Working with the psalms

Lectio divina

This is a fairly popular process right now that translates as divine reading or holy reading. It originally had four steps, but was expanded to five. In current practice people tend to only do the first. Or they combine two steps into one. I will describe all five steps with the goal of creating an inspirational poster.
1. Lectio (reading) – In this step, you read the Scripture through slowly paying attention to phrases that spark something in you or resonate with you. The first time you read it, just read it slowly. Then pick up a pen and read again while underlining phrases that stuck out.
2. Meditatio (meditation) – Ask yourself what God is saying to you through the text. Why did those phrases stick out to you? You may want to consult a different translation because translators often have to choose which definition of a word is the correct one.
3. Oratio (prayer) – This can be a silent time of prayer or you may pray in color by writing one of the phrases that stuck out and doodling around it, which allows your mind to think subconsciously.
4. Contemplio (contemplate) – It’s at this point that you ask yourself what this means for your life. How might it change what you do every day? You can do this silently or with journaling.
5. Actio (action) – This is where you create the artwork, but the whole process should be pushing you to transform your life and how you do ministry. This final step is your decision to take a leap of faith as guided by the process or to continue to reflect if a direction isn’t clear yet.

Praying with the News

First, a little history on the name. Psychologist and theologian Don Browning (Chicago) came up with the name and then one of my professors, Claire Wolfteich (Boston University), required we write a prayer with the news each week during Prayer and Social Engagement. I was already a bit of a lectionary nerd, so I used the lectionary to help me find the story I would pray with. One-third of the psalms are lament psalms, which I find helpful to remember because it gives us permission to speak to our pain.

Second, two basic methods and an example.

Art Journal – This is where I take a photo from a news event and pray for the people injured (physically, emotionally, spiritually) in the photo and the story. I add text from the story and/or the psalm to the photo.

Prayer/Poems – The psalms were especially helpful because I select lines from the tradition and juxtapose them with quotes or situations from the story I was praying about. I later started calling them prayer/poems because they weren’t the kind of prayer you would use during worship, yet they were modern day lament prayers. The technique I was using drew more from poetry than liturgy as you can see:


In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge …

Cold front and warm front collide
and a supercell tornado rips
through downtown Joplin, Mo.
3/4-miles wide
bears down on St. John’s
“Execute Condition Gray!”

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold … 

She clung to a urinal at Wal-Mart
as the roof collapsed around her …
He protected a cancer patient from flying glass …
She saw a patient flipped out of bed
and then pinned to the wall by the bed …
He was in emergency for a broken rib
that would become three in the storm …

There is no logic to how one room can be utterly destroyed
and another untouched; some people sucked out windows
as others watch in horror.

My times are in your hand; rescue me …

This is no punishment, no persecution —
just deadly winds and glass
and metal and trees
and flesh too easy to pierce, crush.

It is what we do after that has meaning —
like giving your wheelchair to those
more injured than your broken hip.
like helping others breathe while
your fresh cuts bleed.
like carrying wounded to buses
headed to other hospitals.

Make your face to shine upon your servant,
and in your loving-kindness save me …

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