May 2019: Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (Nehemiah 8:1-12) The Bible on Praying the Bible

Oratio. What the Word leads me/us to say
Echoes of your word come to me in so many ways, Lord: In the daring voice of a young reader at Mass who makes your Word flesh in a Kilkenny accent, or in the muttered prayers by the sickbed of a loved one, or the chanting of psalms that dares to break contemplative silence, or the teaching with authority that wants to break open the wisdom of these words to new generations.

Each time your word is proclaimed among the men, women and children, we become ‘old enough to understand’ how we are formed as a people of joyful hope.

Lectio. What the Word says in itself
This text is part of a story of national re- identification after the disaster of the Exile. Some aspects of the story need to be recognised:

This is a people who are being reconstituted. They no longer hold a common language or culture. Some were returned exiles, others were people who had not been in exile, others were from the diaspora. Yet they come together to hear anew the gift of God’s law, the Torah.
This is a new form of liturgy for this people: a coming together to hear the reading of the Torah. The Temple is being rebuilt; traditional sacrifices are not yet offered with regularity. All is being reintroduced in a slow, steady manner, and it hinges on people re- identifying themselves as the People who hear God’s Torah and allow it to direct their lives.
The effect of this reading of the Torah is renewed joy. The tears are ending; the famine of God’s life-giving word has given way to the ‘fat’ of a new feasting on the word.Note the beauty of the word, the text. Even for those who would not have understood, in a good reading, the flow and the poetry of the language of the Torah is powerful and beautiful.

Meditatio. What the Word says to me/us
To this day, one of the important rites of initiation of Jewish boys, the bar mitzvah, consists simply of standing on the dais and reading the Torah in Hebrew. This is not an idle gesture; it means that by proclaiming the Torah, the boy becomes a son of the Torah, he becomes part of this great tradition of wisdom, of knowing the paths that lead to the Father’s house.

This is what we have in this reading: a sense that the very reading of the word will lead us from dispersal and brokenness to the wholeness of the People who hear God’s Word; from the sadness and shame of Exile to the joy of homecoming. God’s Torah is not a burden but the path to joy and wholeness.

Reading the Scripture enables these effects. It moves us from the being broken, dispersed groupings, to becoming the assembly of the Lord, united as men, women and children in our hearing of God’s word; from the shame of our failure and exile, to the joy of the feast of fat meats.

Psalm 119:59 reads: ‘When I think of your ways/ I turn my feet to your decrees!’ Reading the Word of God aloud and together brings us onto the great pilgrimage, the torrent of hope, that opens a path to Wisdom.

Contemplatio. Being transformed by the Word
In silence and in peace, revisit the words and the phrases that touched you in this text. Consider something of the heroism of Ezra and Nehemiah in restoking the fires of Torah. Consider the excitement of those who may have heard but understood little, yet realized they were listening to the language of their fathers and mothers. Consider the joy of the banquet that accompanied this new form of teaching and worship.

Actio. Putting the Word into practice
As a people and as individuals, our listening to God’s word is the first step in ‘turning our feet to God’s decrees.’ Bring the Scriptures into your meetings and assemblies. Begin your gatherings, in any context, with a reading of God’s word that will be unifying and a source of joy. This holds for families, parishes, assemblies in schools and situations of care. A reading together of God’s word in – and into! – all sorts of situations can bring those gifts of unity and joy.

Fr Sean Maher

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