Dazed to Dazzling
Out of Focus
Familiarity breeds forgetfulness.
When things feel too familiar, I cruise along on autopilot. Suddenly, I’m pulling up to the small Island branch of the library. How’d I get here? I don’t remember going past my favorite slow-down sign, the one of a mama duck and her four little ducklings, right at the curve across from Islands Middle School.
Please tell me that I’m not the only one who sings the last line of the Star-spangled Banner at the baseball game, yet, due to rote memory and inattentiveness, I’m not sure how the last soaring line appeared so fast. What about the first stanza? Did we sing that?
For one set of our grandchildren, their nightly habit is to pray the Lord’s Prayer. However, when I’m as tired as a female loggerhead sea turtle who has lumbered ashore to dig a nest for her ping-pong sized, rubbery eggs, I can’t recall where we are in the well-known prayer. Grandchildren look at me, puzzled. Why has Gran slid too far ahead or slipped inexplicably behind by a line or two?
I’m not tuned in. I’m with them in body but not in mind or spirit. Presence is not happening.
Too familiar with a passage, I do the same thing when reading Scripture.
In April of 1969, Jesus captured my heart. Before that, I only knew about God, but never knew I could know Him personally. Then Jesus invited me to come to His party of life.
Since then, almost daily, I read some portion of Scripture. For over 50 years, His words form my morning’s start. As a freshly minted Christ-follower, I consumed the Bible each morning before the yellow Bluebird bus whisked me away to high school.
For instance, this year I’m reading through the Bible chronologically. So far that’s taken me through portions of Genesis and all of Job. Back to Genesis again, I’m traveling along the dysfunctional family line of lies and deceits with Isaac and Rebekah, oh and Jacob, and those two conniving, broken-at-the-core sisters, Leah and Rachel.
I’ve read these stories before, you know. Over and over, again and again, morning by morning, for over 50 years, these words inhabit my habits.
I made this habit then this habit made me.
Little by little, I learned the overarching Story of God. Bit by bit, I’d read a bit of the Word, write a bit of reflection, and confess sins committed and omitted. I’d celebrate God’s goodness, then stay still in awe to worship.
Reading the Word of God is one of the habits that’s held me through traumas as terribly ferocious as tornadoes and just as devastating. Reading the Word of God is one of the habits that invites me to draw intimately near the Lover of my soul.
Reading over and over again is a good thing. Such repetition leaves an imprint of the Word, which allows me to readily follow along the path with God, like ducklings following their mama duck.
Repetition brings new insights. Yet repetition also breeds familiarity.
Familiarity breeds forgetfulness.
Truth be told, some mornings I finish a Psalm or a chapter in the Gospel of Luke only to discover that I can’t remember what I just-that-minute read. Likewise, I hear again those unwise words from Job’s most unhelpful friends and find that, in the familiar, the words fall flat on ears that haven’t fully heard.
Now, that’s not to say that the words are flat. No indeed. Like you, I know these to be such remarkable words: the heart of God poured out on paper. The heart of God pursuing the heart of His creation across the heartlands of promises pulsates, yet those magnificent words fall flat on my dazed mind and heart, dulled by familiarity.
Enter Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina: Its four-part harmony sings a new tune with ancient lyrics.
Lectio – Read the passage.
Meditatio – Reflect on a word or phrase that grabs my attention.
Oratio – Respond to God with how this relates to my daily life.
Contemplatio – Rest with these words in the presence of God.
That is to say, I hear afresh the words I’ve heard many times before but this time, the words fall in new ways.
Four times through, I’m slowed down now, stilled but more alert. I’m listening in to a quite familiar passage yet I’m walking into new territory.
Have I ever even read this passage before?
What in the world is Jesus up to here?
Surely there must be new words that somehow, someway, I’ve never read.
Where did these tears cascading down my cheeks come from just now?
Why are my hands clenched in anger at the injustice I’ve just read?
What’s caused me to want to pound the pavement and stamp my feet?
Goodness gracious, what just happened here?
Why am I laying prone in awe?
Am I actually waving like a parent eager to get a child’s attention? What makes me try to warn a character who is strangely oblivious to the firestorm they are about to repeat again?
How is this passage, so well-worn to my mind, suddenly waking me up to new wonders of God, of my own heart?
In Lectio, I’ve slowed down to the pace of Spirit’s breath. I’ve caught the rhythm of the Father’s heartbeat. I’ve watched Jesus wink, a twinkle in His eyes.
Familiarity invaded by Lectio Divina has no choice but to stand on its head, upended.
Lectio undoes the familiar.
Last week a burst of warmth surprised us. Amid our first southern Georgia coastal January, while much of the nation was in a deep freeze, blue skies accompanied warm breezes. Temperatures tiptoed above 70 degrees, reaching upwards towards the 80s. Folks pulled on shorts, tossed on flipflops, packed picnics, and headed for the beach.
Not ones to balk at warmth, we too headed to the sunny shore of nearby Tybee Island. On the twelve-mile drive, crossing the sedate Bull River, Highway 80 meanders beside spartina grass and black needlerush grass which occupy the marshes surrounding Fort Pulaski National Park. When we crest the final bridge over Lazaretto Creek, we cheer aloud like children, eager to escape the stuffy car for the breezy shore. We assumed a warm beach and a clear sky would greet us for that was all we could see.
Waiting at the last stoplight before reaching the beach parking lot, haze scuttles across the two-lane road ahead, like a crab headed for his hidey-hole. Through the quirky cottages lining the curving road, we approach Tybee Island’s black-and-white-striped lighthouse.
The egress to the beach traipses across rolling sand dunes on a long wooden boardwalk. Finally, the ocean dances into view.
Looking north, blue skies sit like a jaunty cap above the channel. Savannah’s cargo ships slip into the depth of the ocean for their long voyage through this watery passageway.
To the south, a grey beret of clouds tilts low, scraping the sandbars.
We head south, toward the clouds, towards for the water tower then the pier, our normal landmarks for our normal stroll.
But neither is in sight.
A fogbank walls off the view just a scant twenty yards ahead. What was so familiar is no longer familiar.
The normal landscape vanishes; new landforms appear.
At low tide, seagulls, pelicans, and terns join the occasional skimmer or clapper rail, raiding the exposed shore for tidy appetizers. Drill shells inhabited by hermit crabs skitter, stop, skitter, stop, aiming to escape being some feathered critter’s snack.
Lettered olives, their signature raised-sloppy-tunnel carved in the sand, not disguising their semi-hidden presence at all, attempt to vanish.
I see just one seagull.
Nothing else wanders the shore.
The fog gobbles up the familiar.
The sun vanishes. Droplets of fog coat our skin.
Dimensions disappear. How far is it to the pier? With no bearings, we cannot measure our progress.
In the unfamiliar, I wake up. I pay attention.
Every landform presents itself as more intriguing.
In a sense, Lectio Divina is the fog that consumes the familiar, bringing more clarity to just a few things in close view.
Eventually, we are lost in the fog and that’s a good thing. For here, as the air becomes mist and the mist becomes our new attire, we wake up from the humdrum of the familiar and find vast wonders all around.
Just one piece of driftwood comes into view. We stroll over to it, examining its bleached coat, smoothed by the sea’s constant motion.
Just one beached jellyfish at a time appears as we wander where the waves lap the shore.
Just one of this, then one of that, and suddenly, our familiar walk is unfamiliar.
The unfamiliar invites us to gaze in wonder.
Meanwhile, the grey fog thickens to the point that we cannot see our hands clearly at the end of our arms. So it’s time to turn around and head back towards the sunshine. No pier walk will happen today.
Yet as we turn around, we see an odd thing.
Just ahead, an arc of clouds hangs over the sea as we emerge from the fogbank. At first, we expect it to drift on along, as coastal clouds do. But this arc stays put, thickening in the humid air.
Leaning down to examine this whelk and that moon shell, we glance back up to see that the arc continues to arch like a rainbow.
But where are the familiar ROY G BIV colors? Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet are nowhere to be seen.
Yet the bow still dangles its feet in the grey-blue ocean near the fog bank that is swallowing up everything from sand to sky.
It’s like nothing we’ve seen before. Fascinated, we point it out to unobservant beach strollers, as if we were little children discovering some new treasure.
Back home, I research this odd arc. What is it?
Why would the familiar look so unfamiliar? And why would the unfamiliar of the familiar intrigue me so much?
I discover it’s a fog bow: an arc of a weather phenomenon that displays the familiar in unfamiliar ways.
When a fog bank removes the well-known and replaces the landscape with luminous unfamiliar beauty, every once in a while, a fog bow might appear.
Lectio Divina is like a fog bow: familiar becomes unfamiliarly familiar.
What left me in a daze, now dazzles me.
By the descent of something new across the landscape of the familiar, I wake up to wonder.
When the Bible’s words have become too familiar, I glaze them over or they glaze over me. I’m in a daze.
Along comes Lectio Divina. It dazzles me, like a fog bow at the shore.
Lifting the familiar into unfamiliar, places of my soul wake up to wonder. I become again familiar with the One who delights in surprising me with Himself as I read His words and see them in ancient-new ways.
I’m curious. Where are you so familiar with the Bible that you are fuzzy, dazed? Where might Lectio Divina become a lens to bring you into focus so you can again see the dazzle of the divine Word of God?