Reading Between the Lines How the practice of lectio divina can help us feast on the Word of God
s your devotional life deepening your intimacy with God? When you read the Bible, do you feel you have had an encounter with the Word behind the words? Are you reading for information or transformation? A few years ago I was introduced to a contemplative, prayerful approach to Scripture reading called lectio divina—Latin for divine or sacred reading—a practice that I have found deeply satisfying and life-giving. A primary reason to learn this ancient practice of “feasting on the Word” is a genuine desire to experience spiritual transformation. In her book Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Ruth Haley Barton defines spiritual transformation as “the process by which Christ is formed in us—for the glory of God, for the abundance of our lives and for the sake of others.” Lectio divina provides us with a means of opening to God, deepening our intimacy with him and encouraging the holy life. Lectio divina has four movements: read, reflect, respond and rest. Read Begin with a slow, reflective reading (lectio) of a short passage of Scripture, preferably four to eight verses. In this reading, you seek to be open to the Spirit’s prompting, giving you a word, phrase or verse. Sometimes it may jump off the page, other times it may not be quite so dramatic. For the times
where there may seem to be nothing at all, it is appropriate to simply choose a word or phrase. Once you become aware of your word or phrase, you take a moment to ponder it and simply rest in what you have received, knowing it is for you at this time. Reflect Read the passage again, taking time to ponder and meditate upon (meditatio) the word or phrase God has brought to your attention. In this phase, it is appropriate to ask such questions as: “God, why are you drawing me to these words today? How are these words touching my life in this moment?” Respond This is your opportunity to respond to the words God has “spoken” to you. In now the third reading of the passage, your desire is to discern how God is inviting you to pray (oratio), as well as listening for your own spontaneous, honest response. Your prayer may express adoration, petition, confession, affirmation, thanksgiving or interces-
sion, or any combination of these aspects of prayer. In this movement, your heart is more engaged and so your prayer may include emotions such as joy, love, sorrow, anger, discouragement, hope, gratitude or fear. Rest While reading the passage a final time, allow the words to wash over you, simply resting (contemplatio) in the presence and love of God. No further reflection, response or words are necessary. You remain silent and in a posture of openness, yieldedness and connectedness to God, experiencing refreshment for the journey and waiting for one final word he may wish to speak. Some writers include a fifth movement, where you resolve (incarnatio) to internalize and live out this word from the Lord in the activities of your everyday life, continuing to be attentive to the Spirit. The lectio divina approach to Scripture reading is not intended to be a rigid process. It is not diffi-
cult, does not require a lot of time and can be adapted and used occasionally, daily or in a group setting. Personally, when I practise it, I will often only read the passage once or twice, receive my “word” and then take the remaining time for reflecting, responding and resting. For a nyone se ek i ng to embrace this spiritual practice, begin with a few moments of silence; choose a place where you can experience solitude and quietness, sit comfortably, take a few deep breaths and invite the Lord to speak to you. I have found that it is beneficial to journal as well; writing out the phrase or verse slows me down and helps me ponder it, and writing the prayer helps to keep me focused. My lectio divina journals have become wonderful personal reminders of God’s guidance, provision, faithfulness and love. Through the practice of lectio divina I have experienced real encounters with God, been strengthened in my faith and have grown in my love for Scripture. It is truly a gift from God. Major Brenda Critch is the divisional director of women’s ministries and divisional secretary for spiritual life development in the Prairie Division.
For further reading: • Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton • Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer by David G. Benner Salvationist October 2015 19
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BY MAJOR BRENDA CRITCH