How do we know God not cerebrally through concepts, but personally, to the point of being raptured, enflamed with love, united with him? Guigues II, a Carthusian monk of the XIIe century, heir to a long tradition, left us for this purpose a method which he compares to a scale. Whoever wants to know God must, in his eyes, exert himself tirelessly to climb the four steps.
1er time: reading
The first degree consists of a “careful examination” of text, “with a focused mind”. This first step is like putting food in your mouth. But this simple reading remains futile if it does not go further. “If you do not meditate frequently and piously on even that which you believe, explains Guigues, if you don’t chew it, so to speak, by grinding and turning it with your teeth, that is, with the senses of your mind, it will not pass your throat, which means that it will not reach not up to your intelligence. »
2e time: meditation
Reading is therefore followed by meditation, which Guigues defines as “a persevering action of the intelligence, which seeks, by means of its own reason, the knowledge of a hidden truth”. She asks to chew and grind the word put in the mouth. This will resonate with other passages of Scripture. And from the prayerful comparison of these passages will arise like sparks of understanding.
From there emerge like flagrances of the kingdom, which however are not yet a taste. Then awakens the desire to receive what we have just glimpsed. But we note the impotence of our human capacities for this effective knowledge. Hence a frustration that goes as far as the suffering of not being able to obtain this wisdom or this flavor (the two words have the same root) that the Spirit gives.
3e time: prayer
Seeing his powerlessness to obtain by his faculties “the tasty science that fills the soul it inhabits with inestimable happiness”, “the soul makes itself humble and takes refuge in prayer”. Guigues, who meditates in particular on the Gospel verse “Blessed are the pure in heart”, expresses his inner prayer thus: “Lord, you who can only be seen by pure hearts, I seek by reading and meditation what true purity of heart is and how it can be obtained, so that I may know you perhaps a little through it. . » The soul oriented towards God expresses its desire to know God no longer in the bark of the letter, but in the lived experience.
4e time: contemplation
In prayer, the soul is on fire. And according to his good pleasure, the Lord attracted by this ardent desire can interrupt the course of prayer and suddenly appear, covered with celestial dew. He then recreates the weary soul and nourishes it. Guigues employs a bold image for a cloister.
Contrary to carnal transport where man finds himself completely carnal, he explains, in contemplation, it is the movements of the flesh that are absorbed by the soul. And the flesh no longer opposing the spirit in any way, the person praying becomes completely spiritual. The spirit of the prayerful elevated above himself tastes in God “the joys of eternal sweetness”. The gift of tears – which manifests the brokenness of our stony heart – can accompany this upsurge.
Contemplation, linked to the good pleasure of God, could not however last. “Too much familiarity breeds disinterest”, explains Guigues with humor, using a popular saying. By withdrawing, God incites us to advance towards him. Knowing that despite this apparent absence, the Bridegroom remains imperceptibly present “for the guidance of the soul”.
At the end of the contemplation, “when the fragile tip of the human spirit can no longer sustain the brilliance of true light”, the Carthusian father advises to come down “calmly and in good order towards one of the three steps by which we had ascended”. Because in fact, “these degrees are interrelated and supersede each other in time as well as in causality”.
Putting in practice
If he does not insist on it, Guigues evokes the essential aspect of the implementation of the word in our life. Meditation allows us to see what we need to accomplish, but it is only with the help of prayer and the grace of God that we are “able to achieve”. Because we can’t do anything without “Father of Lights” who “Do our works in us”.
However, this requires our cooperation. Once again, Guigues insists on the fact that meditation is vain without prayer, which calls the action of God in us. “It’s not just about understanding, he writes in one of his Twelve meditations, but to love what one has understood so as not to neglect to accomplish it. Wisdom indeed resides in love. In love lies the strength of the soul. »
“I like to be seized by the biblical text”
Béatrice Oiry, teacher of biblical exegesis at the Catholic Institute of Paris
“I like to read a biblical text slowly, attaching myself to each word, and being gripped by the text and its beauty. I then feel a wonder, a mystery, a displacement sometimes, a joy. Some days, nothing happens: it’s daily prayer. Others, I discover a detail that had escaped me or a meaning is revealed… More rarely verses have been for me the occasion of an inner liberation. One day while reading “they see the possessed seated, dressed and come to their senses” (Mark 5, 15), something opened in me. The speech “your son lives” (John 4:50) also brought about a renewal of trust and acceptance of life. My practice is less regular today than in the past due to a disjointed schedule, but I make sure to reserve at the lectio divina a long time slot before Sunday mass. I also like to do it pencil in hand, in a form of study, or in a group, each one offering, after a time of reading and a time of silence, their voice and their listening to the words of Scripture. »
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How to gradually climb the ladder of “lectio divina”?
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