Last week I proposed the spiritual discipline of lectio divina as a means of grace to facilitate our imitation of Paul and Jesus’ mind and heart. I argued that this discipline can aid us in what I described as Pauline or Christological reminiscence and imitation. For John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century, even a brief title, such as “Paul, the apostle,” demands that we prayerfully and imaginatively shape our mind and heart around it, forming “a mental image” so the reality of the title sinks into our memory and motivates holy action.

“For truly when I hear, ‘Paul the apostle,’ I have in my mind the one in afflictions, the one in tight straights, the one in blows, the one in prisons, the one who was night and day in the depth of the sea, the one snatched up into the third heaven, the one who heard inexpressible words in paradise, the vessel of election, the leader of the bridegroom of Christ, the one who prayed to be anathema from Christ for the sake of his brothers and sisters. Just like some golden cord, the chain of his good deeds comes into the head of those who attend with precision along with the remembrance of his name.”

Through the intense textual meditation ignited by memorization and aided by skillful preaching, Chrysostom believes the soul becomes a canvas of sorts on which the Spirit paints Christologically. Preliminary cleaning of the canvas is required.

“Consider the soul to be your portrait. So, before the true tempera of the Spirit comes, wipe away the habits which have been wrongly put into it … correct your habits, so that when the colors are laid upon it, no longer will you wipe things out again, and damage or scar the beauty which has been given to you by God.”

Chrysostom illustrates the link between imaginative meditation on texts, effective preaching, and character change by exhorting his audience to meditate imaginatively on the suffering of the martyrs; allow the Spirit to paint on the mind and soul of the reader and listener.

“… let us paint on the walls of our mind the punishments of the martyrs … it is sufficient to use willingness and genuine, sober-minded reasoning, and by this capacity, just as by some skilled hand, one can draw their punishments. Let us, then, paint on our souls those lying on frying pans, those extended over hot coals … so that, by furnishing our lovely house with the variety of this painting, we might make a suitable dwelling for the king of the heavens. For if he sees such paintings in our minds, he will come with the Father, and will make an abiding-place with us in the company of the Holy Spirit, and our mind will then be a royal house. No absurd thought will be able to come into it while the memory of the martyrs, like some bright-colored painting, is always stored up within us and releases a great shining splendor. And God, the king of all, dwells continually in us.”

Here we have an imaginative, auditory reading available to all who hear the text of Scripture read aloud – and hopefully explained. As we have seen, however, reading and explanation in the spiritual discipline of lectio divina are not for the amassing of information. We read with the mind in the heart, intent and open to the forming of our human consciousness and character in Christ’s image. Church fathers with a monastic background such as Chrysostom readily understood this powerful dynamic. Chrysostom drives his audience to form —in Margaret Mitchell’s words—“an imaginative mental picture,” precisely so that our conscience might be “pricked” and our character transformed as we imitate the person of our focus. It is precisely this remembrance, focus and imitation that lectio divina facilitates.

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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