Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 47 – Listening

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 47 of our weekly series on the soul. Just three more to go after tonight until we hit 50 posts in the series: one of those falls on Christmas Eve and another falls on New Year’s Eve. ([Yikes! I better start thinking about what to do for those right away.) We’ll be ending the series as we’ll be ending the year. I did not plan that and only just now realized it. Interesting. In the new year I’m going to work on some other stuff I’ve been thinking about. I may also begin posting once a week on the blog so I can work on the ebook project. We’ll see. As usual, there will be links and notes at the end of this post. Here goes, for tonight, as you can probably already tell, a bit of a ramble.

I was reading a sample of a book last night. I think I saw it advertised on a site where I was reading an article, and it caught my eye because I’m so easily distrac—SQUIRREL! Ahem. The author mentioned some of the great spiritual writers and saints of the Church, and then he mentioned Saint Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises. He also mentioned something I never quite realized: that Saint Ignatius read about the use of the imagination and putting oneself in the scene of the Gospel stories in a book by someone else. Now, I’ve read about Saint Ignatius and his exercises, but somehow this fact never made it into my awareness. The book was the famous (yet somehow I knew nothing of it until now) Vita Christi by Ludolf (or Lodolf) of Saxony, a Carthusian monk. I felt better about my utter lack of knowledge of Ludolf’s work after reading this at Biblio:

“Although virtually unknown to English speakers, Ludolph’s Vita Christi was an extremely popular devotional work that was widely read during the fifteenth century, and which influenced St. Ignatius Loyola during his recuperation (1521-22), the influence of which may be seen in the similar structure, imagery and themes of his Spiritual Exercises. The miniatures provide valuable period detail and information (e.g., vestments and clothing, clerical and secular headgear, a rosary, hairstyles including tonsures) others are interesting for their theological information (e.g., a horned devil, the church as an ark). A very good copy of this rare work.”

That copy Biblio is describing is priced at nearly $4,000.00 I’ll settle for a PDF and/or an online page of reproductions, thank you. (I’m still searching for a PDF of the book but all I’ve found is a small sample or a book about the book. Sigh. See notes below.)

Back to the book that started me off down this rabbit hole (down which I’ve now taken you, too). It’s The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground, by Chris Webb. I was happily reading away, thinking I needed to get a copy of this book soon, when I stumbled across something that stopped me in my tracks. There in the same work hearkening back to Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint John of the Cross and many others, came the name Martin Luther. And that’s when I realized that this was not the work of a Catholic author. A quick check showed that the publisher is IVP, InterVarsity Press, a well-known Protestant publisher. Now, they have published some really good stuff in the past few years. The Ancient Commentary on Sacred Scripture comes immediately to mind, a collection of the Church Fathers and their commentaries on Scripture. (I’ve got the Verbum edition and I really like it, even with its at times obvious Protesant provenance.) 

I did a web search to find out about the author of The Fire of the Word, and discovered that he is a Benedictine of the Anglican variety. I generally don’t read many books by non-Catholic authors, especially in Biblical matters, but I find this one interesting, not only because it’s encouraging to see non-Catholics who have a love and respect for and knowledge of the Church Fathers, but the book itself has caught my attention and my imagination. Anything that will help me get into the Spiritual Exercises is a good thing, I think.

In the Spiritual Exercises we learn to put ourselves into the scene in whichever Gospel story we’re reading. We are to observe and note everything, letting our senses explore the scene, the setting, noting our impressions, seeing the action unfold in our mind’s eye. We put ourselves in the presence of the Biblical characters, the actors, and I don’t mean those terms in a shallow theatrical sense (of someone “only acting” or as if “only pretending”) but in the sense of real flesh and blood human persons acting, moving, thinking, feeling, being, meeting the Lord and experiencing His Divine Action in their lives.

Reading the Bible isn’t meant to be some mere exercise in memorization, though there’s nothing wrong with that and it does have its place. But this entering into the story, our story, this record of salvation history, our salvation, the history of our own salvation and of all those who came before us, and all of those who will come after us—this is what it means to really read the Scriptures. To do Lectio Divina. Divine Reading. Reading ourselves into the scene, into the action, into the story. Letting our body, heart, mind, and soul soak in the Light of the Word, so that it washes over us and through us, transforming us as only the Word can. Listening to what the Spirit is saying to us. Not trying to beat the word into submission, making it mean what we want it to mean and nothing else, but saying, along with the prophet:

Thank you for visiting and reading my rambling. I needed to work with some ideas that are taking shape in my mind and have been for a year or more now. Finding this book felt like a nudge from the Lord, telling me to get with it, to put it in gear, to get moving! More about that project later. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy. May the Lord bless and keep you. And may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+

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Notes and Links

  • Vita Christi, by Ludolf of Saxony, the book that inspired Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises: a lovely online edition, though only a small sample of the work, from the special collections at the University of Glasgow Library, where it was the Book of the Month in December of 2009.
  • The Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony and its influence on the Spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, by Paul Shore. Free PDF at archive.org.
  • An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections: Paperback, Kindle (affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below for more.) Fr. Timothy Gallagher has written several books about or based on the Spiritual Exercises. You may have seen him on EWTN. I haven’t used this book yet but it looks like one I’d like to get and use soon. 
  • Ancient Commentary on Sacred Scripture, InterVarsity Press. Verbum digital edition, full set of 29 volumes.

Image in banner: Samuel, having listened to the Lord, delivering the Lord’s judgment to Eli. Stained glass image in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP. Some rights reserved. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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