For more than a decade, I have met early each Tuesday morning with a handful of women for Lectio Divina (divine reading), a Scripture-based practice that began centuries ago — before the Protestant Reformation and before the rationalism of the Enlightenment.
At each meeting we read and respond to the selected verses a total of four or five times.
- After the first two readings, we name the word or phrase or verse that shimmers for us—one that summons us to respond.
- Following the third reading, we share what’s been happening in our lives that might be triggering that shimmer–or how that shimmer makes us feel.
- After a fourth reading, we explore what invitation God might be offering us — or we would like to ask of him.
- Finally, if time allows, we read the verses a fifth time and pray in sequence around the circle. If our hour is almost gone, we omit the fifth reading and transition immediately to prayer.
When we started meeting, staunch Calvinist that I am, I had reservations about the theological accuracy of the path each of us took. I was afraid we might be doing the equivalent of that joke a junior high catechism teacher had told me.
A devout Christian read the Bible each day to get direction from God. She let Scripture fall open to a page, pointed her finger at a random verse, and took that as her marching orders.
One morning, the first verse that her finger fell on was, “Then he [Judas] went away and hanged himself.”
Frightened by that option, she opened to a new verse, “Go and do likewise.”
Rejecting that, she tried again, and read, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
Over the years, my theological fears have subsided. I have concluded that if I were interpreting Scripture for a congregation, theological research and accuracy would be important, but the Spirit can speak truth to our hearts without the intermediary of a theological structure. After all, I had learned in catechism that God’s Word would never lead us astray. (That does not explain for me, however, how Christians on both ends of the political spectrum believe their viewpoint is biblical. Is the Bible not leading one of the two groups astray? Or are they just refusing to listen? But I digress. Perhaps a theologian can help me out here.)
My first uncertainty, however, was soon replaced by another. Sometimes we failed to follow the recommended structure of responding around the circle, one person at a time—without any back-and-forth discussion. At almost every meeting one of us responded to someone else’s comment. A brief give-and-take discussion followed. Were we still doing Lectio? Was this permitted? Did it somehow dilute the impact of God’s voice to chime in with our own? Eventually I concluded that God can speak to us through the voices of others as well as through the words of Scripture.
For as long as I can remember, our group has read two passages each time we have met. None of us remembers a time before this two-passage tradition. Perhaps it began when we were choosing passages from the Revised Common Lectionary, and several of them appealed to us equally. Nevertheless, all Lectio instructions I have read over the years assume that a group reads and responds to a single passage—usually quite a short one.
We have been blessed by our two-passage approach. Often the two passages have enriched or balanced each other. Just this morning, “As the deer pants for streams of water. . .” (Psalm 42:1a) was counterbalanced by “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us” (I John 3:1a). The depths of God’s love matched to the depth of our need. Perhaps our two-passage approach (each passage longer than a typical Lectio selection) has kept us from quickly going out and hanging ourselves!
Sometimes we don’t stay with the word or phrase that first shimmered for us. After third and fourth readings, a different set of words calls to one of us. Sometimes multiple words, spattered throughout the passages shimmer like a sprinkling of stars. At other times, it is the tone or movement of the passage that calls to us. Occasionally, we read aloud a footnote that sheds light on a perplexing set of words.
Despite these detours of uncertainty, Lectio has given me two gifts over the decades.
It has opened in me a longing to experience the richness of the biblical text. I am rarely satisfied with a single reading of a biblical passage. During Sunday worship, when a pastor finishes reading Scripture and leaps into the message, I want to call out, “Read it again. Read it again! That passed far too quickly.” (Sometimes my hunger for that repetition is assuaged as a pastor returns again and again to the text in the body of the message.)
Lectio has also given to me the gift of heartfelt prayer in a response to God. When we close our Tuesday morning Lectio session and each of us prays briefly, we find ourselves speaking, not in pat phrases or clichéd sentences, but in words rising from deep within. In the Lectio hour we have mellowed. With the saints from ages past, our hearts have both burned within us and been strangely warmed.