Lectio Divina (Latin for Sacred Reading) is an ancient practice that Christians have used as a way to take to heart the Word of God. It involves reading a short passage of Scripture and taking the time to meditate on it, pray through it, and seek how to live it out. As such it helps the Christian to listen to God through His Word. Because the Word is living and active, as we approach it reflectively, we come to understand God’s Word through our senses and intellect, to be nourished by it, and to receive Christ into our lives in a tangible way. We read, we reflect, we respond, and we resolve. Put another way – we bite, we chew, we savor, and we digest. What a picture that paints as we seek to describe this kind of listening!
Because the Word is living and active, as we approach it reflectively, we come to understand God’s Word through our senses and intellect, to be nourished by it, and to receive Christ into our lives in a tangible way.
It’s important, however, that we not simply grab a passage out of context and make it all about us or our needs. This reminds me of a story I heard often when I first came to Christ. A certain man came to God and asked Him how to find a wife. He then opened his Bible to a passage that read – “grace be unto you” and decided this was God’s way of telling him to look for a wife named Grace!
The best balance to Lectio Divina is to first study a passage in its context. There are some very basic observation tools that help us to do this. If we come to a passage that we desire to listen for God’s Word to us, a natural curiosity to its source, context and place gives us those tools. Look it up! Add some notes about the passage.
An ancient practice for Jewish teachers of the law is called Midrash. This refers to a form of interpretation that allows the teacher or rabbi to apply his own meaning to the text. However, the Hebrew root of this word is “drash” which meant to study, inquire, seek, explain, or investigate. This is a great way of approaching any text of Scripture. We ask questions like, who, what, when, where, and how. We look at repeated phrases or words; we do word studies where we follow the word we’re looking at and see where it is used in other places of scripture. Suffice it to say that study helps keep us on track as we look to read the text meditatively.
Jean Khoury, author of Lectio Divina: Spiritual Reading of the Bible, writes that in approaching the Bible, we must distinguish two levels: the level of understanding and the level of listening. This, I think, implies that we use both mind and heart as we come to the Word. A much-loved professor at Wheaton College, Clyde Kilby, used to tell his male students, “men, you can’t kiss your girl and think about it at the same time. In essence he was saying- both practices are essential – reason and experience.
One story from Scripture helps tease this out. In Luke 24, two disciples, after the death of Christ, were on their way to a place called Emmaus. They were distraught over what had just happened and discouraged as well. A man comes up and asks to join their journey. He then asks them why they are so downcast -and they, in shock, say to him – “you mean you don’t know what just happened?” As they walk, this man begins to open the Scriptures to them, explaining to them why what happened to their teacher, Jesus, had to happen. Once they reach their destination, they ask this man to join them for supper. At first, he declines but then agrees. As they were at table, this man took the bread, and in that moment, they recognized him as Jesus. This is what the text says: “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luk 24:30-31a).
“All of a sudden, we just know: prayer is a conversation in which God’s word has the initiative and we, for the moment, can be nothing more than listeners.Hans Urs Von Balthasar
Another author puts it like this: “All of a sudden, we just know: prayer is a conversation in which God’s word has the initiative and we, for the moment, can be nothing more than listeners. The essential thing is for us to hear God’s word and discover from it how to respond to him. His word is the truth, opened up to us… God’s word is himself, his most vital, his innermost self: his only begotten Son, of the same nature as himself, sent into the world to bring it home, back to him. And so, God speaks to us from heaven and commends to us his Word, dwelling on earth for a while: “This is my beloved Son: listen to him” (Mat. 17:5) (Prayer, Han Urs Von Balthasar, Ignatius Press).
Each week, I will include a passage that I found relevant to the theme of the week and ask you to consider reading it reflectively.
We can also apply this approach to other kinds of writing. While this never carries the weight of taking in God’s Word, it can help us slow down and take in the meaning of certain quotes or prayers or other writings. Some weeks then, I will include a quote or prayer from my studies that hopefully will help, challenge, or inspire you.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus. Collect from the second Sunday in Advent.