This morning, I was drawn to the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist. John was the one who came before the Lord to prepare his way. This is the meaning of the season of advent. We take stock of our lives to see how well we are living the Gospel; how well we are preparing for his second coming.
There are many ways to prepare, but one of the most effective ways is through mental prayer. One form of mental prayer is meditation, which I define here as entering into scripture using our imagination, our memory, and our ability to reason. Another way is to prayerfully read the words of scripture while looking for the Holy Spirit to guide us to words or phrases that open the door to where he wants to work in our lives. This second form of prayer is called Lectio Divina. The idea behind these forms of prayer is to be in dialogue with Scripture, the word of God, and with the Spirit of Truth.
For instance, if you chose to meditate on this scripture, Luke 1:5-25, you could start out just reading the scripture, getting a feel for the scene and the characters. As you read, see if the Holy Spirit calls your attention to one of the characters or to and object within the scene. While not required, I highly recommend doing a little research before you begin your prayer. You might purchase a commentary on this Gospel, and read what the author shares about the text. Such research might reveal how the priests were divided into divisions, and the history behind why the priests were casting lots. Another method of research is to skim the internet for additional facts or for images to help you picture the scene in your mind. For instance, you might look for a depiction of the altar, and use that image when you imagine yourself walking into this room. You might do a little research on the angel Gabriel, or the history behind the offering of incense in the temple.
Now, you close your eyes, choose where you are going to enter in, invite the Holy Spirit into the process, and begin. Sometimes things proceed naturally without prompting. Sometimes I find it helpful to ask the Holy Spirit questions like: who, what, when, where, how, and why.
With this scripture, you might start by imagining yourself as Zachariah gathering with the rest of your “division of priests,” casting lots, and exploring the feelings of being chosen to offer the incense. How does this sense of being chosen look in your own life? From here, you might imagine yourself approaching the altar of incense. All of a sudden, an angel appears to the right of the altar. You use your imagination to help you feel the same sense of fear that Zechariah feels, and you hear the angel say, “be not afraid.” Maybe a memory of an event that has or is causing you fear comes to mind. If this or something similar comes up, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand this image or memory in regards to your own life.
If you are using Lectio Divina, you would start by reading this passageand looking for words or phrases that resonate within. For instance, you might feel something when you read the word “barren.” You sit with this phrase for a bit, and ask the Holy Spirit why this word resonates. Maybe you realize that certain aspects of your life feel barren, so you ask the Holy Spirit if this is a time of preparation, or if there is something more you can do to bring fruit into your life.
The point I want to highlight is that we are praying with the Holy Spirit so that he can help us make the words personal. Sometimes, prayer enlightens us to deeper meanings of scripture, and sometimes they help us to seek healing within our own personal lives. We are looking to be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to show us about himself and about ourselves. We are looking for him to show us where we have watered down the Gospel, and for guidance on how to better live as Jesus lived
Spend some time today (and every day) with the Holy Spirit in mental prayer, asking him to teach you how to pray effectively, and how to be open to his ways of teaching you truth. Many experts say that the spiritual life can be greatly enhanced by spending a minimum of 20 minutes a day in mental prayer. Ask him to help you make a commitment to grow closer to the God who loves you by giving you the grace to pray with him this way every day.