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:
- Read (lectio)
- Reflect (meditatio)
- Respond (oratio)
- 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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