We know quite a bit about the spirituality of Jesus from his praying in the wilderness. His mystical experiences and the content of his prayers are similar to other Jewish desert mystics (in the century leading up to and after Jesus). These sages and seers frequented the deserts for long periods of time holding alive the spirituality of Moses and Elijah and Ezekiel and Isaiah and Daniel and seeking out an experience with Yahweh from these fires.
With significant portions of Scriptures committed to memory, they would spend long hours in reverential silence, reliving and centering their lives and prayers on these Sacred Words. When Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy as he faces off against the Devil, he is pulling from a deep meditative place the entire story from which these words arc to life. Matthew or Luke record Jesus' words to the Devil as a kind of shorthand that is meant to draw our attention to the full story and to point out a kind fo meditative reliving that Jesus is encountering in that moment.
Origen (3rd century) and the Desert Fathers (4th century) termed this form of prayer in Latin, lectio divina (praying the Scriptures, lit. 'divine reading').
These early Christians held the Scriptures in sacred reverence, they sought to honor from their center the words, not merely reading them to be informed, but praying them to be transformed. This kind of wilderness-transformational-praying moved through four landscapes:
- reading (lectio) the Scripture Narrative (usually 4-7 verses) and getting a feel and familiarity of the words. This may take several readings.
- meditating (meditatio) through each character in the story, taking on the character of Peter or blind Bartimaeus or a bystander and observing what you see, hear, feel and resonate with. And finally being drawn into what Jesus is saying to you in that moment.
- as the Scriptures speak to you, you begin a conversation (oratio) with God, sensing and being present to God's nearness and nowness ("I am"). Speaking with God about your deepest longings. This can take on many forms such as words, emotions, stillness, ecstatic utterances, journaling.
- surrender (contemplatio) to the silence as you rest in what God now speaks back to you. Shema (Hebrew for 'listen with a desire to obey.') is the operative function at this point for me. This last movement is the means by which you carry the experience into the warp and woof of life, and transfers the transformation "of heaven" to "earth".