Tag Archives: Lectio Divina

Lectio and Liturgy

I just finished my last essay for my doctoral course called ‘Engaging Scriptures.’  This course was a look at the practice of Scripture contemplation as a means of Spiritual transformation.  Being someone that highly values the practice of lectio divina, this was a course I very much enjoyed.  Did you know that you can understand our liturgy in the same four-fold way of lectio divina?  My essay considered this in depth. For you, here are the highlights.

READ (Lectio):  The first part of a contemplative reading of scripture is to become surrounded by the word of God.  We allow scripture to become the very atmosphere that surrounds us.  Of course, the practice of silent, mental reading, only became the custom of reading in the 10th century.  Before then, reading meant hearing.  We do the same thing when we gather at church.  The community gathers to hear scripture proclaimed in their midst.  Thus, we begin our service with the words of scripture (The Grace in the BAS and The Lord’s prayer in the BCP).  Scripture is proclaimed in our hearing.  The voice of God becomes the very atmosphere in which we gather.

MEDITATION (Meditatio): After scripture is proclaimed, a contemplative reading of scripture calls us to meditate on that proclaimed word.  We chew on it.  We ruminate on it.  The point is sit and listen to how that word affects our lives.  How is God addressing us? What does God have to say to us?  Does this sound familiar?  In our liturgy, after the reading of scripture comes the meditation on that word, or in other words, the sermon! The congregation, having been constituted by the Word itself, now engages in a corporate meditation, seeking to uncover how the Christ speaks into their personal lives.  We can even extend this to the creed.  The creed itself is a revealing of how the church has received the living and active Word of God.  Thus, recitation of the creed is an embodiment of that meditative reception.

PRAYER (Oratio): If we are tracing our liturgy, a time of prayer follows immediately after the Sermon/Creed pairing.  The congregation now addresses God.  This involves all sorts of types of prayer.  Confession, petition, adoration, thanksgiving.  We see all of these in our liturgy.  The prayer time in the church is the time in which the congregation voices it’s response to what we feel God has spoken in His word.  In a contemplative reading of scripture, the scripture itself influences the prayers – they form the response.  So too in our liturgy.  We are called, through the liturgy of prayer to allow the proclaimed word, now meditated on, to shape how we respond to God.

CONTEMPLATION (Contemplatio):  The last movement in lectio divina is the movement of contemplation.  This is about our union with God.  We rest in God’s presence, receive the gift God’s loving self-offering.  We then take this presence of God with us as we journey back into our everyday life.  Some expressions of Lectio Divina have a fifth movement – that of INCARNATION.  We incarnate the word we have received.  Well, in our celebration of Eucharist, we too move to a place of union with God.  The power of the Eucharist is that we receive Christ himself.  We take HIS presence into our bodies in a physical manner.  This is not a mere memorial, or a lovely thought.  We are changed as people because we have received the loving self-offering of Jesus.  We then are called to be bearers of Christ’s presence in the midst of the world.  Having partaken of the body of Christ, the church is asked to be the body of Christ.

I found this incredibly interesting, but that may just be me.  I am not sure what you want to do with this, or if this is of value to you. By offering this to you, my hope would be this becomes a way to help you enter into the spirit of our liturgy in perhaps a renewed fashion.  We gather not just to go through liturgical motions, but to be formed by the presence of God.   God is active in our midst.  God speaks to us.  Furthermore, we as the community of the church come together for that purpose alone.  This is not contrary to our liturgical life.  In fact, in allowing ourselves to go through these four-movements in our liturgy, we may just find that we have placed ourselves in the spiritual space to receive God’s holy word, and be formed by it.

The danger of Lectio Divina: My Response

Last week a friend of mine shared a blog on his Facebook page about the discipline of Lectio Divina.  The blog was called “Is Lectio Divina really dangerous?”  The blog was written by Mark Moore and was a wonderful affirmation of this discipline.  Moore wrote the blog in response to another blog, written by Tim Challies, in which Challies argues that the practice of Lectio Divina is ‘dangerous.’  As a person who regularly practices Lectio Divina, both individually and within a group setting, I was obviously interested in Challies’ reasoning for why Lectio Divina should not be practices by Christians.   Moore did well to explain how Challies fundamentally misunderstands of just want goes on in Lectio Divina. If you haven’t read Moore’s piece, I suggest you take a moment to do so.

This piece is not written to take anything away from Moore’s blog.  Again, he did a wonderful job in describing the attitude in which we approach the Scriptural text in Biblical meditation.  I do, however, want to add my own voice to the mix, and highlight a subsequent point. As much as Challies misunderstands the nature of Lectio Divina, as detailed by Moore, Challies also misunderstands the relationship between study and meditation.  Here is what I mean.

Challies bases his blog on David Helm’s critique of Lectio Divina in Expositional Preaching. Helm, and Challies following him, believe that the flaw in Lectio Divina is that in runs contrary to a more rigorous biblical study.  The impression that is left is that Lectio Divina is nothing more than an overly gushy, mindless, sentimental reading of Scripture; a reading which cares nothing for authorial intent or critical scholarship.   Challies quotes Helm who writes:

Lectio Divina advocates a method that is spiritual as opposed to systematically studious.  It substitutes intuition for investigation.  It prefers mood and emotion to methodical and reasoned inquiry.  It equates your spirit to the Holy Spirit.”

Firstly, if this is what actually took place in Lectio Divina, I would agree that this would be a problem. Obviously, approaching Scripture in such a careless attitude would have negative effects on our preaching, and our spiritual vitality.  Yet this would be a problem for any biblical practice regardless of what we call it.  Substitute the words Lectio Divina with the words Bible Study and you would still have a similar critique.  Any form of Scriptural reading, study, or meditation that does away with scholarship, intellect, reason, or investigation, choosing to rely solely on intuition, emotion, and feeling, will always be a fruitless process.

But again, this is not what Lectio Divina is, and as such, it does not run contrary to the discipline of study.  In fact, the discipline of Biblical meditation is only enhanced by methodical study.  The more we study a text, the more fruitful our meditations can be.

Take, for example, the passage commonly known as ‘The Reinstatement of St. Peter’, found in John 21.  Here we have Jesus asking Peter the questions ‘Do you love me more than these?’, ‘Do you truly love me?’, and ‘Do you love me?’  This passage is one that could lend itself to a variety of insights and meditations, if one chose to sit with this text and practice Lectio Divina.  Conceivably, as one lets the Word speak, one could easily ask him or herself questions like:  ‘Do I truly love Jesus?’  What are the ‘THESE’ that Jesus is referring to in Peter’s life?  What are the ‘THESE’ that Jesus may refer to in my life?  None of these meditations would be wrong, and I would hazard a guess that any sermon on this passage (prepared from the most rigorous of study) would probably include some of these questions or points.

There is, however, more to be gleaned from this passage.  As anyone who has done any study on this passage would know, an important point to note is the use of the word love. While we may read the same word six separate times in an English translation, the Greek includes a constant interplay between the words Agape (Divine, sacrificial love) and Philos (Human or ‘brotherly’ love).  For the first two questions, Jesus asks Peter if he agapes him, to which Peter responds, “I philos you”.

Let’s stop here.  What might Lectio Divina look like when we take this wordplay into consideration?  Well, conceivably one might meditate on the how Jesus calls us to embrace a love that is beyond us.  There is an element of call, of faith, of stepping outside of one’s comforts.  Similarly, one could meditate on how our humanness sometimes gets in the way of divine love.  God calls us to agape, but sometimes we act in philos.  We might ask ourselves, “How have I stepped away from Jesus’ love due to fear, worry, or anxiety?”

Of course, the text does not stop there, for in the last instance, Jesus humbles himself and asks Peter ‘Do you Philos me?’  Jesus, in grace and divine love, accepts the love that Peter is able to give in that moment.  Again, our meditations could take us several different places here.

Now is this the objective reading of the text, as is the concern of Challies and Helm?  Objective is probably the wrong word.  This makes is sound as if the text is utterly disconnected from human life.  So while I may not say this is an objective reading of the text, I would state that this is a correct reading.  Furthermore, assuming that one only needs to figure out an ‘objective’ meaning  runs the danger of making Scripture nothing more than a textbook.  One risks turning life-giving words into dry propositions; we ‘learn’ the words but are never changed by them.  Scripture always demands more of us than just verbal conjugations and an understanding of sentence structure.  God help any church where the preaching only takes this form!

But that isn’t the point of the above example.  The point was simply to say that the study of a Scripture only enhances our meditations.  Yes Lectio Divina is a meditative reading of Scripture, a way in which we attempt to listen to the words rather than merely read them, but this doesn’t presuppose that we never study a passage of Scripture.  Biblical study – thoughtful, scholarly, and rigorous – is an important spiritual discipline.  In fact, Martin Luther actually bridges these two concepts.  In his Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of his writings, he puts forward a method that appears very similar to that of Lectio Divina, and argues that such activity is the correct way to study theology.[1]

In one sense Challies is correct: Lectio Divina should never replace biblical study.  But this doesn’t mean that it is contrary to it.  Study and Meditation go hand in hand; they strengthen and inform each other. We need allow the Word to influence the fullness of our lives.  This holds true if we approach the text for the task of preaching, or if we sit with Scripture for a personal time of devotion. Ultimately, whether we side more with study or are more comfortable with meditation, it is dangerous to believe that one can divorce the head from the heart in our life with God.  We love the Lord with our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength.

[1] See Evan Howard “Lectio Divina in the Evangelical Tradition’ in “Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care”, 2012, Vol 5. No 1, 56-77

A 3-step way of understanding Spiritual Formation

Every month my Spiritual Director gives me a passage of scripture to sit with throughout out the month.  For this month he gave me Galatians 6:14-18.  Just four small verses, but they are packed with content.  So, this morning I thought I would spend some time in prayer and reflection on this passage.  I went into the sanctuary of the church, sat with my bible open and my notebook in hand, and proceed to go through the movements of Lectio Divina on this passage.  I would love to say that I had some earth shattering revelations take place; that the heavens pealed back and the Spirit of God descended upon me in overly-charismatic way.

Nothing like that happened.  What I did experience was the gentle prodding of some important questions along with insight into a possible model of Spiritual Formation.  Could this passage speak to how we engage in formation as the body of Christ?  Could we look to this passage as a possible ‘three-step’ model of how we may grow into deeper Christ-likeness?  First, let’s look at the passage.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

As I said, this passage is filled with great content and there are many different places where one can sink into deep reflection.  How often do I boast in something other than the Cross of Jesus? What does it mean to ‘bear the marks of Jesus’ in my own body?’ These were some of the thoughts and questions that turned around in my mind and heart as I went through the Lectio movements.  Yet the majority of my inner reflections centred on the two ways Paul references himself in relations to crucifixion.  Paul seems to be suggesting that the cross of Jesus brings about a two-sided crucifixion for the Christian person.  Or, to put it another way, the cross has two cruciform effects.

  1. The world has been crucified to me.

Christian life often runs at odds with the systems and values of the world in which we live.  This is what Paul experienced in his own world, as the Christian Gospel was naturally at odds with both the political and various religious sensibilities of the Roman Empire.  To see the world as crucified was to see the world as having no power or pull upon the Christian life.  Thus, like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one can step away from practices contrary to the living out of Christian faith, because Christians belong to an alternative kingdom.

The obvious question is: How do we see the world as crucified to us?  How do we step away from the cultural messages of individualism, relativism, and moral obscurity?  What does it mean, for example, to refrain from boasting about our own status or earnings when we live in a culture of ’15 minute fame’? Christ calls us to interact with the world in a different way, from a different grounding.  We are not at home in the kingdom of the world.  To switch biblical authors, we are sojourners here.

  1. I have been crucified to the world.

When we see the world as crucified to us, we can easily develop a sense of smug self-righteousness.  If we are not careful we can begin to see ourselves as ‘better’ than those around us.  While others belong to such a flawed and faulty world, we are more evolved – more holy.  Yet the cross of Jesus is not a leans through which we see our own superiority over the world and its inhabitants.  We are crucified as well.

In reality, we can only see the world as crucified if we see ourselves as crucified as well.  Formation isn’t just about recognising the false narratives of the world around us, we also expose the false narratives that lie deep within.  Where do I lack humility?  Where do I boast in my own accomplishments or status?  Where have I acted in frustration, in anger, in selfishness?  The crucifixion of the self is an important step in this for it essentially is that which allows Jesus to become the still point of our lives.

I mentioned that I wondered if this passage could be used as a three-step model of Spiritual Formation.  We have just looked at the first two steps.  Step one: The crucifixion of the world to us.  Step Two: The Crucifixion of us to the world.  So what is the third step?

  1. The New Creation/Walking by this rule

Paul makes a point of saying that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision mean anything, but what matters is a new creation.  Circumcision – and by extension non-circumcision – indicated a certain status to be claimed.  It was a merit that could be held up and boasted in.  In this way, it could easily be seen as more important than one’s active participation in the kingdom of God.  We hear echoes of Jesus’ statements to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and his criticism of their hypocrisy.

The danger is that we merely replace circumcision with ‘the new creation’ thereby making it just another status symbol.  Yet the life of Faith is to be one of constant walking.  We live our lives in the very context of our relationship with Jesus.  Faith is not something to be held up and boasted about, because our faith is the very way that we live out our lives.  So we do not just claim the world is crucified to us, or that we ourselves have been crucified; we actively live out this reality in the world.

This means that our formation in Christian life is an ongoing process, and never one that we can claim for ourselves, or boast about.

3 hints when practising Lectio Divina

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 GraceLectio 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.

150 at 2:51

I recently returned from our annual clergy retreat. There was a speaker and a schedule, but these things were punctuated by extended times of silence. We woke in silence. We ate in silence. Even our moments of free time—where the schedule is lax and there is nothing to do, silence was held. I did a variety of things in these times. Sometimes I napped. Other times I read. If it was nice out, I will go for a walk.

During this last retreat, I took advantage of this silent space to sit in my room and do Lectio Divina with Psalm 150. Lectio Divina has become a practice of that I have grown to appreciate very much in my spiritual life. The habit of slowing myself down, and allowing the words of the scripture (read 4 times slowly) to sink deep, deeper, and deeper still into my life, has awakened and informed my walk with God in profound ways.

Don’t get me wrong, not every time spent in Lectio Divina provides awe-struck inspiration. Sometimes it is simply a time of silence. Such was the case for my 30 minutes sitting with Psalm 150. Nothing earth-shattering took place. No epiphanies, no visions, no grand insights into the nature of God or the life of faith. My time in Lectio Divina was simply a pleasant and soothing time reading this Psalm.

But then I woke up at 2:51am.

Almost as if I was roused to wake, my eyelids sprang open and my mind raced with a multitude of questions, all inspired by the Psalm. Clearly that the words of the Psalm had not left me, or rather, the voice of the Lord had not left me. During my waking hours, I had attempted to hold the words of the Psalm with me. Now it seemed that the words of the Psalm were holding me. I could not get my mind off the questions that seemed to come racing in, I had to wake up and write them out.

What does it mean to praise the Lord?

What does it mean to praise the Lord in his sanctuary – in those holy spaces of our lives defined not by brick or mortar but by the mighty Spirit of our God?

What does it mean to see all of life as being lived under the dome of the heavens, so that we are always called to lift our heads in wonder and praise?

What does it mean to praise God in such times when we are arrested by the hand of God pressed in upon our lives, where the awesome greatness of God is both inspiring and terrifying at the same time?

What does it mean to praise the Lord through the different soundtracks of life;

In times of regal trumpets, of processions and glorious excitement?

In times of lute and lyre, subdued movements of mourning and sadness?

In the times of tambourine and dance, times of joy and festivity, laughter and happiness?

In the times of string and pipe, wherein we are called to stand motionless before the Lord?

What does it mean to praise the Lord when our cymbals are rung in celebration and triumph or when they crash in upon themselves, adding only noise to the din of chaos that sometimes surrounds our lives?

What does it mean to praise the Lord, not as an act done in a place, or in a time, but as something united to our breath, a movement of the soul by which our lives become the Hallelujah to our God?

I have no answers. If you do, I would love to hear them. But truth be told, I don’t think figuring out the ‘right’ answer to these questions was the point of my early morning meditations. These are not problems I need to answer. Rather, I feel called to sit with these questions, awaiting the time when God will bring to my life such resolutions. Perhaps it is in holding these questions that I find I will truly live out the answers.

May the Lord bless you as you work out these answers in your own Christian life. Praise the Lord!