continuing the conversation: prayer and sacred reading

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Yesterday we considered ways of praying through the music on the radio, and Chris had a great comment about how often he’s reminded both of and through music of ways to seek God, listen, and take the transformational road rather than the easy but hurtful one. Stop in to yesterday’s post and join that conversation!

Today we’re considering the practice of sacred reading, or lectio divina. This is a practice that goes back hundreds of years, and is designed to help us really enter God’s word–and to let the word enter us too. Rather than speed reading, or reading for information, we are reading to experience God’s presence and rest in God’s heart.

“We need to learn to read again if we’re going to enjoy the Bible to its fullest. Enter Lectio Divina. While the four stages of this practice were formally written by John of the Cross in the 16th century, variations on divine or spiritual reading (which is what Lectio Divina means in Latin) have popped up in writings since the time of Origen in the 3rd century. In other words, this practice has been going on way longer than speed reading. The resurgence of its use today can probably be attributed to a variety of reasons, from frustration over all the historical and literary criticism encourage in biblical reading, to countercultural desire to slow down. By reading or hearing scripture without an agenda other than to be open to the Spirit, we free ourselves up for the movement of the Spirit and the surprises she may have in store for us.

The four stages of Lectio Divina are fairly simple. You read, meditate, express yourself to God, and rest in the Spirit. The passage you read should probably be a short one, no more than a few verses long. You might use part of a psalm or even just a line of Jesus’ teachings. Once you have your passage, take a few centering breaths, and then begin.

Lectio (read). Read the passage slowly. Do not rush to get to the end. Take the time to read each and every word, letting each word sink down deep into your bones. Do not try to discern a meaning; don’t worry about historical or literary context. Just read. Once you’ve read the passage through, pause for a moment, and then read it again. This time, read the words and note which word or phrase speaks to you. Is there a word that bothers you, a phrase that resonates with you?

Meditatio (meditate). Let your mind ruminate over your word or phrase. Do images come to mind? Stories? What about memories? Sit for a while and let the Spirit move through the word or phrase. What might she be trying to say to you? What might this word mean for you in this moment in this place? What might God be asking of you?

Oratio (speak). As you come to a sense of understanding, as the meaning this passage holds for you in this moment becomes clear (or even just a bit more in focus), lift your thoughts up to God. What do you want to express? Do you have any positive or negative reactions to what you’ve heard through your reading and meditating? Whether you wish to praise or pick a fight, be honest with God.

Contemplatio (contemplate). Once you’ve offered your thoughts and feelings to the divine, rest. Simply be in God’s presence for a while. Perhaps the divine voice will speak to you; perhaps you’ll just enjoy the silence.

If you’d like to try this practice with a group of friends (and it’s a great practice for a small group), start by having one person read the passage out loud. Once you’ve read it through, have another person read the same passage. Listen as a group for the words or phrases that touch you individually. Reflect for a moment or two, and then share what you’ve each heard. As you share and listen, do not try to correct what anyone hears. Remember, the Holy One can speak through the same words in a variety of ways. Read the passage out loud again, and give yourself another few moments of reflection. Now share with each other your reactions to what you’ve personally heard from God. Once you’ve shared, spend time in individual contemplation. The person who began this time with the first reading may close it with a small prayer after a few minutes of rest.”

(from the forthcoming book: And Then We Just Got Really Busy: Spirituality for a New Generation, Chalice Press 2013.)

So…what do you think? Try choosing a parable (Luke 15 has some great ones) or a section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), or a psalm (try psalm 1, 25, 42, 62 for some prayer inspiration), and read it aloud, slowly, following these steps. Do it alone or with your family, and just see what new things the Spirit is saying to you in these days!

What other ways of prayer do you enjoy? What helps you connect to God, open your eyes to God’s movement in the world, or link your spirit to the Spirit?

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