Eugene Peterson is convinced that the “way” we read the Bible is as important as “that” we read the Bible. In Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, he argues that “Christians are to absorb, imbibe, feed on and digest Scripture.” A translator of Scripture himself, Peterson recommends a type of Bible-based prayer called lectio divina, in which the person praying meditates on a short passage of Scripture and listens for God to speak through the text, arguing throughout that the lectio divina is not a systematic way of reading, but a “developed habit of living the text in Jesus’ name.”
Because the lectio has been around for so long, there are many, like Peterson, who can explain it better than I. The next three paragraphs come from “Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.”
The art of lectio divina begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, to hear ‘with the ear of our hearts’ as St. Benedict called it. When we read the Scriptures we should try to imitate the prophet Elijah. We should allow ourselves to become women and men who are able to listen for the still, small voice of God (I Kings 19:12); the ‘faint murmuring sound’ which is God’s word for us, God’s voice touching our hearts. This gentle listening is an ‘attunement’ to the presence of God in that special part of God’s creation which is the Scriptures.
The cry of the prophets to ancient Israel was the joy-filled command to ‘Listen!’ ‘Sh’ma Israel: Hear, O Israel!’ In lectio divina we, too, heed that command and turn to the Scriptures, knowing that we must ‘hear’ – listen – to the voice of God, which often speaks very softly. In order to hear someone speaking softly we must learn to be silent. We must learn to love silence. If we are constantly speaking or if we are surrounded with noise, we cannot hear gentle sounds. The practice of lectio divina, therefore, requires that we first quiet down in order to hear God’s word to us. This is the first step of lectio divina, appropriately called lectio – reading.
The reading or listening which is the first step in lectio divina is very different from the speed reading which modern Christians apply to newspapers, books and even to the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally – not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God’s word for us this day.
My first exposure to the lectio came from a book titled Too Deep For Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina. Through written in 1988, this book is still in print and is available for $9.00 from Amazon. The most valuable part of this book is Part 2: “Fifty Scripture Themes For Prayer,” with a total of 500 verses on which to practice lectio divina.
These two books and the essay (linked above) are excellent companions to the new ELCA “Book of Faith” initiative. This program, developed because of a proposal by the NC Synod, is adding resources weekly. There are study guides, videos, documents, assessment tools and more.
The Book of Faith initiative “invites this whole church to become fluent in the first language of faith – the language of Scripture; and to be renewed for lives of witness and service as the Holy Spirit engages us.” I can think of no better way to do this than by: “Opening the Book of Faith”, and “Dwelling in the Word” with the lectio divina.