Book Review: Sacred Reading, the Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey
by Peter Menkin 1/20/2009 / Book Reviews
Says much of Sacred Reading: good book that provides depth exploration
Having read a few books on Lectio Divina I looked at my book case where "Sacred Reading" by Michael Casey waited to be read and almost decided against taking it up at the time. I knew that the author was a noteworthy man, and I considered maybe there was something offered here that I needed to know. Afterall, despite my thought that I knew it all, I really had a greater suspicion that I did not.
Fortunately, I did read with diligence the paperback whose full title is "Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina," published by Liguori/Triumph. One thing the book explained was the value of using Lectio as a means of reading texts other than the Bible. It said the Fathers were a good source for this. I had not thought such all right to do, but had in my mind that only the Bible could be read. The title of the book, and its content, in meaning, broadens the approach to sacred reading, including other texts. I found this helpful, and personally broadening. In fact, I had some relief since I did want to do this kind of reading with other texts--but thought it inappropriate to the Godly.
Another thing about this book, it is on my reading list for Oblates, which was changed just after I spent ten years reading the old list. Now I am almost at the end, and this book comes at the end of reading the books on the list. I am pleased to see that it did refresh me.
I liked how it is helpful with The Rule of St. Benedict. In the Preface, it says, "You will find in this book many references to Saint Benedict's Rule for monasteries and to other classical works of the monastic tradition." This is a reliable book for those inclined to The Rule, and to "The Spirit of Monastic Lectio."
Beyond such ambitions, the book is useful to anyone wanting to develop an advanced spiritual reading practice, which can be just 30 minutes a day. The benefits for a lifetime of such reading is worth the daily effort, that provides much prayer like reward and relationship with God. The author offers such as part of his teachings. For this is a book of teachings.
The book reads well, and I liked the instruction to stay with a "...single book..." which the writer says "...is not only an exercise in personal discipline; it is a condition for approaching lectio divina with an appropriate attitude." This is a useful thing to learn, and I thought this is a good way to read Jeremiah. I have wanted to delve further into that book of The Old Testament.
Because I am over 55 years old, this statement from the book was useful to me, even though the kind of maturity it refers to is not necessarily that of age. For me, it introduced the idea of growing in maturity at this time in my life: The author Michael Casey writes, "I consider that lectio divina is an important component of the mature and active years of the spiritual life; its absence diminishes the vitality of these years and may eventually lead to shipwreck."
I believe these promises, for in a way of reading the book my consideration of the contexts and attitudes of the author were ones providing a promise. I believed that what he said was of value, and that if one followed or even began the process of lectio as I knew it from previous books, and as I say certainly from this one, that there is the reward. Here is another quote, a quote from the author's of another writer named Abbot Chapman of Downside, that continues this element of promise:
"The only way to pray is to pray; and the way to pray well is to pray much. If one has no time for this, then one must at least pray regularly. But the less one prays the worse it goes." Again, the ring of truth.
Author and monk Michael Casey says that there is a theology to lectio divina. Here is a valuable statement about the relationship such reading means for ones relationship with the Church. (Though I am not Catholic as in Roman Catholic, I found this a telling matter that touched on my desire to have a more full relationship in my own Church.) "This is why an important part of our review of the theology that grounds the practice of lectio must ... recall the intrinsic relationship that exists between the Bible and the Church." Put with pith: "Mutuality exists between the Church and sacred Scripture."
Michael Casey covers the bases, as you see.
If you as a reader of this review have an interest in the Holy, for your life and in a means of understanding, this book leads to living that understanding and way of living a Holy life. For me, this means being in relationship with God, having a prayer practice, being in touch with and better finding the richness of Church, and certainly knowing that we find a Christian life in community. The writer's response on motivation for lectio: "I hope to find God in my reading."
In a literal way, and I want to again quote from the book to give the reader of this review a sense of the book's language...in a literal way, "Lectio divina leads to a conscious endeavor to live in accordances with the Gospels." Could it be any better for those with this desire.
A reader interested in knowing what to bring to this kind of reading is led with the thoughts that we bring our personal salvation history, recent experience, overt faith and obedience. These are good practices, and from previous reading I know that they are good things to work with in ones life when bringing one into better understanding of and relationship with God. For me, this was a major thought in the book and I think an important goal for the purposes of the book.
Suffice it to say, I have not covered all that is important in this useful, illuminating, and enjoyable "Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina." I notice that the publisher is in Missouri, and from the back cover that the author is an Australian monk (Cistercian) and an Abbot. Though I haven't read the book that is recommended by the publisher of this title, I have read the work by Thelma Hall and it is recommended by the bookseller Amazon.com as a companion. I can say the Thelma Hall book is excellent and inspirational. It was the first book I read on Lectio Divina. You as a reader who seeks God and wishes to know prayer through relationship with sacred texts will find this book useful and enjoyable. You won't be sorry to read it, there is much that the book tells.
By the way, the publisher of the book recommends as its companion, "Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer." A book by Michael Casey.
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.