I always received this aphorism with an indulgent smile.
Because: you can get stuck in a story, like a broken record. You can see life as a series of scenes with one repeating plot line. A plot that never gets resolved, leaving you painfully dangling, all the time.
Yes, that’s my story: I have been dangling in pain without resolution. For years, I have smouldered in anger, unwilling and unable to forgive.
Finally, I discovered that I am ready for the story to end.
At Vancouver School of Theology, I am exploring lectio divina — literally “sacred reading” — with a group of students. Developed in late antiquity by Christian teachers such as Origen, St. Benedict and Guigo, lectio shares some assumptions with classical Rabbinic midrash. Scripture is eternally relevant divine speech, its meanings mined through various reading techniques. Stories, phrases and even individual words can be complete units of meaning. Lectio invites us to find the units of meaning that speak to us.
Classical lectio involves a four-step process: lectio (reading), meditatio (pondering), oratio (praying), contemplatio (resting in silence). The four steps can be used as a technique for a single reading session, and they also name a longer-term process of inner change.
The steps guided our technique at our first meeting, where we read Isaiah’s (11:6-9) famous oracle of a perfected world. One student read the passage aloud three times. In silence, we each noticed a word or phrase that called to us. Repeating it quietly to ourselves, we observed thoughts, feelings, or images evoked. And we asked ourselves: what do these suggest about how God is working in me?
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid; the calf, the beast of prey, and the young animal together, with a little child to herd them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw. A babe shall play over a viper’s hole, and an infant pass his hand over an adder’s den. In all of My sacred mount nothing evil shall be done; tor the land shall be filled with devotion to the Lord, as water covers the sea (NJPS Translation, slightly adapted).
Five readers were called by five different words, either to inner change or public action. Eat straw: am I an ethical consumer? Together: do I respect all my neighbour life forms? Babe: can I stand up against injustice towards innocents? Devotion: can I pursue a discipline of self-examination? Adder’s den: how can I learn to forgive those poised to strike at me?
Yes, I was called to wonder about forgiveness. This was the story I saw in Isaiah, because this has been my story.
At our second meeting, we read from the Book of Ruth, about Ruth’s first meeting with her future husband Boaz (Ruth 2:4-12). In quiet contemplation, we imagined ourselves present at the scene, where an impoverished Ruth joined the gleaners, and a wealthy Boaz offered her water and shelter. Half of us watched bitterly, thinking, “It’s rough out here for all us women! Why is the stranger offered special privilege? Who is standing up for us, exploited innocents?” Half of us listened in awe to the characters’ gracious speech, as it exuded love, care, and blessing. They presented an ideal of devotion, and a hope in forgiveness.
Yes, it was me who hoped in forgiveness. I saw this in Ruth’s story, because this has been my story.
Just a few days later, in our interfaith spirituality group, a student offered a parable about a girl who could not see half her body. “How do each of you interpret this story?” asked the student. I saw a girl whose hurt and anger blocked her access to joy. As I opened my mouth to share my interpretation, I realized: this is my story. It’s become a habitual reflex; I see it everywhere. And it keeps me from seeing other sides of life’s stories.
Years of conscious deliberation had left me stuck, cycling through the same thoughts and feelings. But after a few short weeks of lectio divina, I saw my sad treadmill in the mirror, and began to understand that I could hop off. Using lectio, I read, pondered, prayed, and received an answer.
And now, having set the old story aside, I rest in silence, waiting for the new.
If you find this post thought-provoking, interesting, or moving, please share it!