As I briefly mentioned in October 17’s blog, solid exegesis prepares us for meditatio, setting our interpretive boundaries as it were, but the next step — founded on the theological principle of the incarnate Word — is to embrace Christ himself and in the embrace to be ever more fully formed into his image.

As we do so, we increasingly experience congruence between Christ’s mind and our mind. Our awareness of reality — our consciousness — is transformed into Christ’s. And the means for this transformation are the inspired words, phrases, narratives, poems, letters, and wisdom of the Scripture. The Holy Spirit has inspired these specific sentences and stories; the Spirit has set them apart as utterly unique in their authority and transformative power. In turn, the Trinity gracefully employs a spiritual discipline such as lectio divina to transfuse the marrow of the Bible into our spiritual blood stream. 

Reminiscence — a deepening of memory graced and empowered by the Holy Spirit — plays a crucial role in the forming of Christ’s consciousness in us. Margaret Mitchell, a scholar of John Chrysostom’s life and thought, directs us to a suggestive comment made by Libanios (Chrysostom’s teacher) that through paideia [Greek education, tradition and culture] Greek gentlemen were taught to install Demosthenes in their souls.’” Chrysostom did much the same thing — substituting Paul and Christ for Demosthenes — as he spent two years in solitude in a cave above Antioch. In Mitchell’s words, It would not be an exaggeration to say that Chrysostom saw himself as having installed Paul in his soul; during the two years he spent in the cave memorizing the New Testament, Chrysostom downloaded a great deal of Paul into his memory and consciousness.” 

Though Chrysostom may not have understood his time in the cave as an extended period of lectio divina, his practices in the silence and solitude of the cave describe the discipline and its fruits well. Mitchell writes: 

When he lived a solitary monastic life in a cave for two years, devoting most of that time to memorizing the New Testament, Chrysostom inscribed on his brain a lot of Paul, and, at that, a lot of Paul speaking in the first person, now vocalized through [Chrysostom’s] own mouth. Not only did constant rereading and memorization of these texts serve to lay the foundation for a life of Scriptural exposition, but it also oriented Chrysostom’s own consciousness in a Pauline direction, because of the domination of Paul in the New Testament canon.” 

The same could be said for Chrysostom’s understanding and immersion in the teaching and life of Jesus. Consider Chrysostom’s own description of the difference between the experienced and inexperienced reader. The inexperienced reader when taking up a letter will consider it to be papyrus and ink; but the experienced reader will hear a voice, and converse with one, the one who is absent … The things their writings said, they manifested to all in their actions … You have a most excellent portrait. Proportion yourself to it.”

In Chrysostom’s thinking, to proportion oneself to Paul by developing a highly developed memory soaked in the Scripture, is by definition to proportion one’s mind and life to Jesus. Paul and Jesus are inseparable in Chrysostom’s thinking. 

For John Chrysostom and other church fathers, to proportion oneself to another is to imitate or copy that person’s thoughts and actions. Chrysostom acknowledges that the attempt to imitate Jesus or Paul can be intimidating. Yet, Chrysostom writes, Paul issues this very invitation to help the Corinthian congregation to overcome its fears and doubts. Now don’t you tell me, I am not able to imitate you, because you are a teacher, and a great one at that.’ However, there is not as great a distance between you and me as from Christ to me. But nevertheless, I imitated him.” 

We are gracefully invited to the same imitation, and the spiritual discipline of lectio divina enables us to respond and imitate in a wise, paced, Spirit-filled manner.