Monastic Practice ~ Divine Reading

How does one live the monastic life in this crazy world that we live in?  What are the aspects of the monastic life that even lay people can use in their everyday life to enhance their walk with the Lord?

The monastic life is like a three legged stool based on Sacred Reading, Manual Work, and Liturgical Prayer.  Each of these legs is important in the life of the monk and without one the stool will not stand.  Each of these legs needs to be worked on and worked at if they are going to keep the life of the monk balanced.

Sacred Reading is not a new practice but is as old as the Church.  For generations monks have made this a part of their daily practice.  It is also, I believe, one of the lest understood legs of the monastic stool.

It can be said that once you are schooled in a particular spirituality then you remain in that spirituality for the rest of your days.  I was schooled in the Benedictine Monastic tradition and this influences my spirituality today.  I am also school in the Celtic Spirituality and this influences my spiritual life as well.  Both spiritualities practiced some form of sacred reading.

In the monasteries of St. Benedict he allotted two to three hours a day during the summer months and up to five hours during the winter months.  So Scared Reading was important to St. Benedict and his monasteries.  St. Benedict believed that idleness was the enemy to the soul and so he prescribed reading and manual labor to his monks.

Sacred Reading is the process of assimilating the word of God by letting its very meaning spread through your blood to all parts of your body.  To become one with the Word so you can become one with the Word.

What is the process of Sacred Reading?

1.  Time ~ There needs to be a set time, not only a length of time but a time of the day.  It has been suggested that you start with no less than a half hour per sitting.  The time of the day is up to you but it should be a time that works and will have the least amount of distractions.  If that is even possible in out busy daily lives.

2.  Place ~ The place you choose is as important as the time you choose.  It needs to be a comfortable place, not too cold not too hot, and free of distractions.  No radio or other sound.  You need to feel at home in this place and relaxed.

3.  Be at Peace ~ The Word of God will speak to us if we are in a state of relaxed peacefulness and we are also willing to accept the Word that will be spoken We need a sense of quiet receptivity to the Word.

4.  Prayer ~ As with anything, this will be a grace guided activity so one needs to pray before starting.  Pray that God truly speaks to you through His Word.  Use your own words or if you like the words spoken prior to the reading of the Gospel during the Divine Liturgy:  Enkindle in our hearts the pure light of your divine knowledge, O master, lover of mankind, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of your evangelical proclamations.  Instill in us so that, trampling down all bodily desires, we may practice a spiritual life, thinking and doing all which pleases you.

What Scripture passage to start with?

The easiest answer to this question is to use the Scripture the Church selects for each day of the week.  These can be found in many places but one of the most comprehensive lists on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.  If you wish, although I do not suggest this to start with, you can just let the Bible fall open to any Scripture passage you wish.

The 12th Century Carthusian Guigo, wrote an essay called the ladder.  In this letter he lists four rungs of spiritual reading.  These are not steps that one moves up each one after completing the previous, but used more as a guide of the process of spiritual reading. The four rungs are:


Let us now look at each of these.

Reading ~  Begin with a careful attentive survey of the passage.  Grasp the central idea that the author is trying to convey.  Listen to what the text is saying, what is being said and not being said.  Ask what the meaning of the situation or the text is.  Where is it taking place and who is it addressed too?

Meditation ~ Turn the passage over in your mind.  Chew on it, ask questions about it.  Again note what is said and not said and ask why.  If you get stuck on a particular word or phrase stick with it and find out what it is saying to you.  Probe the passage for the underlying meaning and hear the words as if they were written just for you.

Prayer ~ Shift from the text you are reading to God.  Move from the word, the Divine Speaker of the Word, to the Word, God.  Dialogue with God about what you have just read and ask questions of how this may or may not apply to your life.

 ~ Rest in the presence of God.  Let the words wash over you and be at peace with them and with God.  Just bask in the Divine Light of the Lord and the Word.  Remain with God and listen with the ear of your heart not the ear of your mind.  Meet the Lord in the mystery of the silence you now sit in, the silence created without and the silence created within.

This is not an easy process or procedure to follow and it will seem difficult at first.  It will be dry and it will take some time to get used too.  You will feel like your wasting your time, but what a better way to waste time then wasting time with God and His Word?  Monks have been practicing Sacred Reading for years and it takes that long to get into it. 

Just start and let God work in your life.  Once you get into it you will notice a difference in your life.  The Word of God is living and it needs to live in each one of us.  It will be fruitful and multiply if you let it.