Sacred Reading – Hands On

Lectio divina, the practice of “sacred reading,” brings to mind images of flickering candles and meditative silences broken only by the turn of a page or the scratch of a pen on paper.  The flickering candle I can manage, but my dining room table “command post” is where just about any kind of reading happens at my house, making it no less sacred, of course, but incorporating more interruptions, perhaps, than would be ideal.  Maybe this is why I found the framework provided in Jan Johnson’s Meeting God in Scripture to be so helpful.  She refers to her guidance as “training wheels” to help readers move toward meaningful meditation upon the truths of Scripture.

Since at least the 5th century, Christians have referred to four traditional steps in lectio divina:  

  1.  Read (lectio)
  2. Reflect (meditatio)
  3. Respond (oratio)
  4. Rest (contemplatio)

Jan has added Relax and Refocus (silencio) to the beginning and appended Trying it On (incarnatio) to the end, and I found her wording to be extremely helpful in clarifying the intention behind the traditional Latin steps.

For serious students of the Bible, these six steps are likely already happening in some form, however haphazardly.  The point of lectio divina is NOT to add another check list to my life, but, rather, to gently invite me to wonder if my reading of Scripture is grounded in careful thinking about the text.

In Jan Johnson’s forty guided meditations based on brief Scripture passages, she demonstrates not only a method of study, but also a manner of questioning and a leisurely and yet purposeful approach to reading with the intent of changing and deepening the way Christians approach the written Word independently:

Relax and Refocus (Silencio) — Often, Jan poses a question to focus the thoughts on the day’s passage.  Distractions are offered, palms up, to the God who is present and who stands ready to speak to the believer through His inspired Word.  This purposeful pause reinforces the conversational aspect of reading a Living Word.

Read (Lectio) — Here is where we so often go wrong (if we’re not careful).  God’s Word is not for skimming, so reading aloud, reading passages repetitively, and reading with a question in mind are all important slow-me-down safeguards. The goal is for the words to “fall on our ear” in such a way that we perceive what is being said.  Text for all forty passages that Jan examines are included in the book along with helpful explanatory notes.

Reflect (Meditatio) — The questions and cues provided invite the use of sanctified imagination in the reading of a narrative passage and also encourage readers to approach discourse passages on a quest for the particular truth that “shimmers” for them.  God’s invitation, whenever we come to His Word, is to enlarge our understanding of Him through careful reflection on the Truth presented.  Jan teaches her readers how to be a “fly on the wall,” observing, for example, likely facial expressions, the probable responses of gathered crowds, and even the physical details of the setting and the clothing that would have been worn.

Respond (Oratio) — This step brings the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer into one truly God-centered interaction in which we respond to God according to what we believe that we have learned from our careful reading of Scripture.  This response may be verbal, musical, or it may take written form as a journal entry or a drawing.  It may involve questioning God about His ways or thanking Him for some aspect of His character that has been revealed.  The underlying question that drives oratio is:  “What do you most need to say to God at this moment?”

Rest (Comtemplatio) — Here in North America, we have already slammed shut the cover of our Bible and bustled off to our next task long before reaching step five, but Jan emphasizes the importance of simply being present to God, absorbing the truth that has been uncovered, and then responding in worship.  It is helpful to ask at this point, “What was God up to in this passage?” or “Based on what you have read, what is God like?”

Try It On (Incarnatio) — Incarnational faith involves action that arises out of truth.  Jan’s suggestions prime the pump for readers to come up with their own ways to express their living out the truth of a passage.

Integrated throughout Meeting God in Scripture are essays that tackle important questions in the practice of lectio divina.  Having taught the Bible for years, I spent a considerable amount of time reading the essay that compares and contrasts meditation and application.  Both ask, “How does this passage intersect with my life?”  However, meditation is an ongoing conversation with God and results in deep and abiding change in character from the inside out.  Application can tend to be more analytical, left-brained, and temporary unless it is supported by solid Scriptural underpinnings.

Among the other important topics that Jan sorts out and ponders are the sanctified imagination, the role of study in lectio divina, and distinguishing the voice of God from my own mental wool-gathering.

A.W. Tozer said it well:

“[The Bible] is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking . . . If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.”

For those who affirm the truth of this, but find that it is just beyond their present experience,  Meeting God in Scripture is a jumping off point — with a little spring in it — to help students of Scripture become airborne, arcing into a passage, slicing past the surface, and then soaking in the depths of its Truth.

//

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

32 thoughts on “Sacred Reading – Hands On”

  1. One of my goals is to learn the Bible better. However, what is lacking at times is a process or method to aid in digging deeper.

    This book sounds like a great resource to help in digging into Scripture. Thank you as always. Love your heart for reviewing books.

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  2. Jan Johnson is one of my favorite contemplative authors. Her work has truly helped me go deeper and more reflectively into God’s word. I’m excited she has another book out. Funny thing is last night I was asking a friend if they knew Jan, as I would love to ask her for a potential endorsement on a book proposal that’s going out next week. Look forward to reading this. For some reason, I get goobered up when trying to log into WP, but you can find me at GingerHarrington.com.

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    1. This is my first Jan Johnson read, but I’m sure there will be more. I’ve read several books on lectio divina, but Jan’s writing about it and THEN demonstrating the process really made it live for me. I’ll be stopping by your place!

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  3. I tried to leave a comment from my phone but that didn’t work. I have a great desire to dig deeper into Scripture. Learning a process or method to go deeper will aid me to wrap my heard around all God has to teach me. This book sounds like on that will help me and others on this journey to knowing God more.

    As always thank you for your thorough book review and for sharing new insights for your readers.

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    1. Well, this comment made it through just fine, and I appreciate your words about Scripture. The greatest gift that I received from Jan is the encouragement to just slow down and ask God to teach me from a passage. I’m already doing a lot of re-reading and reading out loud, but could sure be a lot more imaginative and reflective in my reading.

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  4. This sounds like a great book. I have read a number of Jan Johnson books, and have enjoyed each one. Her studies are great as well. She is one of my favorites! Thank you for sharing such an informative review! I look forward to getting a copy of it and digging in!!

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  5. This sounds like a great tool. I have always wondered certain things but it does feel like I put those questions on a shelf for later and continue to carry them only to look back and it has been years, and I never went deeper to study these things out. I feel like where I am at I need a beginner’s level almost, so not sure if this would be it? I know Amazon reviews are a good place to read up on people’s thoughts so maybe I can check there too. Thanks for sharing this info, Michele!

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    1. Jan uses examples of her approach to many different Scripture passages to teach us how to study on our own. I think that’s the key – a patient digging for meaning, and a waiting for understanding. We’re so goal-oriented that we value finishing over thoroughness.

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      1. Ohhh that is so true and ouch. That last line got me. I am busy with 3 little ones and it is hard to “soak” in anything. I sure want to, and we are trying to revamp our days to make the important things possible. Thanks. Michele!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your heart of reviewing books Michele! I don’t think this one will make my to read list, but really love how you break things down and help me determine if it’s something I would love to read. I’ve added so many from your reviews to my list! 🙂

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  7. Thanks for sharing this review! I love the picture of reading the Bible in a way that we want the words “to fall on our ears.” I imagine that’s how those hearing Jesus speak understood His parables. Sounds like a great book!

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  8. I love the two additional steps Jan offers — distractions offered, palms up. I’m blessed to have a quiet place to read. It’s my thoughts that cause the most distraction. Beautiful quote to close us out. Thank you, Michele, for sharing your heart and a great resource. xoxo

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  9. Those first two steps are so important. If we don’t quiet our minds and make ourselves fully present before we begin to read, we’ll miss so very much! Thanks for another great review! Blessings!

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  10. Michele, this is such a powerful reminder of the abundance waiting for us when we approach scripture in a more intentional way. It’s so easy to “skim” scripture we’ve read over and over, and yet there is always some new wisdom nugget God has for us. I love this…”The goal is for the words to “fall on our ear” in such a way that we perceive what is being said.” You bless me tremendously every time I’m here!

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  11. Whenever I’ve participated in lectio divina, I benefit so much. So why don’t I do it more? Maybe I’m just lazy. But this inspires me. Love this: “The point of lectio divina is NOT to add another check list to my life, but, rather, to gently invite me to wonder if my reading of Scripture is grounded in careful thinking about the text.” Thanks, Michele!

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  12. I have done Lectio Divina a little bit, but am not that familiar with the practice. I do like the additions at the beginning and the end that Jan has added. Your post is a reminder that I need to be more mindful when reading Scripture. It’s so easy to quickly read a passage and then get on with my day or night depending on when I read it. But I am trying to read more slowly and really engage with the passage, because it’s true that it still speaks to us today.

    Blessings to you, dear Michele! I’m your neighbor at Barbie’s today.

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