Lectio Tierra. My ears perked up as Pat spoke these words. I know Lectio Divina, but what was this Lectio Tierra he spoke of? In his introduction to “Celtic Spirituality and the Land” at our Celtic Prayer Retreat last weekend, Pat Loughery introduced us to this idea. Basically it’s taking the practice of Lectio Divina, the divine reading of Scripture, and applying it to your encounter with nature.
The Celts knew Jesus as the Word of God. They also saw scripture as the little (in size) book testifying to God and nature as the big book revealing who God is. It was perfectly natural for them to go into nature and learn of God. This makes some folks nervous, and several years ago I would have been nervous as well. But actually we should take comfort in the words of Paul to the church in Rome:
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” Romans 1:19-20
We often get caught up in the rebellion mentioned later in this passage, “worshiping the creation rather than the Creator”, which is a significant warning to us about knowing the difference between the two. Unfortunately many of us have over-reacted in fear and forgotten that God fashioned creation to give testimony to who God is. This truth becomes evident as we re-read scripture, especially the Psalms and the parables of Jesus.
With that out of the way, here’s a very simplified outline of how Lectio Divina works:
- Reading the passage through slowly and deliberately several times, listening for God’s voice in the written word.
- Meditating on what you’ve read. Taking time to really hear the words and thinking about what God might be saying to you specifically, right now, in the reading. What word or phrase stands out to you?
- Praying. Having a deep and personal conversation with God about what you’re hearing and experiencing in the passage.
- Contemplating, or resting in the truths you have heard and how they apply in your life.
So what might it look like to enter into Lectio Tierra? I actually wasn’t too surprised that I had been practicing this all along in my garden, on mushroom hunting trips, and out camping.
Reading – Heading out into God’s very good creation, I read the environment around me. How is God present? What might God be using to catch my eye and draw me closer? As I did this exercise at the retreat I noticed a tall stinging nettle. (There are a lot of them there). This nettle was tall and green, but two of the leaves just below the top were black and shriveled. Was there a message here I was supposed to hear? I stopped, looked, listened. It felt like I was trying to force a revelation into being. Then my eyes focused behind the nettles. I had been at the site for almost a week and walked by this tree nearly a hundred times and never noticed. This time it stood out as if to invite me into its story.
A tall, beautiful alder stretched its branches into the heavens. But what first attracted my attention was this ridiculously long and deep scar extending over 15 feet up the side of the trunk. What was its story and how might it be speaking to me? (Or if you’re more comfortable, how might God be speaking to me through this tree)?
Meditating – There is a story in this tree. I have no idea how the scar was made. I’m guessing there was once a large branch there that, either through wind, weight, or another tree crashing down upon it, was violently ripped from the trunk. While I didn’t know the details of that story, another reality was setting in.
This was a serious wound; there was nothing superficial about this. Just shy of the core of the tree, this wound had to have caused great trauma to the tree. Toward the top of this gaping whole I could easily see where layer upon layer of healing had taken place. But even with this severe trauma, the tree continued to grow, its remaining branches joined by new branches to reach toward the heavens. In fact, if you were to come upon this tree and only look upward, past the damaged parts, you’d likely think it was just like all the other healthy trees in the area: rich, strong, full of life.
Praying – I’ll admit up front, the meditation and praying portions seemed to overlap or, more accurately, lead me in a time of cycling from meditating to praying to meditating and back again. Jesus, what are you saying to me through this tree? What lessons, or cautions, do you have for me? There were some obvious ones, but what eventually came together as a whole was how much I am like this tree… we are like this tree.
We all are wounded. For some, the wounds don’t go very deep and almost seem inconsequential. Others of us have deep and painful wounds. Healing doesn’t happen all at once, it takes time. There were layers of healing on this tree. How it survived I don’t know, but it did. It not only survived, it thrived! Somehow it kept growing. It not only grew, it flourished! In my life I often want to rush past the wounds and on to healing and flourishing. But the journey of healing shapes both who we are and how we respond to others.
And this gash. So deep and so long! The wound didn’t just disappear when the tree began to move beyond healing and on to new growth. Oh, how I long to cover up my wounds! We have entire industries created around making the broken and damaged appear unblemished, but what if that is not the way of God? What if, like this tree with its wound in full display, our lives are meant to be transparent? How might we live differently if we knew others saw our brokenness and we saw theirs?
Reflecting back on scripture I’m reminded just how wounded, how broken, the heroes within its pages are. Can we say, “Be more like Peter or Paul”, without also remembering their failures? For that matter, what about Abraham, Moses, and King David? No, like this tree their wounds are out there. But also like this tree they found healing and learned to grow, to thrive.
Contemplation – Resting with these insights, these lessons from a tree, I begin to move into a sense of peace. I can breathe more easily not fearing that someone will come by and rip off the veil hiding my scars. I can embrace my scars. I can seek forgiveness and reconciliation where necessary and receive healing, love, and grace from God and those around me. I do not have to be someone I’m not. Whether through bad choices or bad circumstances, what has happened has happened. There is a wound. What I do now is up to me. I choose the way of shalom, and I can rest.
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Excellent article and another, valuable spiritual tool. Thanks for sharing that. I’ve always known that as Lectio natura. Tierra, following the Latin word, sounds Spanish/Portuguese
Thanks, I was looking back through my notes to see what Pat had called it, then googled, and couldn’t find consensus. Regardless of what it’s called it’s a powerful form of entering into dialogue with God. Glad you appreciated my interpretation.
Excellent! Reminds me of my Visio Divina practice!
Thanks, Michael. It’s amazing what we can see and hear when we slow down enough to really listen!
love this …am doing it all the time …without having a name for it ! Lovely to see it articulated . thanks .
Thanks Andy. This is very useful and explains what I often do innately. I’m always writing poetry about the insights I find in nature. Your post will be so helpful though, in taking it even deeper. Thanks so much.
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