Yes, But How Should I Read?: Lectio Divina, the Holy Spirit, and the Written Word
While we have had many discussions up to this point on the authority of Scripture, we have not had one on how to read the authoritative text. I hope this post will be a catalyst for dialogue on the many ways one can, and should, read the Bible. Today I am going to write about lectio divina: the divine reading.
The first recorded use of lectio divina was in a letter from Origen (185-254) to Gregory, and it has been an important part of the way the church understands scripture since then. Lectio divina consists of four stages— lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. The remainder of this post will go into brief detail of each step and conclude by highlighting why this way of reading is important.
Before entering into lectio divina, one must prepare themselves by asking the Holy Spirit to attend to them in their reading. To read the scripture without first seeking the Holy Spirit is to cut yourself off from the helper who brings the peace and understanding that Christ promised his disciples (John 14:15-31). A brief simple prayer will do. Try this one: “Come Holy Spirit, help me understand the words of truth that are written in your holy word; help me apply them in my life so that I may love you and my neighbor more fully. Convict me, release me from the sin that binds me—help me to live in the freedom you have promised me. Amen.”
The first step is lectio (reading). Often times I get bogged down by what I should read, or I feel like I should spend hours reading the Bible, or I read when I am distracted by other things like music or breakfast. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the point of lectio divina is to focus on and struggle with a particular section of the scripture. Therefore, it should take place in a quite area free of distractions. Psalm 46 rightly instructs us to “Be still and know that I am God.” It is in the stillness that we can really hear the voice of God. During this time take a small section of scripture and read it over and over. What part stands out to you as important? Perhaps this is the verse, or part of the verse, you should focus on. Spend a few minutes and memorize it (this is why it should be small). Ask yourself why it may be important to you today. Remember simplicity is the key. Don’t try to do too much.
Meditatio (meditation) is the second step. Take time to ruminate on the verse. Repeat it over and over in your mind. Meditate on it—take it into yourself and ask the Holy Spirit why this particular verse is important to you today. This should be a time of silence and patience. Wait for the Holy Spirit to fill you with curiosity and peace. Remember, the scripture is living and active; it has the ability to pierce your heart and call you to a new way of loving and living in the world. This is why meditation on the word is an important step. Without meditation it is difficult to apply the text to the life we live. You wouldn’t just swallow a whole piece of bread without chewing it. The same goes with scripture. Mull it over, chew on it, take your time with scripture—it is a gift of God and we should treasure it by not rushing.
Oratio is prayer, and this is an equally important part of the lectio divina. The oratio is a time to share aloud your thoughts on what you have read with Christ. What troubles you? What gives you joy? How often I forget that Jesus wants to share my life with me. There may be no greater experience that we can have with Christ than to share our joy and sorrows with him, and recognize that he wants to participate in both our ecstasies and our sufferings while we learn about his.
The final step is contemplatio. This is difficult because this involves waiting in silence for God to speak to you. Try to make it at least five to ten minutes (it gets easier to spend longer and longer the more you do it). This is the most difficult step for me, I want to be done and move on with my day; but when I have accomplished it I have found great joy in passivity, in waiting for my mind to quiet enough to hear the voice of the Spirit. Think of this as entering into divine rest. The Psalmist instructs us to calm and quiet our soul like a weaned child at their mother’s breast. (Ps. 131) It is in this contented quiet that the Spirit speaks to us and Jesus shares his joy with us.
I do hope that this old practice of reading scripture will be beneficial to you. Don’t get frustrated if you have difficulty with it. It takes time and practice but it will bring you lifelong benefit if you can practice it even once a week. Don’t forget to share what you have learned of yourself and scripture during this time with others so that they may too be built up and hold you up in their time of meditation and prayer. On a final note, this practice can bring such blessing to a community and it doesn’t have to be done alone—go grab a friend, spouse, or brother or sister and spend time in the word together. It was a principle joy to spend time discussing and entering into the word of God with one another in the early church, we should ask ourselves why we have lost this practice and how we can recover it.
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