Since joining the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks in 2014, I have been intentionally trying to make my sabbath distinctive from other days of the week. My illness often makes one bed-bound day merge into another, and prevents me attending church (even virtual church), this is harder than one might think. There are practical disciplines I have tried to put in place, like limiting screen time and not engaging with my emails. Yet what has emerged as my main sabbath practice, for the small window of energy I have, is spending time using the contemplative prayer practice at sacredspace.ie as a bouncing-off point for a creative engagement with the Divine.
Many of you will be familiar with the contemplative practice of Lectio Divina: a way of meditatively reading and discerning the Sacred Voice in a text, (which is often, but not exclusively, the Bible). It is a practice of stilling and distilling; of silent opening and beholding; a listening encounter with the Holy. (For those of you who are not familiar with this practice, the resources found here and here will give you a flavour.
When I am meditating on the gospel text of the day as given by Sacred Space, I first read it through in my NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) translation. If there are bits I don’t understand, or words I want to delve further into, I sometimes use biblegateway.com to look up alternative translations, (my favourite amplifications are from The Message and The Living Bible.) By the conclusion of this multi-layered prayer and conversation with Jesus and Sophia, I have often been given a word or short phrase which then feeds into my prayers throughout the following week.
I am a ‘words person’, but I am also a ‘visual person’, so I gradually extended the stages of my sabbath Lectio Divina practice to create a direct visual response to the word/short phrase. (I use an adapted Soul Collage technique.) Sometimes the sifting of images and the collage-making comes together over the course of a Sunday afternoon, but some weeks, it will take days to complete the collage in ten minute bursts of energy…
In 2020 I finally got round to extending the sabbath process into an even more holistic, reflective practice, so that both the word/short phrase, and the collage, were brought into the ‘real life’ of my week. So, after letting these gifts settle for a couple of days, I work with this collage as the basis for a Visio Divina practice, and using an adapted expressive arts/mindful technique, I produce what I call, an ‘I AM reflection’.
So my sabbath practice is a blend of journalling, silent prayer, Bible reading, Ignation reflection, ‘found’ collage (ie using images from magazines etc rather than self-generated ones), and creative writing. I often find these creative reinterpretations of a Biblical text are full of surprising revelations, and they all help make the word/short phrase I have been given to become embodied, and not remain a mere intellectual exercise. I know I need to get things ‘out of my head’! I also know that unless I write or collage, it is all too easy for me to just stick with my first interpretation, and miss where Spirit is trying to direct my attention.
Every stage in the process becomes an expressive response to a series of sacred encounters. So that by the conclusion of the process I have generated a stand-alone ‘lectio collage’, and an accompanying ‘I AM’ reflection. It is these two expressions I will be sharing on the blog this Lent (without any further commentary from me).
All the collages have been made over the last eighteen months, at different points in the liturgical calendar, rather than in the order I will present them here. The I AM reflections were not written sequentially (so I have no idea how they will read in this 7 week unfolding order, but I pray there will be new, helpful, cross-currents generated this Lent). I chose to concentrate on Mark’s gospel because Mark is a great story-teller, so there is a clear narrative progression between the collages, despite not being made to form a series, or to represent a retreat. This 7 week progression encapsulates the Christian ‘gospel’ – hence my name for this series for Lent 2022.
If you wish to make the space for a Lent discipline, I recommend you:
- find a quiet place to sit in silence
- slowly read the Bible passage in your favourite translation (preferably more than once)
- sit looking at the collage for at least five minutes, noticing as much as you can
- read the accompanying I AM reflections
- journal your responses to all of the above.
If you have time to extend this discipline further, I recommend you:
- after finding your own word/phrase, keep it in the front of your mind, (I often repeat it as a mantra during this next part of the process) as rip up images out of magazines that tug at your attention (I suggest you set yourself a time limit to find your images!)
- then sift through the images discarding the ones that don’t illuminate your word/phrase (keep the discarded images for next time!);
- then find a blank piece of paper and glue the found images onto it in any way you choose (you don’t have to have neat edges for example!).
- Alternatively, go through a similar process and pull some photos off your hard drive; print them out; then rip and cut and glue down your own seeings into new juxtapositions and meanings…
Lastly, I want to extend a helping hand: ‘all meanings are meant’ as Sister Maggie Ross observes. The Bible is full of paradoxes and even when meditating on a few verses, plural meanings of words and phrases get multiplied, and images can arise from these pluralities in great numbers, and from all directions. Some may see prayerful consideration of all these plural directions and meanings as a dilution of the original text, or as a postmodern sacrilegious act. Whilst I understand why some may have reservations, I prefer to trust that Spirit will be my guide; that I won’t get emotionally overwhelmed; that what I need to hear God say to me in that moment will emerge clearly – if I am prepared to wait in silence and listen. I trust Spirit to give me the courage to let go of trying to control the outcomes, and allow my mental, emotional and visual faculties the space to evolve together, ever-deepening my relationship with the I AM.