by Debbonnaire Kovacs
I remember the first time I was exposed to “Lectio Divina.” I met with a small group where an experienced facilitator was going to teach us this ancient method of reading and responding to Scripture. I was curious and a little cautious.
First, we were asked to sit in silence, inviting the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance. Then, together, we read a passage—a psalm, I believe, though I don’t recall which one. One person read aloud as the others followed along. We were asked to contemplate what the passage seemed to be saying and what it might have meant to its original hearers/readers. What did God say?
Next, a different person read the passage aloud again. This time we were asked to contemplate what the passage meant to us personally. What is God saying to me?
A third time, someone read the passage aloud. This time we were asked how the passage might touch or change our lives. What might the result be?
A fourth person read the passage, and we were asked to consider what our response might be. What shall I say to God?
Several people expressed amazement and delight at the blessings they received with this new way of reading the Bible. I was a little bewildered. Isn’t this the way everyone reads Scripture? I mean, I wasn’t familiar with these particular four questions, but from very early childhood I’ve been taught that the Bible is a love letter from God to me personally, and beginning in grade school I learned to consider context, what the writer meant and for whom. As I grew to adulthood, I learned how to compare historical and present meaning. Always, I’ve understood that the main purpose of Scripture is to shape my life as I respond to God through it. Passages have meant different things to me at different times in my life. I believe that’s what the term “living Word” means.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there are conservative Christians, Adventist and not, who criticize, even fear Lectio Divina. The concern I’ve seen most often expressed is that we are somehow seeking “extra-biblical experience,” or that we actually think the Bible will speak to us, personally. Ummm, yeah….! I should hope so!
This week’s chapter of The Monastery of the Heart is entitled “Prayerful Reading.” Chittister says,
simply ceaseless recitation
of scripture passages and psalmic verse.
It is the beginning
of a lifelong conversation with God.
To deepen that conversation,
to give it flow
meaning and heart,
the Benedictine is to read the scriptures
and holy books,
reflect on them deeply,
and respond to them consciously
until, at long last,
we come to radiate the meaning of them
for all the world to see.
Here is a similar passage from a writer with whom most of us are more familiar:
We cannot obtain wisdom without earnest attention and prayerful study. Some portions of Scripture are indeed too plain to be misunderstood, but there are others whose meaning does not lie on the surface to be seen at a glance. Scripture must be compared with scripture. There must be careful research and prayerful reflection. And such study will be richly repaid. As the miner discovers veins of precious metal concealed beneath the surface of the earth, so will he who perseveringly searches the word of God as for hid treasure find truths of the greatest value, which are concealed from the view of the careless seeker. The words of inspiration, pondered in the heart, will be as streams flowing from the fountain of life.
Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given. When Nathanael came to Jesus, the Saviour exclaimed, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Nathanael said, "Whence knowest Thou me?" Jesus answered, "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee." John 1:47, 48. And Jesus will see us also in the secret places of prayer if we will seek Him for light that we may know what is truth. Angels from the world of light will be with those who in humility of heart seek for divine guidance. [Steps to Christ, pp. 90-91]