All members of the Order are expected regularly to practise meditation in the traditional manner, which is a discipline of controlled thinking about a specific subject; rather than in the modern sense of it being a guided fantasy. Concerning which, members are encouraged to develop two basic skills considered necessary for the successful practice of meditation – relaxation and concentration: Relaxation, by which it is possible to be physically and psychically still, and Concentration, by which it is possible to fix the attention upon a given subject. Developing these skills is an important undertaking for all members of the Order. Yet, neither relaxation nor concentration constitutes meditation, they are simply tools to enhance and facilitate the process of mind control that is called meditation.
There are many methods of relaxation available in the public domain that may easily be utilised by the student, and they do not usually take very long to develop. Concentration, on the other hand, requires the student to be truly interested in the subject at hand; otherwise the ability to “attend” will be undermined by the distracting activities of the senses. In the quiet of the sanctuary it is accepted as axiomatic that in the discipline of meditation you cannot serve two masters, your love of the spirit must be greater than your love of the world of the senses.
Organised prayer has been a central feature of the spiritual life from the earliest times, and was frequently emphasised by the early Church Fathers. So it is with the Order of Dionysis and Paul, in which regularly engaging in prayer is a fundamental part of daily life. Consequently, throughout the day specific times are set aside for prayer so that the soul may recollect itself and persevere in its main purpose – spiritual regeneration.
The mind is not a vacuum, and if left to its own devices it will inevitably occupy itself with thoughts, feelings and images generated by the senses; a never-ending procession of thought-forms defining and dictating mood and behaviour. It has long been known that prayer is the most effective way of harnessing these same faculties towards more positive and spiritual ends; namely the work of spiritual regeneration. To this end the Order prescribes three offices to be performed daily by individual members. The morning office, ideally performed upon rising, after ablutions, establishes a unique theme and tone for the day; the midday office, a very short office that reinforces the primary theme established in the morning office, and the evening office, performed just before retiring, which provides an opportunity for reflection, particularly upon the theme of the day and how that theme influenced the course of the day. The evening office also provides time for members to reflect upon personal behaviour and attitudes and to consider possible modifications and responses.
The daily offices are primarily designed for individual use but may be shared and used as group devotions. They may also be modified, extended and supplemented with different prayers and readings such as the Psalms, the Proverbs or other suitable material. In addition to the daily offices there are other formalised group devotions such as the Ceremony of Spiritual Communion; Lectio Divina; and Compline, which enable members to gather together in prayer, or jointly engage in the meditative work of self-enquiry. A few words concerning these ceremonies now follows.
COMPLINE – Night Prayer
Within monastic communities Compline is traditionally the last of the prescribed offices of the day – the completion of a daily cycle of organised prayer. The full cycle being: VIGILS – the Night Office – usually at the end of the night, just before dawn: MATINS – the sunrise office: LAUDS – Morning Prayer; PRIME – the first hour (6am): TERCE – the third hour (9am): SEXT – the sixth hour (noon); NONE; the ninth hour (3pm): VESPERS – Evening Prayer or Evensong: finally, COMPLINE – the Night Prayer. Few communities observe this complete cycle now; although many do keep a modified form of it. In the Order of Dionysis and Paul, Compline serves as an evening devotion, at the heart of which rests a period of prolonged meditation and contemplation.
Ceremony of Spiritual Communion
A ceremony was written in 1939 by the Reverend Dennis Green, an early member of the World Congress of Faiths, and then Prior of the Order. The ceremony was designed to be a focal point for people of different faiths and convictions to join together in Prayer and Meditation. It is a good introduction to group devotion, especially for people encountering spiritually quickening ceremonies for the first time. It gently elevates the consciousness of participants and introduces them to the experience of the numinous.
LECTIO DIVINA – Divine Reading
Lectio Divina is one of Christianity’s oldest methods of prayer. It was used in the desert communities of the Levant during the first few centuries of the Christian era, and was embodied in the work of the Pseudo-Dionysius, particularly in his book On The Divine Names. It was also enshrined in the Rule of St. Benedict, and became a distinctive feature of monastic life.
Designed to be used by both individuals and groups, Lectio Divina consists of the slow repetitive reading of a passage of scripture, followed by meditating upon its significance. Traditionally, the reading, termed LECTIO, is read aloud with the emphasis placed upon the act of listening; the text is repeated continually until the passage is known ‘off by heart’. In a group setting one person reads whilst everyone else listens attentively, fully engaging with the reading; repeating the words softly under their breath, as it were.
After a given period of time the reading stops and a period of reflecting upon the nature and significance of the passage takes place. This pondering upon the words of the sacred text is called MEDITATIO, that is, meditation. The movement of the will in response to such reflections is known as ORATIO, and often results in the spontaneous outpouring of inspired writing or other forms of creative expression. As the ORATIO subsides, the soul often becomes very calm and experiences a state of profound peace. In attending to that ‘Peace’ the soul may discover that it is resting in the ‘Presence of God’, a term that defies further explanation. This state is known as CONTEMPLATIO – Contemplation. Lectio Divina is not a pleasure ride, quite the opposite, it is a labourious undertaking requiring the full attention of the soul and may cause a surprising amount of discomfort. It is consequently not an obligatory discipline for Order members but is undertaken voluntarily .