Professor Matt Godshall joins Rex and Mark in the studio to finish out their series on ancient Christian practices. Matt discuss the importance of Lectio Divina in his own spiritual life as the three attempt to demystify contemplative prayer.
Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host, Mark Moore.
And I’m your co host, Rex Gurney.
And we are closing out our series on ancient Christian practices, part three, part three. So and our first part three, Part three series. Yeah, I think our first of many, and I think it was appropriate that it was three parts Trinitarian feel okay to, you know, I’ll just make sure we cover that I think we can do
theological justification for three or seven
part series. That’s all we had. So we get within the the theological world. But now we’re really excited to kind of wrap this series up. And we’ve actually invited guests with us who’s been on the show before is a friend of the show, Professor Matt godchaux. He’s a New Testament and theology professor here. And we just kind of brought him on to to share some of his experiences with ancient Christian practices, and how they have formed his own spiritual life. And I think you’ll really appreciate what he has to offer to our conversation. We hope you enjoy this series and enjoy the closing out of this series. And we hope you sit back and enjoy the episode.
Well, this is kind of part three of our ancient Christian practices series. And Mallard is excited to have you kind of, kind of with us and bringing in your expertise, and throwing some some questions at you, but just kind of bring you up to speed and maybe our listeners with within this series, we’ve really looked at the need for structure and discipline in the in the Christian life. And it was something that both for Rex and I was something that was actually very personal. There were stories in our lives, where was it moment in my life when I was in college, and, and I was just kind of tired of not really being a Christian, or not really living, you know, not not having a be a part of my life. But just kind of an add on even though I grew up in the church and, and so for me, disciplines and practices really made my spirituality real. It gave me something to focus on something to do that, that helped it become more a part of my life. And and so we kind of highlight that. And then we really took a dive a little bit deeper into some some of the practices that have been helpful for us. For us some,
I think the last our last episode, we talked a little bit about ignatian spirituality and the prayer of examine that mark does and working through the spiritual exercises for the second and hopefully, successful time. And anyway, it’s all it’s all trial and error. That’s right. That’s right. And you know, there’s probably a moral lesson in that too, that at first, you know, it doesn’t work for you, it might work for you again, at another time in your life. Yeah, and, and I’ve certainly found that true.
That’s really true. I think a lot of times people try practices, and then it just doesn’t hit them, right. And then they feel like, oh, maybe I failed at it or, and it might just be that that moment in your life. That wasn’t the right practice, write and write and move and they’re different, and maybe coming back to it in a different time in your life, different amount of maturity, or just even life experience, things like that. Akin and we kind of write those off. One thing I like about the ignition exercises, if we can talk more a little more on those as is I kind of like I think nowadays, we could maybe play off of the the knightly aspect of it. Like it just when I read through it, I feel like there’s these, this band of knights that are getting together with, you know, chainmail on and
yeah, I’m actually at that point of spiritual exercises. And that’s something I’m having a struggle through. But he’s sort of like, you know, the, the, the two banners, right, the banner, and the banner of Christ and, and it sort of had to work my way through that medieval imagery, but I can see that battle, and I can all around right in my own heart too. So if I can just sort of translate that into something more accessible to me. The principle behind it is is very, very helpful.
Yeah, it is. And it’s and for me, I don’t know, to you, Rex been historian just like that historical side of that. Medieval times. And yeah,
which is kind of strange, actually, because Ignatius is actually sort of post medieval. Yeah, I think Yeah. But you know, one of the things that kind of led him really to Christian commitment was the fact that he was looking for these medieval romance night books and couldn’t find it in they had to darn it read about Jesus and the saints. Yeah. You know, I think some of this stuff in the spiritual exercises is is actually kind of anachronistic. Little bit even for him. Yeah, even for him. But still, you know, classic.
Yeah, definitely. And so one of the reasons to man we wanted to kind of have you on the show is just to hear from you, if they’re in your life if there’d been a moment or time when, when the practices or specific practice kind of deepened your spirituality or have played kind of a formative role in your in your spiritual life.
Yeah, I’m definitely not an expert. So, Crump take that out earlier.
That’s why you’re here.
In the intro,
that’s right. That’s the title here. No, definitely not that. But I think one of the vivid moments was that on seminary at Talbot, introduce them a big spiritual formation component to all their courses, which is kind of shocking and new and a struggle for me at first to kind of understand what’s going on here. But yeah, but the one of the practices that stuck, and I still try to do regularly is the lectio Divina. I don’t know if you’ve talked about that, in the past episodes.
Yeah, but actually, that’ll be great tie in for the episode. Sorry, I’m
So that that’s been something that as just a discipline, intentional method, with the silence and the different ways of reading the texts and the prayer that comes from the texts, even contemplation I need, and I found that not just a good thing to do, but something that’s become essential for my own connection with God, and an ability to just pause. So you probably have covered this, but part of the beauty of these disciplines is it forces you to do things you know, you should do but really have a hard time doing so right? Slow down, get away, be silent. And the luxio way of doing it is personally helpful in something I love sharing with my students in church even we even practice a little bit modified version in our church services. Yeah, that’s so. So yeah, that’s, that’s probably for me. pretty significant practice. Yeah,
that’s great. I knew and I were actually we, we’ve talked about this before, we’ve tried to connect it over you and I were at Talbot at the same time. But I was commuting from San Diego and in a different program. Yeah. And I was actually in the spiritual formation program. But they had, I remember that they were kind of making that a school wide initiative. That’s right. And, and I remember at that time, too, and this is kind of maybe insightful for now. That for the seminary as a whole, it was kind of a struggle, like, Hey, you know, which, which seems, which sounds interesting now, right? Like, having seminarians do spiritual formation, groups and work and then being like, Hey, what do I’m here for seminary? Not that trained to be a pastor?
I just want to know the Scripture.
And I think it did kind of maybe highlight that tension between the need to do something or am I learning something, as is helping me exegete better is, is helping me preach better? Or is my education simply mercenary? So I can get the degree so I can get it? Right. The real work of God. Right. Yeah. And and then, kind of kind of forcing the the seminary students to do the spiritual work on groups and practices. I think it made everybody kind of pause and be like, Oh, yeah, we’re
also here for another reason. That’s right. And we can’t really do the end goal without this piece. Yeah. So yeah, that was like, like I mentioned, it was eye opening, because it forced, what the spiritual formation piece, there’s a lot of self knowledge. Right? Going on that right? I’d much rather ignore that. But that doesn’t go so well, if we’re trying to have a relationship with God or people.
We talked about that last last last episode, right about going through the ignatian spiritual exercises for me now, if I’m taking it seriously, which I’m determined to do this time is forcing me to deal with stuff that I don’t want to deal with. Which has been kind of painful, but yeah, good way.
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s really, I think, what taking that moment to pause, and to reflect and even contemplate, and we’re going to kind of one of the practices I want us to look at today is is contemplative prayer. And contemplative prayer really connects with lectio Divina, I mean, that contemplation aspect is is a key element to it. And I think even in that moment, of, of really quieting yourself, mostly what it does, and when I when I’ve talked to people who’ve who’ve attempted it as well. It starts to bring up everything that’s inside that when you’re busy, you can easily ignore it. But when you take that moment to be quiet and to be quiet before God, then all that starts rushing out of your heart and, and it is good to recognize that spiritual formation is as much about knowledge of self as his knowledge of God. And connection and,
and connection with with the wider community. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Before the podcast, Matt was talking about that. That’s there’s sort of three elements in this.
Yeah, there they are. And I think we can highlight all those three that it’s not again, the practices aren’t just for our own righteousness, right around piety. Yeah, they connect us to our neighbor. And, and and so with contemplative prayer. It’s kind of probably a word. We don’t use that often in the evangelical flag when I was going, right, because contemplation
sounds to like meditation, which sounds too much like Zen Buddhism, and we just don’t write it anyway.
Right? Yeah, I mean, I’m pretty sure there was. I mean, there was a long list of words that couldn’t say, as a kid, but I’m pretty sure meditation was one of those words, I just didn’t talk about it. Right. And, and really, and we kind of highlighted Richard foster in the first episode. And really, with his book celebration of discipline, it brought in that idea of meditation into kind of back into the evangelical community
is fascinating. I remember when it kind of first came out. I mean, I’m that old. It was like this, this sort of new frontier for evangelicals. Of course, this stuff’s you know, 1500 years old, right? Yeah. It’s like we find it discovering it for the first time and don’t really know what to do with it. Yeah. That was the sort of unique joy of discovery back then.
Yeah. And you can see that in, in when that Yeah, when reading about when that book was published, even reading kind of, in its early edition, right? him explaining meditation, he’s, he’s really cautious and Amen, but he kind of really, really lays it out. And it is this kind of new thing, quote, unquote, thing, right? And, and so when we, when we look at maybe contemplative prayer, a lot of times people might say, well, what’s the difference between just contemplative prayer and prayer? Right? Why do we have to have another adjective in front of prayer? Now, what’s funny is, even if you ask someone what prayer is, they might be like, I don’t exactly know, you know, I mean, like, we can maybe boil it down to conversation with God, talking to God. But contemplative prayer is really meant, I think, to help us understand what prayer is, in general as well. And it’s, and it’s this idea of not just bringing requests to God, not even just bringing praise to God. So it’s a little bit different than the examine prayer. But there are contemplated elements of the examine prayer. And and so I think that contemplated part of this prayer is really, of contemplate of prayer is trying to move yourself, from your headspace into your heart. And guys like Thomas Merton, Henry now when and really they’re playing off of a really kind of more of the Eastern fathers way of prayer, which was called the prayer of the heart. And it was it was a has a Catholic prayer, so prayer, the heart, and it was to move into the center of your being rather than just in your headspace. And And to do that, you had to first set with silence, right? And you had to remove those words are those petitions and, and too often, our prayer is just for like, hey, God, I need this. I need that. Can you help these people?
There’s a couple of phrases in kind of classic of contemporary prayer, sort of an anonymous book called The Cloud of Unknowing, which I’m kind of going through now because I’ve never read that book. And before I die, I at least want to read the spiritual classics in cases on the multiple choice. Exactly. Have you read cloud, but as a world class failure and contemplative prayer I am it’s a struggle getting through it. I actually am reading it in tandem with sort of an explanation by a Trappist monk named William manager called the loving search for God where he just kind of takes chapter by chapter of the Cloud of Unknowing and sort of updates the language and just it’s kind of a running commentary or midrash. On the whole thing. Yeah, I’m seeing that in tandem is pretty helpful. But one, actually two things from the Cloud of Unknowing that are, that appear really early in the book talks About the difference and the necessity of the Cloud of Unknowing and the cloud of forgetting sort of two different things, right? And right, and the cloud of forgetting is basically trying to, you know, quiet your mind. And you know, forgetting all this stuff that you just carry around with you, in order to really be able to address the presence of God that’s always there. You You declutter, so that you can actually hear the Cloud of Unknowing, which is the title of the book. I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with that. So that might be because I just don’t quite understand it. But yeah, basically, it really is this getting from out of your head and into your heart. Because, you know, in order to sit in contemplation, I don’t even need to sit there and content. If you’re contemplating the attributes of God, you’ve already got it wrong. You’re right, because you’re still in your head. Yeah. And as someone who lives in my head and apparently doesn’t have a heart, I struggle with that a lot.
Prayer, the heart and like, Where’s the heart?
What’s the difference?
Yeah, and that, and Thomas Merton really kind of, I think plays off of that. And when he’s kind of defining, and he has a book called contemplative prayer, and he’s writing it, particularly for the monastic. And, but but it is helpful in terms of understanding prayer, he kind of notes that as a prayer of the heart, interior recollection, the abandonment of distracting thoughts, and then the humble invocation of the Lord Jesus with words from the Bible, in the spirit of intense faith, and how he and and really one of the, one of the elements of contemplative prayer that I think that I’ve been drawn to, and that has helped me is the moment we talk about kind of quieting, and trying to move from from head to heart, it gets hard, you know, because now you’re thinking about it. And you’re like, Well, how do I. And so, um, one, one of the practices is to maybe, and this is where lectio kind of connects. Maybe in reading scripture, there’s a phrase that stands out, and you return to the front, you just return to that phrase, and you repeat it. Or there’s a prayer, there’s a lot of kind of short, simple prayers in church history. One of the more famous ones being the Jesus prayer, right. So just, and it comes in variations, but one of the variations I use is just Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I did that to actually do that almost every day at the gym, while I’m on the elliptical, to quiet myself down so that I can actually get my eyes off of like CNN and Fox News and get into a better place. Yeah. And I find I need to do that before I can even like, pray. Right, even the petition in the intercession stuff. One interesting thing about the Jesus prayer is, you know, once again, coming from a Free Church, evangelical background, that just sounds a little bit too strange for us, um, you’re repeating this sort of like a mantra. Right, right. And I’ve read the way the pilgrim and all of that, yeah, but, um, one thing I have found when I actually do do it, is that once I stopped doing it, it does kind of go on autoplay. And I noticed later on that I almost breathing or Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, if it kind of catches me when they’re so if I have to have something on autoplay, I’d rather it be that in some of the other, right things that I think, you know,
no question that, to have that as, as just a repeated theme.
It seems to be the purpose one of the purposes of right discipline. So you you do these things, so they become part of how you think and how you feel and see the world. So it’s, yeah, that’s really, really good example that.
Yeah, and And so with that, within contemplative prayer, it can be in that moment of silence, and maybe in that repetition, that you begin to meet God in the heart rather than in the mind and allow God and, and here to I would also maybe as a point of guidance, and Merton is really helpful here and Henry now and for me has been really helpful in those moments. You and when it says kind of abandonment of distracting thoughts, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have distracting brides and you’re not right, it means recognizing them.
Not letting them distract you.
Yeah, not letting them distract you.
So how do you guys, since you guys are the experts on magic, I just I’ve always, you know, what ways have you found helpful to actually, you know, let go of those distracting thoughts, which is sort of always there. That’s something I struggle with, right?
For me the ones that sometimes there may be thoughts that continue to come up, and those might be a recognition of Okay, God, I, we need to talk about this. This is something that is obviously and then sometimes for me, those those simple phrase things or the phrase from from Scripture, or the Jesus prayer will help me, like if I catch myself, and now been two minutes down a rabbit hole of these thoughts, and I’m worried about grading and what am I gonna get done? And then I’m like, you know, Lord Jesus, have mercy on me centered like, like, bring me back to this space, where I can hear from you where I can listen.
Yeah, I think what you said, First part of that mark is really helpful. Because those moments it’s exposing, really where our hearts at. And if we take time to actually be still, we’re seeing what what’s going on inside of us, which our buisiness can easily just suppress, and we just move on. So it’s there. But that and that is the hard part I have with any contemplative or even centering prayer, I’ve just began to read a little bit more about which sounds very similar. Yeah, very similar. But it is that how do you actually let go? How do you how do you and as someone who is in my head way too much,
right? That’s sort of a occupational hazard. Right.
So let’s go ahead. Yeah,
one thing that I think I may have mentioned this on on the last podcast, but, um, one thing that my pastor in Virginia, when I was getting my doctorate, he was really into contemplative prayer, and always trying to get it. This is a Baptist Church, too, right? So yeah, uphill climb. But I tried to get us to do it. So it’s like, you know, five minutes, just five minutes a day, or 10 minutes a day, whatever. And so he he probably gotten this from somewhere that he his prescription for getting rid of distraction distraction was, so imagine you’re on a riverbank on the side of a river. And, you know, once a distracting thought comes you just, you know, there’s boats are just going by you just take the distracting thought, put it in the boat and let it just keep on going down the river. Which of course doesn’t work for me, because I’m actually just sitting by a river watching my distractions. I guess it worked for I
definitely never worked on the boat becomes a distraction. Right? Yeah.
They really is. I mean, it’s a, I think, a personal thing of, of how to understand those distractions. And maybe that first part is just realizing, wow, all of this is going on in my heart, right below the surface. And I took five minutes to be quiet, and it’s boom, all here. And
this happens a lot when people go on personal retreats. I’ve heard that over and over again, you try a week long retreat somewhere, it takes you three days to even calm down enough to where you can, you know, start retreating, actually,
yeah. And one of the things that that I like that Thomas Merton says about contemplative prayer, is he really stresses that it is more of an attitude than a method. So I mean, and one thing and probably one area where I would fall is if I’m trying to learn something new. I’m like, Alright, what’s the best? Like, what’s the practice? And that’s what’s interesting about some of the disciplines that there’s no, there’s no clear method. It’s, it’s this attitude of prayer. It’s this attitude of prayer that is, that is slower. that relies on silence, that relies on openness of heart to hear from God that that tries to, to outlast those distracting thoughts. Yes, that’s a good that’s a good way to put it, and and then finally be in a space. And one of the things he says too, is to not view. And this could be really any of the disciplines to not view them as a means to an end. But to view them as an end in and of themselves in the sense that within them, you meet God, right? The end is to meet with God. So it’s not like I’m praying to meet with God, but he would say in your prayer, you meet with God,
I want to do this so I’ll be a better person or I want to die so I’ll be more effective in another way of my life. Yeah, I want to do this because just hanging with God is actually a good thing in and of itself in and of itself. Yeah, another one of my struggles.
Hey, we all have, we all have struggles, but you can be kind of like the the main struggle or okay for the show cast all of our struggles on you,
that makes me like Jesus.
Oh, there you go. That’s important. Boy. One of the things that I really wanted to kind of wrap up this whole kind of three part series with is, and I’ve hope and and I think our hope from this series has been just to, to pique people’s interests into the disciplines. And I think I talked to so many students and former students and and parishioners at the church, who, who desire a deeper spiritual life, they really do. And they have moments. And they and they are looking for what what are some practices that I can do. And I think when you, when you talk about a deeper prayer life, when you talk about some of the things, it really does connect with people, because they’re like, Yes, I want that. But we don’t always know how to get there, right. And so even just the few practices, I mean, we could do a whole years worth of highlighting different practices, just a few that we’ve thrown out. I mean, we hope that you, you look to try and you experiment with and even from the first episode we talked about, it’s not a it’s not a one size fits, all right, that is that there are certain practices that may not just connect with and so move, there’s plenty others to choose from. One of the other things with that, so we will hope people get interested in actually participate in the practices. But we also don’t want people to, to engage in the practices just for their own sake. Right. That the the purpose and this is something from from Henry Nolan, who that I has always stuck with me. And he has I appreciate one thing I appreciate about Henry now and as always, books are very short. For like being able to read a book in an afternoon and be like, I read a whole book today. Yeah, yeah, pat myself on the back for that. Be as a small book called out of solitude. And, and kind of in in all of his writings, you see this theme come back up is we do the disciplines, so that we not just for our own personal piety, but we do the disciplines, let’s say the discipline of solitude, not just so I can be alone with God, but so that I can come out of solitude and be with my neighbor
in community and actually map our book here into the studio. They may speak to that and come so can you speak a little bit about the book?
Sure. It it’s practices of love by Kyle David Bennett. And it’s basically that very theme, though, he probably takes it a little further than now. And I’m with Kyle, our Bennett’s point here is all the disciplines, the seven classic disciplines are intended to form us to be neighbor loving people. Yeah. So he, he goes a little further maybe then I would feel comfortable to say that the end goal is the love of neighbor. Yeah. So really emphasizing that horizontal piece, which I found helpful. Though I as I’ve read the book, and even interacted with students about it. There’s that question of the vertical piece that seems to be lacking, but he’s definitely over and he’s correcting this This lack we’ve had and the discussion of the disciplines so he points to like Isaiah 58 for example when he talks about fasting Yeah, and and God there is critique in Israel they practice fasting and yet they neglect justice. Right then he says type of fast and I want is do justice. Yeah. And love your neighbor basically and and so that’s really where he’s coming from to say the end goal is to become the kinds of people who have space to listen who have minds that are thinking about neighbors some that’s the goal of meditation. So yeah, it’s a great, great read. It’s not a day read, like Allen’s book, but I can’t. That’s right. Yeah,
we brazos press that’s probably like a month read for me.
It’s a good good read though. And it’s got that horizontal Yeah, he’s to at least in my life has been missing and I’ve
seen that actually in people that I’ve known or often not personally but just have observed when I’ve been on retreat, for example, at some of the Trappist monasteries I go to that in these amongst look like the most useless guys in the world because, you know, they’re just sitting there and they have their their, you know, daily office that they have to do five to seven times a day times a day, right and and But they actually have more space for other people. Yeah. And almost anybody I’ve ever known is just something about that, that opens them up to the world. And so I really think that that’s the fruit of real contemplation is always that.
Yeah, it really is important is that good balance between the, the practice itself, and then the result of that practice of being able to have space and go out to others. And so important, I was reading just as last couple weeks, guy named David Torrington, he said this about, about Jesus, actually, Jesus being this model for Christian action, and showing us how to go out and reach people how to be compassionate. But he says this, he says they often fail. People who present Jesus as the model for Christian action, they often fail to realize that he was only able to be open to all people, because he was first open to God. It was only because he had exposed himself without restraint to God’s love, that he was able to be filled with the fullness that he could communicate to others. Without the hidden years, the desert, the lonely garden, or the inner room, there would be no compassion for the needy, no love for the loveless no healing for the sick. And I love that balance between action and and, and the vertical, right being for people. But actually, it’s the space we create with God then allows us to connect with others, right.
But it’s tricky though, because especially with with contemplative prayer, because if you end up doing it just sort of for mercenary reasons, you know, I can be a better minister if I miss the whole process down. But yet, if you if you actually participate in the disciplines, and they become a discipline in your life, then that’s the fruit of it. And so it’s always that,
yeah, yeah, you know, if, if you do it, you will be a better minister, but you shouldn’t just be a better man. Exactly. Be A Better Christian, or, yeah, that’s true. Well, I would, I would love to kind of wrap up this episode, and really the whole series, with a prayer from does written by Thomas Merton, and has been a prayer that I’ve, I’ve kind of come back to at different times. And, and I love his honesty in it. And, and, and, and I hope this connects with people, especially people who, who desire a deeper Christian life, or desire a deeper spiritual life. But, but realize maybe their shortcomings, realizing, and and we’ve recognized through this, our own shortcomings in our own failures in that. And so I just want to kind of kind of finish with this message, he says, My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I’m following your will, does not mean that I’m actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear for you are ever with me. And you will never leave me to face my perils alone. That’s great. Yes, love that prayer. And that idea that it’s sometimes talking about practices, we can be like, Am I doing it right or my this and, and it comes down to, if your desire is there to please God, he recognizes that desire, even in the midst of our own ignorance, our own failings. He recognizes that desire and and, and and I really want to zero in on that middle part of prayer like, man, I hope then that I would do nothing without that desire, even even if I’m not doing it correctly or not. But if I have the desire, man, I want to please God. And just having that desire does in fact, please Him and brings us and so we hope that you that you engage in the spiritual life.
And I think in our next podcast, aren’t we Going to just sit for half an hour and just repeat the Jesus prayer. We are
going to practice exactly that space that we give you. In order to be a good that’d be our side podcast,
like a side contemplative prayer podcasts
spin off podcast.
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