contemplatio, devotional, lectio, lectio divina, meditatio, oratio, pagan, paganism, prayer
We currently have a thread on Pagan Forum about the use of devotionals as a personal practice, which is how/why I was inspired to write this thread on my own devotional practice, which is loosely based on the Catholic Lectio Divina.
If you aren’t familiar with the term devotional, it describes a short, often daily, religious practice that is used to help an individual grow in their relationship with the Divine, which generally involves some sort of reading and/or prayer. If you are familiar with the term from a Christian standpoint, you may have seen or read a book or magazine which often takes a Bible verse, illustrates it with someone’s story or lesson, and ends with a prayer, which is called a devotional. Often Christian devotionals are oriented to a particular subset of Christians–either by denomination, or gender, or age, etc. (despite these books widely being referred to as a devotional, the use of them is only one type of devotional practice).
From a Pagan perspective, the purpose of devotional practice isn’t much different, though I think we have a lot more diversity when it comes to what we consider Divine. A polytheistic devotional practice, for example, might focus on particular individual deities or a particular pantheon, while a pantheist or even a naturalist might choose to focus something like the elements, the natural world or the universe-at-large. Since our views of Divinity are so varied, our individual devotionals are bound to be equally diverse. If you haven’t established a personal devotional practice, but are interested in the idea, a good Pagan introduction to the idea can be found here, and a good conversation on devotional prayers can be found here.
My devotional work follows the structure of the Lectio Divina (which means Divine Reading in Latin), though its (obviously) not about Jesus and its quite a bit less structured/more free form. The Catholic Lectio Divina dates back to the 6th century and was developed as a monastic practice by St. Benedict, while the format that exists today was established later (more info on its history). The Lectio Divina has four parts–Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio (which translates to reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation)…and really, the devotional structure found in contemporary (and generally non-denominational) devotionals is based in part on this form. A good walk through of the Lectio Divina from a Catholic perspective can be found here–its an excellent description of the process in general, if you can overlook the Christian bits.*
My version of the Lectio Divina goes something like this:
- Lectio–Read/watch/listen. Using some piece of material that speaks from the Divine to you, intake the material from a non-judgemental perspective. Try not to assign meaning to the material, just soak in the message. The message might come from a reading, but it could also come form a song or a clip of video or a picture. The key here is to absorb every scrap of meaning you can wring from it, without judging it or formulating your own response to it (yet).
- Meditato–Meditation on the message (or messages). How does it fit as an expression of Divinity, Humanity or the cosmos (or not)? How is Divinity speaking through this message? What does it mean in terms of a message from or about your gods? What does it mean in terms of how you go about your day, or how you live your life?
- Oratio–Conventionally, this would be where one enters into a conversation with the Divine–otherwise known as prayer. Sometimes for this part I pray…but its more about a personal active expression of the message (it could be getting off your rear and dancing, singing, painting, writing, etc, or it could be the more conventional prayers) that is based on the message you received (which may or may not be true to the text itself).
- Contemplatio–Resting with the gods in silence (however you see them), open meditation, etc, opening your mind and heart to their wonder (or the wonder of nature/the universe/etc), and re-centering yourself in the present.
The material I use for the Lectio portion is pretty varied. It includes everything from Bible verses (I’m a fan of Ecclesiastes 3 1-8), to the Homeric hymn to Gaia, to poetry the poem Mending Wall (by Robert Frost) to the excerpt of Mary Oliver I posted recently, to this song by Sara Thomsen, to each of the Unitarian Universalist 7 principles, to the picture at the top of the post, which is a picture of the Rose Window at Chartres Cathedral next to a cross section image of DNA often called the Rose Window. Anything that speaks to one’s inner self or offers divine inspiration is, at least in my opinion, fair game.
What about you? Do you have a daily practice (or at least a regularly occurring one)? What do you find inspiring on a soul level?
UPDATE: I just opened up another blog, which I *oh-so-creatively* titled Pagan Devotionals, specifically to post inspiring bits of this and that for anyone that is interested in starting their own devotional practice, whether it be reciting prayers or adorations or undertaking the Lectio Divina.
*Normally I wouldn’t have felt it necessary to point out that beneficial spiritual practices and beliefs can exist in other religions…even Christianity, and that we should keep an open mind to both the origins and intent of specific ideas as well as their modern interpretations. But then I read (mostly via Facebook and other blogs–so if you missed the debate, count yourself lucky) some recent debate over this particular blog post (which I thought was spot on), purely over what commenters thought the specific terminology meant (and I’m pretty sure most of them only read the title anyhow).