Recently, Facebook reminded me that we have been doing the practice of Lectio Divina at the church for over one year. Since that time, many have asked me to come and help them explore Lectio Divina further. As one clergy-friend remarked; “Lectio Divina is your thing!” I’m not complaining, I love this discipline, and I love encouraging others to explore it. I have spoken at several churches, and lead various small group in the practice of Lectio Divina. I have also received several emails asking me about various dynamics this discipline. Thus, I thought I would offer three helpful hints which may serve to encourage others in their exploration of Lectio Divina. I have found these hints profoundly helpful in my own practice of Lectio Divina. These hints pertain to three spiritual attitudes we would do well to keep in mind whenever we attempt the discipline of Lectio Divina.
Spirit of Boldness: If you think of it, Lectio Divina is really quite radical. It is not a quaint or timid discipline. One begins the practice of Lectio Divina in the radical assumption that scripture will speak into our lives. We boldly claim the promise that ‘the word of God is living and active.’ You can think of this spirit of boldness as involving three different affirmations. Firstly, we boldly affirm that we gather in the presence of God. This may seem like a silly thing to write, however unless we believe that our heavenly Lord surrounds us, then there really is little point in practising the discipline. The goal of Lectio Divina is intimacy not information; it is fellowship, not facts. We are called to affirm that Jesus is present with us as we go through the movements of Lectio Divina; through the Holy Spirit, we can interact with him.
Secondly, we affirm that God speaks into our lives. Again, there is little use of Lectio Divina if we don’t believe that God will speak to us. In fact, throughout Scripture, this is one of God’s fundamental critiques of idols. Idols are mere objects crafted by human hands, with no eyes to see, ears to hear, or mouth to speak. In contrast, God’s word does not return empty. The word is not only spoken, but it is also incarnated in our lives.
Lastly, we must boldly affirm that God’s voice can be recognised. We simply must believe that, if God has a word for us, God will speak that word in a way we can discern it. After all, Jesus says ‘My Sheep know me, they listen to my voice and they follow me.’ This is the grounding of Lectio Divina. The distinguishing characteristics of God’s voice can be identified; we can become familiar with the cadences and rhythms of the Lord’s words.
Spirit of Intimacy: Lectio Divina is not about results, it is about intimacy with our Lord. In prayer we attend to the voice and the presence of the one who made us and redeemed us. It is important to remember this fundamental goal of the discipline. Often, when people begin Lectio Divina, they find that it produces a ‘spiritual high’; a hearing of God’s voice in some profound way never experienced before. This encourages them to continue on in the practice. Yet, as time goes on, they find that the practice doesn’t produce the same experience. Frankly, this can seem upsetting, even disturbing, to some. We need to remember that Lectio Divina isn’t a spiritual ATM machine dispensing products for our consumption. Our relationship with God has ups and downs, ebbs and flows. There are times, in God’s own purposes, that we hear the activity of God’s voice clearly and profoundly; similarly, there are times where, in God’s love for us, we sit silently together. This doesn’t mean that Lectio Divina ‘failed’ or that we did something wrong. In Lectio Divina, we open ourselves to experience God’s presence in whatever manner God wishes that to occur.
Spirit of Grace: Lectio Divina includes a lot of silence, a silence that we might not be used to, or comfortable with. Because of this, as we begin to quiet ourselves down and attend to the presence of God, we can end up experiencing a wandering mind. Henry Nouwen called this dynamic ‘jumping monkeys on a banana tree.’ Despite our desire to listen and pray, our mind seems to jump from one thought to another. When we experience this wandering mind we either A: condemn ourselves for our lack of spiritual strength; or B: begin to fight against our wandering mind. Either action leads us away from the discipline of Lectio Divina. After all, if we spend our entire time meditating on our wandering mind, then we are not meditating on God’s voice. The ancient writers on prayer stress that the way we push through the wandering mind is to acknowledge it, not fight it.
In Lectio Divina, we claim grace. Grace is the very atmosphere of the discipline. The fact is, everyone experiences a wandering mind in prayer; it is but a dynamic of being an imperfect person, living in an imperfect world. So if your mind wanders, don’t beat yourself up. It’s ok – You aren’t failing at the practice. Simply acknowledge that your mind has wandered, and go back to your meditations. This is why it is good to have a candle lit, or a cross placed in the centre of the room. These things are reminders of God’s Lordship and presence, but they are also aids for us if we need to refocus our minds. Similarly, if there was a word or a phrase that seemed to have more weight to it (as you began the practice of Lectio Divina), repeating that word or phrase can help you focus on the presence of God. Even if you spend 9 minutes out of 10 with wandering thoughts, the grace of God is such that God rejoices in that one minute of heartfelt, meaningful, meditation.
None of these hints are earth shattering by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I have found these hints beneficial for me as I have practised Lectio Divina. Ultimately, Lectio Divina is never a skill that you master. Our goal should never be to get ‘good at’ Lectio Divina. We are labouring to hear God’s voice, spoken into our lives through the pages of the Biblical text, and it is to that end that these hints can prove helpful.