May 6, 2016

lectio divina: what it is, why & how I am doing it



In the past few months, I have heard lectio divina mentioned a few times, and became interested in trying it out with my Bible reading. I heard it mentioned by John Mark Comer (pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Or and author of the recent book, Garden City) during his teaching series on how to approach the Bible (see sermon HERE; he begins speaking specifically about it at 44:20) and on Tsh Oxenreider's podcast, The Simple Show when she was chatting with Katherine Pershey on Episode 26 about everyday spiritual practices. Both John Mark and Katherine mentioned Eugene Peterson's new book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, which has made lectio divina more relatable to our culture. In his book, Peterson uses the analogy of eating to describe this method of prayerful Bible reading. Basically, you're feasting on the Bible. Sounds weird? Stay with me! The Bible has a few verses that mention this idea:

When I discovered your words, I devoured them. 
They are my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, 
O LORD God of Heaven's Armies 
(Jeremiah 15:16 NLT)
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Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, 
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 
(Matthew 4:4 NIV)
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How sweet are your words to my taste, 
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
(Psalm 119:103)

In this sense, lectio divina is taking a bite out of a Bible passage, chewing on it, savoring it, and digesting it. I'll explain each of these in relation to the original latin words for the lectio divina steps.

So, what is lectio divina?
Lectio divina is Latin for divine reading. It was first described by a monk in the 12th century and then became widely used among Bededictine Catholic monks as a way to read, meditate, and pray through Bible passages together as a community as well as alone. It is separate from exegetical Bible study (aka hermeneutics), where the focus is on interpreting the Bible text (usually by studying the original Hebrew, finding cross-references, learning about the culture relevant to the passage, etc). Although commonly used in monasteries and abbeys, this prayerful Bible reading tool crosses the borders of denominations and has become more known recently in Protestant Christian crowds (such as the two I mentioned earlier).

Five parts to lectio divina 
1. Silencio: Quieting the mind and body, limiting surrounding distractions (putting your phone on silent), and asking God to speak to you as you begin to read the Bible.

2. Lectio (read): This is where you metaphorically take a bite out of a Bible passage. Read the passage over and over, waiting for anything to resonate or pop out and connect with you.
"These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)"

3. Meditatio (meditate/reflect): This the chewing part. Sit with the passage and reflect on what it seems God is trying to grab your attention about. What does that passage mean for you?
"I will meditate (reflect) on your precepts (commandments) and fix my eyes on your ways." (Psalm 119:15)

4. Oratio (pray): Just like a delicious meal is savored and you may even thank the cook who made it, savoring the Bible passage means praising God, the Author and Creator. Savor in the truth that you've been reading, engage in prayer, repent of anything that the Holy Spirit is showing you through the passage, pray for someone that comes to mind, or just sit and worship God.
"Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart." (Colossians 4:2)

5. Contemplatio (rest): Return to the quiet of silencio. Digest what you've "eaten" by sitting in quietness and waiting to see if God wants to teach you anything else. Rest in His truth and promises.
"Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world." (Psalm 46:10

Although these steps are typically followed in this order, they are not always linear and can sometimes loop around or get used in any order that makes sense and in which you feel the Holy Spirit leading. 

Why and How I Have Been Practicing Lectio Divina

I really like studying the Bible in a exegetical/hermeneutic method. I think it's fascinating to find cross-references that relate to a specific passage, look up the words in a Hebrew Lexicon using Blue Letter Bible, and reading commentaries or Bible studies written by great Bible teachers. But I noticed that I was not always entering these Bible study times in prayer and reflection. I was engaging my mind, but nor always my heart. I was being informed, but not truly transformed by the Bible. Reading Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds last year helped me approach the Bible with both my mind and heart, and taught me that prayer is an essential part of Bible study.

After hearing about lectio divina from the aforementioned sources, I grew curious about this method and how I could apply it to my Bible reading time. I am reading through the Bible this year using THIS Bible Reading Plan from Bridgetown Church (which is part of their Year of Bible Literacy series for 2016) along with the study notes in my Bible. Each time I start a new book of the BIble, I watch the corresponding video made through the awesome team at The Bible Project to better understand what I am reading and to see how it ties into the rest of the Bible. But, I was not doing too much reflection on the passages since I am reading about 4 chapters a day. So lectio divina seemed like a great tool as I started reading one Psalm a day in addition to the other chapters. I decided I would try to pick out one Psalm each week to practice lectio divina. This way, I am engaging both my heart and my mind in the text and sitting with it for an extended time compared to the quicker (and not as deep) Bible reading as part of the Bible reading plan I am doing this year. I also have been wanting to pray more because I was noticing that I was not routinely carving out time for prayer. Greg and I have been trying to be more intentional about praying together and for each other aloud, but I wanted to find time to pray alone as well. Prayer while reading the Bible has been something I have been wanting to become more of a habit in my life the last year after reading Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word, so this was a further push to try out lectio divina.

I have only practiced lectio divina twice so far, so I am not a pro, but I have enjoyed it so far and plan to continue setting aside time once a week to practice this prayerful Bible reading method. This is what it looks like for me, but it may look completely different for others and that is totally fine. 

I try to put my phone on silent and out of reach, otherwise I'll get distracted. I try to carve out 30-60 minutes. I pray and invite the Holy Spirit to teach me His truth (silencio). I read the Psalm I have chosen a few times over, looking for anything that pops out to me (lectio). I think about why that particular verse(s) popped out to me. Did it mean something or point to God's character in some way? Did it make me joyful and remember God loves me? It has also helped me to paraphrase the verse in my own words (meditatio). I then pray about the Scripture passage and if something came to mind that I wanted to apologize to God for, then I ask God for forgiveness. I praise God and thank Him for His goodness, faithfulness, and any other attributes about Him that I was reminded of in the passage I just read. I have been journaling my prayers, but will pray in my mind  as well (oratio). Then I grab my Journaling Bible and my watercolors and paint whatever pops in my mind related to the verses of the passage that resonated with me the most. I try not to focus on making it perfect or fancy; but rather, use my painting and drawing as a way to let myself sit and digest what I read (contemplatio). I listen to worship music and may sing along or pray in my mind during this time (oratio) and while studying Psalm 1, found a great teaching by Francis Chan on this Psalm that I listened to while painting (see it HERE). 

Here are the journaling and Bible journaling during my two times I practiced lectio divina (once in April and once this morning).

Lectio Divina for Psalm 1

Lectio divina for Psalm 8

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What do you think about lectio divina? Is it something you'd want to try? Is there a different way that you study the Bible that you want to share? I would love to hear your thoughts!  

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This post includes affiliate links to Amazon. What this means is that if you purchase any of the books I linked to, without any extra cost to you, I would get 4% of the book price. 


4 comments:

  1. I commend your discipline and motivation. For many, including myself trying to find a block of time to read the Word, pray and meditate can be difficult. This is so very interesting and you've given me much to ponder on.

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    1. Thank you so much, Michelle. I definitely agree that it is hard to carve out time for prayer and Bible reading. I am in a season right now of not working (I got married and moved to cross-country and am awaiting paperwork to start), so I have more time now than I have had in the past. I am hoping to make this a habit now while life is a bit quieter so that once I am working (and one day, when I am a mom), I can hopefully find ways to carve out time even if it doesn't look like it does in this season.

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  2. Thanks for giving me this link when you commented on my blog! I have never actually done lectio divina but it seems like something that would really work for me.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Jeannie! I have found that making time for lectio divina has helped me sit and be still withy God's Word, which I have been needing a lot during this season!

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I love to hear your thoughts!

Elle Alice