A great way to read the Bible uses a three-part progression. In the first reading, we read “critically,” using all the lenses we have discussed during this course. In the second reading, we read “personally,” bring our entire selves, our previous encounters with the Bible, and our own personal histories when we read. In the third reading, we adopt a “blank slate” mentality, and allow the text to encounter us.
The Practice of Lectio Divina
(If you’d like more info on Lectio Divina, then please check out this excerpt from the final chapter of Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World, by Adam Thomas. If not, just skip on down to the prompts for discussion.)
This form of study combines the ingredients of reading, praying, and contemplating in a large mixing bowl of silence. Lectio Divina cannot be accomplished quickly and therefore makes for a perfect antidote for our instantaneous world. Here’s the version of the practice as I received it.
Begin with a short prayer asking God for guidance. (This, by the way, is a good way to start whatever you are doing, whether it’s Bible study or grocery shopping.)
Pick a short passage of scripture, not more than a dozen or so verses. Passages longer than a dozen verses are too long for one sitting. If you are studying a longer story, then break it up into manageable chunks. I find having a copy of the text with simply the words and nothing else helps my concentration. Copy and paste the verses from an online Bible into your word processor and then remove the chapter and verse numbers along with any editorial headings and notes that might distract you from the words. Because of it’s narrative nature, the Gospel is often the richest part of the Bible to explore with Lectio Divina, but it’s certainly not the only section that you can study this way.
Read your passage aloud slowly with concentration. Did you get that: read it out loud. This is important for two reasons. First, reading aloud involves your body. You breathe and speak and engage your diaphragm. The more facets of yourself (mental, physical, spiritual, emotional) you bring to your study of scripture, the better. Second, reading aloud forces you to make interpretive choices about the tone and character of dialogue that you would not make reading silently. This increases your interaction with the text.
Sit in silence for a minute. I mean this: a full minute. It’s longer than you think, like brushing your teeth. The silence acts as an incubator for the words now growing within you. The problem comes when you start checking your cell phone’s clock every twenty seconds hoping the minute is over. This, you might guess, is distracting. The best way to keep track of your silence is to create a minute long track of silence on iTunes and then make a playlist with the silent minute followed by a soft soothing song to bring you out of it (in other words, not Queen or glam rock in general, except perhaps the slow bit of “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
Read the passage again. Yes, again! Remember, we are taking time with scripture. No one and done’s here. This time as you read aloud, notice any words or phrases that shimmer for you. They may jump off the page and smack you in the mouth or they may draw you towards them so that you realize after a moment that your head is inches from the page.
Sit in silence for another minute. Let the particular word or phrase that shimmered start incubating and growing within.
Meditate on that word or phrase for as long as you need to. Say it in your mind or aloud. Let it hover in the air around you as you sit silently. Let it wrap you up and hold you because after all, this word is of God and what better way to be wrapped up and held. See what other words come up from the depths of your soul to mingle and combine with the shimmering word. Then, pray to God using all of them.
Read the passage aloud a third time. Re-insert your word or phrase back into the passage for safekeeping. It will be there the next time you study the text, but next time another word might shimmer instead.
Sit in silence for another minute.
Lastly, thank God for God’s presence in your life and in your study. Of course, the whole time is prayer, but a dedicated word of thanks is always a good thing...
The fruits that come from the slow reading and silence of Lectio Divina remind me that faster and louder don’t necessarily mean better. Even so, half an hour studying a dozen verses of scripture often seems like a waste of time. I could read a couple chapters in that period! I could, but in my normal frantic pace, I might miss the word of God that is waiting patiently for me to notice it so that it can plant itself within me and grow.
Prompts for Discussion
Use the comments box below (under “Leave a Reply”) to discuss some of these prompts. You can post more than one comment and respond to other people’s comments The first time you do it, you many need to provide some basic info like name and email.
1) Try the three-part progression advocated in the video using your favorite passage of the Bible. What do you notice about this separated type of reading? What works for you? What doesn’t?
2) What kind of personal baggage do you have where the Bible is concerned? (No need to get too personal here if you don’t want to. This is a public webpage after all.)
3) Give Lectio Divina a try using the form in the video and expanded on in the text above from Digital Disciple. Perhaps use this Sunday’s Gospel, which you can read by clicking here.
4) What word or phrase shimmered for you?
5) How did Lectio Divina help you achieve the “blank slate” mentality?