Summary of Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer by Sam Anthony Morello

Anthony Morello, in 26 pages, presents an excellent summary of St. Teresa of Avila’s teachings on prayer within the context of lectio divina

  • Carmelite spirituality is actually rooted in the greater monastic tradition of praying with Scripture: “Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Law of the Lord [i.e., sacred Scripture] day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty” (Carmelite Rule, 8).

Based on the 4 stages of lectio divina, here are some summary notes I found helpful. 

#1: Lectio (“Reading”):

Lectio involves the attentive reading of a text of Scripture. Whenever a thought, line, or word stands out and captures your attention, you stop and dwell on that text, carefully repeating it over and over.

Teresian prayer is fundamentally Christ-centered. Teresa recommends that we especially use the Gospels in prayer so that we can focus on the biblical Christ. 

  • “I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels—and found more recollection in them than in very cleverly written books” (St. Teresa of Avila, Way, 21, 3).

Teresa counsels us to read with attention and care, identifying with the sentiments of the text. 

  • Classically, the monk would do this repetitious reading out loud, proclaiming the word to his or her own senses, praying with the whole body.
  • Whenever you are distracted, you simply return to the text. In doing so, reading becomes a focusing and centering device. 

Without this attention and care, Teresa does not even consider this activity to be prayer. But with it, she says that we can be raised to the highest forms of prayer. 

  • She explains that mental prayer is a matter of “being aware and knowing that we are speaking, with whom we are speaking, and who we ourselves are who dare to speak so much with so great a Lord.” Without such awareness and attention to what we say, our prayer is mere “gibberish” (Way, 25, 3).
  • “I know that there are many persons who while praying vocally…are raised by God to sublime contemplation—. It’s because of this that I insist so much, daughters, upon your reciting vocal prayer well” (Way, 30, 7; cf. Way, 24, passim).

#2: Meditatio (“Meditation”):

In meditatio, you simply listen to the words being repeated from your lectio and let them suggest their own images, reflections, and intuitive thoughts. Our personal understanding and application of the text emerge from this prayerful and attentive lectio. 

  • “For St. Teresa, meditation is ascetical prayer; that is, it depends on our efforts as we exercise our faculties with the help of ordinary grace” (12). 

While praying with Scripture, Teresa recommends that we use inspirational images and icons. This allow our senses to serve our prayer rather than distract from it.

  • Teresa encourages us to look at “an image or painting of this Lord” that is to our “liking” so as “to speak often to Him” (Way, 26, 9).

Teresa wants us to foster a “holy imagination” in prayer, that is, “a playful but disciplined imagination” (15) that feeds the heart and the will.

  • “I strove to picture Christ within me, and it did me greater good–in my opinion–to picture Him in those scenes where I saw Him more alone” (Life, 9, 4).

Teresa recommends that we enter into our “interior castle” and speak these words of Scripture to Christ and/or hear Him speak these words to us, thus being attentive to both the words of Scripture and the presence of Christ. 

#3: Oratio (“Prayer”):

Oratio is our personal response to Christ, a way in which we freely express words “that come from – our own hearts” (Way, 26, 6). 

  • “Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us” (St. Teresa, Life, 8,5).

For Teresa, the “important thing” in prayer “is not to think much but to love much” (Castle, 4, 1, 7; cf. Foundations, 5, 2). For Teresa, affective prayer, “do[ing] what best stirs you to love” (Castle, 4, 1, 7) is essential because affective prayers:

  1. “are great awakeners of the will” (Castle, 4, 1, 6): Teresa, herself a woman of strong will, found that affective prayers were helpful in strengthening our resolve to perserve in prayer, in pursuit of virtue, and in service of God. 
  2. open up the way to the gift of contemplative prayer. Affective prayers lead to a simple and loving gaze upon God: “I’m not asking—that you draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him” (Way, 26, 3).

In this Christ-centered oratio, Teresa says that we begin to “walk in the truth” (Castle, 6, 10) and come to discover the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. 

  • “By gazing at [God’s] grandeur, we get in touch with our own lowliness; by looking at His purity, we shall see our own filth; by pondering His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble” (Castle, 1, 2, 9).
  • “An important point about Teresian self-knowledge is that it is not introspective or centered in the incomplete self; rather it is God- and Christ-centered. From learning to look at God in truth we discover the truth about the self. Only in the benevolent presence of the redeeming Lord can we safely descend into the compulsive, wounded, and sinful self” (17).

In lectio, we come to prayer as we are and we allow God to shine a new light & perspective on our life-situations.

  • “If you are experiencing trials or are sad, behold Him on the way to the garden. He will look at you with those eyes so beautiful and compassionate, filled with tears; He will forget His sorrows so as to console you in yours” (Way, 26, 6).

#4: Contemplatio (“Contemplation”):

Contemplatio is a pure gift of God’s grace in which we go “beyond” the word to the Word Himself. These moments can be fleeting or prolonged, subtle or pronounced. They can mingle with the flow of meditative words repeated, thoughts reflected, intuitions enjoyed, resolutions enacted. 

All Teresian prayer is oriented toward contemplation

  • “Why desire it and why pray in such a way as to be sensitive to its calling? Because contemplation is a “short cut” to the perfection of the virtues and to union with God (See Castle, 5, 3, 4). In summary, Teresian prayer is contemplative in that it desires contemplation, aims at contemplation, is open to contemplation. In this sense even Teresian meditation is contemplative” (13). 

Although “contemplation is an infused experience of the presence of God” (12), we can dispose ourselves for contemplative prayer through (1) growth in the virtues and (2) by praying in a very simplified affective way, that is, being still in His presence and developing a receptive heart to allow God to give us this gift. 

  • Contemplation is “supernatural” prayer, according to Teresa, for it “cannot be acquired by effort or diligence, however much one tries, although one can dispose oneself for it which would help a great deal” (Spiritual Testimonies, 58, 3).

Comments

  1. Thank you Deacon

    On Tue, Apr 14, 2020, 22:56 The Prodigal Catholic Blog wrote:

    > Deacon Richard Conlin posted: “Purpose of the Book: Anthony Morello, in 26 > pages, presents an excellent summary of St. Teresa of Avila’s teachings on > prayer within the context of lectio divina. Carmelite spirituality is > actually rooted in the greater monastic tradition of praying” >

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