When we refer to thinking through Christianity, we are basically talking about a more deliberate and contemplative approach to prayer, and to our faith in general. It’s an attempt to break out of the repetitive ruts that we sometimes find, to create a more engaging relationship with God. Or as Thomas Keating, monk and mystic, once called it “the most traditional way of cultivating a friendship with Christ.”
This methodology can also be applied to church growth and to the ministry of our congregation. In essence, it’s a deeper way of thinking about our spiritual lives, both as individuals and as a church community.
There are several ways to approach this, and the individual must decide what feels right to him or her. Two of the most common (and closely related) ways of thinking through Christianity is the Lectio Divina approach, and the Thomistic approach.
Thinking Through Christianity by the Lectio Divina Approach
Lectio Divina is a contemplative approach to prayer that involves reading and meditating on a passage of Scripture. The practice has its roots in the monastic tradition of the early Christian church and is still widely used today.
The Lectio Divina approach to prayer is a four-step process that is typically done in a quiet and reflective setting. The steps are as follows:
- Lectio (Reading): The first step in the process is to read a passage of Scripture slowly and carefully. This involves reading the words several times to allow them to sink in and to become familiar with the text.
- Meditatio (Meditation): The second step is to meditate on the passage. This involves reflecting on the words and thinking about what they mean in the context of your own life. You may want to ask yourself questions such as, “What is God trying to say to me through this passage?” or “What does this passage reveal about God’s character?”
- Oratio (Prayer): The third step is to pray. This involves responding to God’s message and asking for guidance, comfort, or help in your life. You may want to express your feelings or ask for forgiveness or strength.
- Contemplatio (Contemplation): The final step is to contemplate the passage. This involves resting in God’s presence and allowing the message to sink in. You may want to simply be still and listen for God’s voice or allow the passage to inspire you in some way.
The Lectio Divina approach to prayer has its roots in the monastic tradition of the early Christian church and has been practiced for centuries. However, it was Saint Benedict of Nursia who is credited with popularizing the practice in the 6th century.
Saint Benedict was a monk who founded several monasteries and wrote a set of guidelines for monastic life known as the Rule of Saint Benedict. In this Rule, he emphasized the importance of daily reading and meditation on Scripture as a means of drawing closer to God.
The Lectio Divina approach to prayer was later adopted by other monastic orders and continues to be practiced by Christians around the world today.
Thinking Through Christianity by the Thomistic Approach
The Thomistic approach to prayer is based on the teachings of the 13th century Christian theologian, philosopher, and Dominican friar, Saint Thomas Aquinas. According to Aquinas, prayer is an essential part of the Christian life and is a means of communicating with God and deepening one’s relationship with Him.
The Thomistic approach to prayer is characterized by the following elements:
- Adoration: The first element of Thomistic prayer is adoration, which involves recognizing and praising God for who He is. This involves acknowledging God’s power, wisdom, goodness, and love and expressing gratitude and reverence for Him.
- Contrition: The second element of Thomistic prayer is contrition, which involves acknowledging one’s sins and asking for forgiveness. This involves reflecting on one’s actions and attitudes and recognizing the ways in which they have fallen short of God’s standards.
- Thanksgiving: The third element of Thomistic prayer is thanksgiving, which involves expressing gratitude to God for His blessings and the good things in one’s life. This involves recognizing God’s generosity and goodness and thanking Him for His provision and care.
- Supplication: The fourth element of Thomistic prayer is supplication, which involves making requests to God for oneself and others. This involves asking for God’s help, guidance, and provision and praying for the needs and concerns of others.
Thomas Aquinas’ approach to prayer emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and responding to God’s greatness and goodness, as well as our own sinfulness and need for His grace and mercy. It encourages us to approach God with humility, gratitude, and trust, and to seek His will and guidance in all aspects of our lives.
The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Christian theologian, philosopher, and Dominican friar who is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Western thought. Born in Italy, Aquinas studied at the University of Naples and later joined the Dominican order, much to the dismay of his family who wanted him to pursue a career in law.
Aquinas’s intellectual achievements are numerous, but his most famous work is the Summa Theologica, a comprehensive and systematic exposition of Christian theology that was intended as a guide for theologians and students of theology. The Summa covers a wide range of topics, including the nature of God, the Trinity, creation, ethics, and the sacraments.
Aquinas’s approach to theology was characterized by his use of reason and his belief that faith and reason are complementary rather than opposed. He believed that it was possible to demonstrate the existence of God and to understand His nature through reason, and that this understanding could be enriched and illuminated by faith.
Aquinas’s influence on Western thought has been immense, and his ideas have had a profound impact on philosophy, theology, and ethics. He was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1323 and is venerated as a saint and Doctor of the Church. His feast day is celebrated on January 28th.
Thinking Through Christianity – A Call to Thoughtful Prayer
Too often in our busy modern lives, prayer simply becomes another “chore” to be checked off the daily list. This is understandable, but as faithful Christians, we must strive against this sort of apathy to create a more personal relationship with God. Furthermore, as stewards of our congregation, we must ensure that we are not setting bad examples that will hinder church growth in our community.
Here we have suggested two different blueprints for proven methods of thinking through Christianity. But it’s up to the individual to find the approach that works for your spirit.
As St. Augustine tells us, “God gave us two texts: Scripture and creation.” Another way to approach your prayer life is to find some natural creature or object and study it through this same process. Study a flower or a rock, find a feature that speaks to you, and contemplate it until you find the “silence too deep for words”.
Spend some time reflecting on your day, listen for any moments that speak to you, reflect upon them, contemplate them, and then (importantly) let them go. These moments can be happy moments, moments when we were hurtful towards someone, or moments when someone was hurtful to us. The Divine is calling to us through all of the moments of our day, and prayerful reflection can bring us the peace and comfort we need.