Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

“Waking up to God”: a review

Posted by universalis on 17 April 2018

José Manuel Eguiguren, Waking up to God: an Experience of Lectio Divina, Downside Abbey Press 2017, ISBN: 978-1-898663-19-5, £20 from Downside Abbey Bookshop (follow the link or email them at books@downside.co.uk).

In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time.’ The ancient practice of Lectio Divina is becoming increasingly well known to Catholics and is building strong links with Christians of other Churches and traditions. Universalis has recently included in its offer an approach to Lectio Divina that takes users to the Gospel of the day and places it within a framework that encourages readers to listen with the ear of the heart, as Jesus’ first disciples listened to him and, where possible, to share with one another what God’s Word is saying to them in their own personal situation.

There are already a great many books on Lectio Divina and Waking up to God is big (over 500 pages). Why should you read it?

At first glance the book is a record of conversations with José Manuel Eguiguren, the founder of a lay Benedictine movement in Santiago, Chile, known as The Manquehue Apostolic Movement. This Movement has been expanding since its foundation in 1977 and has strong links with English Benedictine communities in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. This may sound rather specialised. But more importantly, the book is a testimony to how a deep knowledge of Christ through the faithful practice of Lectio Divina in the tradition of the Church can change someone’s life, with repercussions not only for that person, but also for the culture, society and people around them.

Although Waking up to God can be read as one man’s spiritual autobiography, that is not its point. In his introduction José Manuel urges that readers should keep the Bible close to hand. His aim is lead anyone who joins him in conversation by means of this book into a personal encounter with the risen Christ. By going constantly to the source you ‘can contemplate what the Word of God has to say to you in your own life.’ You will gradually find yourself reading the Bible in the company of a friend who has practised Lectio Divina throughout his adult life and who has a special gift and grace for guiding others to listen obediently to Christ. The book is carefully constructed, taking the reader on a journey of transformation through a series of ‘revolutions’, to use a word that resonates particularly in the South American experience. However, these revolutions are not primarily political, though they can be expected to have political consequences. They begin in God and transform those who freely open themselves to God’s action personally, communally, culturally and educationally. So it makes good sense to read the book from cover to cover, but if the reader is led at any point to prayerful engagement with the Word of God, then this is not a distraction, rather it is the achievement of the book’s purpose.

At the end of Waking up to God is a thematic index that covers topics from ‘Abandon/surrender’ to ‘Youth/the young’. Readers will find here an inexhaustible treasure that will constantly draw them into a deepening conversation with Christ and his Church. The last theme in the index is appropriate because this kind of Lectio Divina proves especially appealing to the young, although it is certainly not exclusive of the old either.

José Manuel’s approach to Lectio Divina has proved to be profoundly Catholic because it encourages its practice in a community context that gently leads one away from the isolated and individualist approach to Scripture and tradition that can make a Christian life feel like a lonely and defensive outpost in the world. Catholic Lectio Divina can build effective and welcoming communities of faith that will want to share the Good News of eternal life with those around them who are desperately in need of Good News.

A few days ago I received an email from a young woman in Chile who has spent time waking up to the reality of God in the context of the Manquehue Apostolic Movement. She tells how she and a friend have just begun a new Lectio Divina group in their university: ‘It has been impressive how the Spirit is acting here; we are already a group of thirteen. The majority did not know Lectio before. To see their faces and eyes as they encounter this living Word and to hear them thank us for showing them this way of approaching their faith is really moving.’  Fernanda tells me she is grateful for having the opportunities ‘to deepen this gift that God is offering me. I am just the same as the Samaritan woman in St John’s Gospel, asking God for water, thirsty for real things that I know I can find in him.’

If you are comfortably asleep and have no desire to wake up to the reality of God or to share with others what you will find, then do not read this book!

Leo Maidlow Davis

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