but, like sacraments, themselves possess a reality of their own. This accounts for the element of surprise that everywhere in the Sacred Book is laying an ambush for our rationalism. Neither what God tells us about himself nor the manner in which he says it could have been guessed in advance by any deductive or inductive process. God is continually uttering the ineffable in Scripture. The weight of this ineffable utterance threatens to crack open the vessel that contains it.”

Happiness and Contemplation
by Josef Pieper
St. Augustine’s Press, Inc., South Bend, Indiana
ISBN 1-890318-31-0

The premise of Happiness and Contemplation is that the ultimate human happiness is to be found in contemplation. An examination of exactly what it means to pursue happiness leads the author, a Christian philosopher perhaps best known for his works on the theological and cardinal virtues, to profound conclusions about the nature of contemplation and the meaning of life.

“The happiness of contemplation is not a comfortable happiness. The great Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, has asserted that more courage is required to lead a life of contemplation than to elect martyrdom. And the references to the ‘dark night’ recur time and again in all spiritual doctrines of the vita contemplativa; this, it would seem, is an inescapable phase of the contemplative life.”

How to Pray with the Bible:
The Ancient Form of Lectio Divina Made Simple
by Karl A Schultz
Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana
ISBN 978-1-59276-216-3

How to Pray with the Bible: The Ancient Form of Lectio Divina Made Simple is a book that lives up to its title. The author has organized a wealth of information into a user-friendly format that allows readers easily to skip from one section of the book to another. Each chapter contains numerous subheads, sidebars, charts, lift-outs, and prayer tips. The simplicity of the format doesn’t translate into a shallow or light-weight approach to content, however. The author retains a strong feeling for the deep and mysterious nature of his topic.

Lectio divina is distinguished by its relative imperviousness to time; like lovers, we linger with God and focus on our partner and the moment rather than the constraints of time. Love and spirituality have a timelessness and liberty in the Spirit that open us to new possibilities, including the suffering that accompanies all authentic relationships.”

Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina
by Mariano Magrassi, O.S.B.
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota
ISBN 10-0-8146-2446-4

Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina takes a scholarly approach to the topic and synthesizes the various aspects that make up the experience of lectio divina—what it is, its key ideas, the dispositions necessary for its practice, and the steps by which prayerful reading is transformed into genuine contemplation. The author intends his work to be an invitation to readers to delve more deeply into the practice of lectio divina. His chapter on concrete dispositions contains down-to-earth advice that includes practical cautions.

“Obviously, diligent and constant reading creates familiarity with the world of the Bible. But this does not come from a first reading. If a quick voyage of discovery is all we want, we will be disappointed. The beauty of this fascinating world will be hidden from us; upon entering it, we will feel as though everything is foreign. We cannot venture into the Bible as tourists; we must become inhabitants of the land. We need to retrace our steps, stop and reflect at each site in order to explore it in depth. To become part of this world we must enter it, immerse ourselves in it in order to be absorbed by it. Then it will reveal to us the charm of its secret places.”

Praying the Scriptures
by Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B.
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota
ISBN 0-8146-2940-7

Avoiding a step-by-step approach—and indeed even avoiding any mention of lectio divina— the author of Praying the Scriptures nevertheless has written a useful book devoted to explaining the practice in light of biblical revelation. Prayer primarily is seen as a celebration of God’s great saving deeds of the Exodus and the Resurrection—always pointing toward the sacrament of the Eucharist. The author also discusses attitudes to assist in developing a personal approach to reading and understanding the Bible.

“As a professor of Scripture in our seminary for more than fifty years, I have worked hard to help my students to understand the words of the Bible. I have given them regular examinations and graded them on the results. But it has always been somewhat frustrating not to be able to ask them the only question that really matters, which is: Has this knowledge of the Scriptures made a difference in your personal lives?”

Praying the Word: An Introduction to Lectio Divina
by Enzo Bianchi
Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan
ISBN 0-87907-682-8

Praying the Word: An Introduction to Lectio Divina sets forth a collection of points designed to emphasize the importance of God’s Word. The author cautions against distortions and difficulties that can develop when lectio divina loses contact with Scripture—sentimental piety, dry theologizing and intellectual speculation, an overemphasis on secondary and derived aspects of the Christian message, hardening individualism, and a taste for novelty.

“The men and women who have visible roles of ministry in the Church must go to the Word, the source, through lectio divina. If they do not, they are liable to appear in their preaching, teaching and pastoral work as people who depend on manuals, people who rely on the sometimes groundless opinions of others, people who lack certainty and therefore see problems everywhere, people who are incapable of speaking a ‘strong’ word ‘with authority,’ but who instead speak as the scribes did in Jesus’ time (Matthew 7:28–29), people who blush at the Gospel they proclaim (Romans 1:16; 2 Corinthians 3:12; 4:2).”

Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
by Michael Casey
Ligouri Publishers, Ligouri, Missouri
ISBN 0-89243-891-6

Used as a text by monastic novices, Sacred Reading offers an excellent introduction to lectio divina, examining the spirit and the theological basis of lectio divina as it developed in Western monasticism. The author draws on his experiences as a Cistercian monk to guide readers in their practice of lectio divinaSacred Reading offers pointers for applying lectio divina to writings of the Fathers of the Church, and it includes as well a list of patristic texts suitable for lectio divina. Looking at The Rule of St. Benedict, the author focuses on what it means to be a pupil in the school of the Lord’s service in the contemporary world.

“Contact with God’s Word comes through the Church’s proclamation, through reading the Scriptures, and through the counsel of a graced elder. These conspire with deep inner processes to shape our conscience. Our willingness to listen and to be formed by God’s Word is what constitutes us as members of Christ’s school.”

images-1Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within
by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan
ISBN 0-90293-810

In one of the best books we’ve come across that addresses the practical ins and outs of discernment, the author begins by defining spiritual direction After establishing the things that constitute the need for spiritual direction, the remainder of the book is written in a question-and-answer format in which the author offers down-to-earth insights on the most common problems and concerns related to spiritual direction. This book is included among other selections about prayer because of the author’s heavy emphasis on the importance of prayer, especially contemplative prayer.

“Most of us possess only a dim awareness of the many subtle defects that dampen enthusiams and main full generosity. What we have in mind here is not a weak self-image, for that is based on unreality. Rather what we envision is the host of actual defects beginners commonly do not see in themselves: unrealized vanities, inclinations to laziness, idle talking, other useless ‘time killers’ and distractions, needless indulgences of the palate, cravings for human respect, resistance to correction, love for superfluities, reluctance to obey, a desire for artificial excitements and amusements. Without a living guide it is mighty hard to be aware of those facts, let alone overcome them. Furthermore, self-direction does not readily remedy simple mistakes or lack of information.”

imagesSpiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development
by Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.

The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, New York

ISBN 0-8245-0628-6

Books that attempt to deal with the psychological dimension of spirituality are few and far between, and those that can be easily understood by the average lay reader are even more rare. In Spiritual Passages, the author addresses the important connection between psychology and spirituality, presenting practical information to serve as an aid to any serious endeavor toward developing spiritual maturity.

“When the call of God comes, it is abundantly clear that there is much work to be done. This is evident from our discussion concerning the particular aspect of God that speaks to us depending on our personality (the Four Voices of God), as well has what we have seen of the developmental needs of individuals, and the constant pull of pathology against our complete development.  … In Christianity the development of the individual toward conformity with Absolute Being is not accomplished haphazardly. It can be achieved only the the grace of the Son of God and according to His teachings.  Its dynamism derives not from some exotic array of divine-like qualities, but from adoption as children of God. The startling document called the Sermon on the Mount, which flows from the Law and yet transcends it, provides the foundation for the code by which the Christian must live.”