In a book on sacred reading I recently read this passage: “…neither lectio divina nor, indeed, life itself is a walk through the rainforest looking for photo-ops…” The author is on to a particular spiritual mentality here that strikes very close to home with me. In my spiritual reading I am most uncomfortable unless I have a pencil or marker in my hand while I am reading in order to highlight “snapshots” that are, in some way, striking. In a sense, it’s like walking down the aisles of a large supermarket without a shopping list – putting in one’s cart whatever looks good.
There is no way I can deny the efficacy to spiritual formation of glomming on to those gems of wisdom that give us pause. They have been the stone and mortar of my meditations. What I think the above mentioned author is cautioning about is the frequent lack of a “shopping list” in this regard. A shopping list is not drawn up on whim but rather on need. It is a plan. Our spiritual shopping list should be need-based, not whim-based.
Generally our spiritual need can be expressed simply as wanting to decrease one’s self so that You can increase in our lives and be more present to us. A shopping list can be made for this plan. Then, with that general idea in mind, a shopping list for smaller more specific needs (like learning about and cultivating humility in one’s daily life) can be made. It is at this juncture then that our “snapshots” must be judged against our shopping list.
If one thinks about the larger picture of one’s whole life, we often do our snapshot taking according to a whole handful of different shopping lists; and these lists themselves are under constant revision to meet our current needs. But, underlying all lists there is really only one. According to that list it’s not what we see as looking good in itself that matters but what, whether beautiful or ugly, conforms us to the need expressed in order to know, love and serve God in this world. Hence we should be selective in our “photo-ops.” So, I’m thinking the “rainforest” is more a metaphor for the distractions along the way rather than for the journey itself. Thus, neither lectio nor life is something we do for itself but rather each is a means to something else.