Meg Funk’s manner of presenting Lectio Divina in her recent book, Lectio Matters, is at the same time practical-historical, personal and spiritual.
Practically and historically, she summarizes the “method” used since third-century desert monasticism to pray on biblical texts—and gives an extended example of the steps using the Book of Jonah: determine the literal meaning, then by meditating, the symbolic or spiritual meanings, including the moral and mystical meanings or “voices”. This “allegorical” method was first developed by the Alexandrian School of Catechesis which spoke of the four “senses” of Scripture—which she will call the four “voices”.
Personally and spiritually: lectio divina is also the activity recommended by the Rule of St. Benedict. Thus, Benedictine Sr. Meg Funk’s personal and spiritual interests and spiritual workshops and writings. She is a member of the Order of Saint Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana and served as executive director of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue and maintains a web site. She is the author of works on the Christian contemplative tradition, including Humility Matters, Thoughts Matter, and Tools Matter, as well as Islam Is . . . : An Experience of Dialogue and DevotionI, and Into the Depths: A Journey of Loss and Vocation (see her website: http://megfunk.com/) .
Lectio Matters is also an account of her personal journey while writing this recent book, in which she has applied the method to the Book of Jonah. First, she did research on the literal and symbolic meaning of the Book of Jonah. Then, after closing the book, she speaks of the “inner work” of praying and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct her to put into practice the insights culled from reading about Job (the anti-prophet who resists God’s call). At many points throughout the book (especially in the final chapter on the “mystical voice”, she notes the weeks or months that were necessary before understanding the particular “voice”—especially the “moral voice”.
After the first chapters that present first, the whole text, then the literal and symbolic voices of the Book of Jonah, her main “work” in responding to the word of God—which is now a personal and individual “voice” concerns the third, “moral” voice. For her this is her Benedictine ascetical tradition, and personally, her main spiritual ‘afflictions’ (anger and vainglory). The majority of this relatively short book is devoted to this third “voice” of lectio: the moral voice. (chapter 4: “The Moral Voice” [47-74] and chapter 5: “Further Teaching on Moral Dimension” [75-130]. Here she treats important aspects of the ascetical life (especially, but not exclusively, the monastic ascetical life): sin and confession (important to make her actions consonant with her monastic way of life), the “cell, manual labor, and the habit” (for Benedictine spirituality), and “manifestation of thoughts to a wise elder”, a.k.a. spiritual direction and discernment of spirits.
A critique: while this long section is an interesting treatise on spirituality (especially monastic spirituality) and contains many of her insights from the eastern Orthodox traditions and even Buddhism, I wished it had been better integrated with the Book of Jonah, presented in the first three chapters but then rarely mentioned. Thus her commentary on Jonah’s literal and symbolic voices includes “questions” about the literal “voice” (chapter 2)—and would be a good guide for studying the Book of Jonah with a class or study group. Her “meditations” on the symbolic “meanings” (chapter 3) expand the study into deeper levels of the world of the text (its concentric structure, inter-biblical references). But in the rest of the book, the next stages of lectio (the moral and the mystical voices) are no longer about Jonah, but about Benedictine spirituality in general—mediated, of course, by Sr. Meg’s own experience.
A final remark: in the beginning of her book Sr. Meg describes three “revelatory texts” for lectio: Scripture, Nature and Experience (subtitle of book). The first of these ‘revelatory texts’, Scripture, is well explained in the first three chapters. The third, “experience”, although not discussed explicitly in the body of the book, is treated in an Appendix: “The Story of Harold”—an actual case reported by the author’s sister of caring for a neighbor, followed by a brief application of the “four voices.” But, what about nature, the third “revelatory text”? It is never explicitly presented—although it would be easy to use Psalm 19 in a lectio meditation on nature, since we read in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament his handiwork…”