Monday, November 1, 2010

Soaking in Scripture: Spiritual Formation through Lectio Divina, part 1

Central to Christian spiritual formation is God’s Word. As we give Scripture our undivided attention, we invite the Living Word to saturate our minds and hearts. We allow Scripture to change us from the inside out.

God’s Word is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

The light of God’s Word exposes the dark places in our lives—secret sins, toxic attitudes, hidden addictions, unattended wounds, and deep shame. The revealing power of God’s Word brings conviction where we are not right with God and others. The remedial power of God’s Word heals the broken places of our hearts and lives. Ultimately God’s Word transforms us.

While various “spiritualities” circulate in today’s pluralistic society, genuine Christian spiritual formation emerges from Scripture. We would know nothing of God except that he has revealed himself. Rather than creating a god of its own choosing, Christian devotion is the response to God’s self-revelation in the Bible. We cling to Scripture because it is God’s heartbeat expressed to us.

In today’s information revolution, words convey a lot of mere information. We become accustomed to skimming vast amounts of data as we look things up online. Unfortunately, we often use the same approach when we come to Scripture. We look for new information. If we don’t find anything new, we quickly become bored and move on to something else. Therefore, for those who have read the Bible for years, it is easy to adopt the attitude of “been there, done that.” Because we know some of the basic information in the Bible, we assume that we “have it down,” and our minds move elsewhere, seeking new stimulus and novel information.

Instead we need to approach God’s Word relationally. Scripture is personal communication from the all-loving Father to us. It is much more akin to a hand-written letter to us than a Google search on a given topic.

Words are the primary means by which we connect, person-to-person. They express our thoughts to the other person and ultimately communicate our love for them. Although we connect with others by touch, eye-to-eye contact, and other means, words are probably the greatest way that we share our hearts with others. This is especially true in our relationship with the Lord. Because we cannot see him or touch him physically, it is through his Words to us and our words to him that we cultivate our relationship.

God’s Word is his self-expression to us. Love is essentially self-giving and self-revealing. Because God is love, he pours out through his Word. That Word is the Logos—the Son, the second Person of the Trinity—who fully expresses who God is. That Word is also the Scripture, comprised of various messages of love, acceptance, warning, instruction and discipline that express his thoughts toward us.

Lectio Divina
One substantive way of soaking in God’s Word and savoring his presence is known as lectio divina. The standard method of spending time in Scripture for nearly fifteen hundred years of Christianity, lectio divina is Latin for “sacred reading,” “spiritual reading” or “devotional reading.” It is an approach to our “quiet time” that makes space for us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word.

Lectio divina is an approach to God’s Word that opens our minds for him to speak to us and opens our hearts to experience intimate relationship with him. It entails a fourfold rhythm for our devotion: 1) reading Scripture, 2) meditating on that passage, 3) praying it back to the Lord, and then 4) simply enjoying God’s presence.

1. Reading & Hearing Scripture
The first rhythm is reading God’s Word. Here we take a passage and read it through several times. When we repeat the passage more than once we notice small but important items that we missed the first time through.

Reading it out loud is best because it slows us down and highlights words that we would otherwise skip over. Speaking God’s Word aloud allows us to hear God’s message with our ears, as well as see it on the page. It enables us to taste the words with our mouth, as it were, when we pronounce each syllable. As Psalm 19 states, his words are “sweeter than honey” to those who are willing to enjoy them!

Many mornings, I also write out the passage in my journal. The process of writing forces me to notice each word. It gives me space to see how various ideas are connected to each other in the sentence or paragraph or that I’m centering on for the day. The motion of writing engages me in active learning, plus it helps me remember the passage.

In order to give adequate attention to our day’s portion of Scripture, it is often best to choose a shorter section. Lectio divina takes a brief passage of Scripture—usually one to a dozen verses—and focuses our attention on this passage. Instead of trying to keep up with a Bible reading plan, we concentrate on a few verses of God’s Word and soak in them. Rather than racing through a quick chapter of the Bible before rushing out the door, as so many contemporary Christians are wont to do, lectio divina helps us to decelerate and savor Scripture—not trying to inhale it as we would fast food at the drive through.

The aim of the Christian life is not to “get through the Bible” in a given amount to time. Rather, our goal is to allow God’s Word to “get through us” thoroughly and repeatedly so that we are transformed into the image of Christ.

The rhythms of lectio divina welcome us to step off the merry-go-round of our fast-paced lives in order to slow down and enjoy some unhurried moments with the Lord. In my coming blogs I will explore some dynamics of meditating on Scripture, praying the passage, and then relishing God’s profound presence. These rhythms invite us to soak in Scripture and appreciate it for what it is—God’s very Word spoken to us!

If your current method of Bible reading is bearing fruit in your life, stick with it. But, if your current method is not bearing fruit—or if you are not really spending time in God’s Word—I’d encourage you to try something different. Several days this week take a few verses and try reading them aloud several times through. Then just savor God’s thoughts to you throughout the day.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

1 comment:

  1. I found the insight you shared on the use of a passage of scripture, to bear fruit in our lives, to be quite interesting. I will endeavor to put this method into practice.