Over the last fifty years, God has placed within me a passion and deep respect for the Bible. The influences and training I received early in my life led to a single exegetical style of study that included understanding the historical background, context, meaning of words, and what commands we should follow. What evolved from that approach for me was a list of rules to follow instead of a relationship with the Trinity. Without forsaking the exegetical style of study, I sought other approaches that would bring balance to the relational side.
Over a decade ago, I was introduced to “Lectio Divina,” an ancient practice of praying the scriptures. In Latin, it literally means “divine reading.” This reading of the text was very different than my exegetical style. It became a path that deepened my personal relationship with my Father.
In "Soul Feast," Marjorie Thompson makes a great comparison between informative Bible study and spiritual reading:
The manner of spiritual reading is like drinking in the words of a love letter or pondering the meaning of a poem. It is not like skittering over the surface of a popular magazine or plowing through a computer manual. We are seeking not merely information but formation.
Information is basically utilitarian; it is a means to some other end. We glean facts to strengthen our arguments; we garner knowledge to make our conversation convincing; we seek help with problem solving, ideas for programming, evidence for cases, and illustrations for teaching. The same information may be used for a variety of purposes. I call this approach the strip-mining method of reading; we are preoccupied with digging up little gems of wisdom from their larger context to apply to whatever task is at hand.
The practice of Lectio Divina has four basic phases.
Phase one – Lectio. Literally means reading. Slow down. It’s like reading a love letter. You treasure it. Read it over and over (at least four times, each time more slowly). As you read you can ask yourself, “God, what are you saying to me right now?
Phase two – Meditation. Literally reflecting upon. It’s like a dog chewing on a bone. Your mind is active. You repeat the words over and over. Imagine yourself in the setting. What is the atmosphere? Is there tension or compassion? Is there rebuking taking place or encouragement? Who is speaking? What is he/she saying to you? This helps us find connection between our life stories and God’s redemptive story.
Phase three – Prayer. You take what you have received from God and pray for his intervention in your life with these teachings in mind. You may cry out to God with whatever emotions are erupting from your heart. Ask for forgiveness of sin that has convicted your heart. Express gratitude for all the specific spiritual blessings you have received. Offer praise and adoration for your loving, merciful, gentle, and immanent God.
Phase four – Contemplation. Sit in silence before God and rest. There are no expectations, demands, or questions. You just want to be in his presence, receptive to what he desires to do within you. The Psalmist put it best in Psalm 131:2, But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
In my experience, it is best to have a set time every day to practice this exercise. It needs to be unhurried time. The place needs to be reasonably quiet and in solitude, if possible. This time is where you are totally available to God. You can choose a text or I recommend the website, Sacredspace.
Journaling takes on an important role in this exercise. Whatever God puts on my heart, I write it down. These journal notes require me to think through each thought or idea. Lectio Divina will open doors that you never thought could be unlocked. It’s a wonderful spiritual exercise that has encouraged spiritual formation for centuries. Give it a try!