Continuing to Listen to Scripture
Several years ago, I posted a seminary reflection I wrote on Listening to Scripture. In it, I mentioned the following struggle with the ancient practice of lectio divina: "It is easier to sit at a desk with exegetical tools dissecting a passage of Scripture than it is to sit with a journal and read out loud, expecting God to speak to you. In strict exegesis, I can maintain a semblance of control, but I cannot control the voice of God speaking out of the text." I wanted to follow-up specifically on this experience, but first, to explain lectio divina.
Lectio divina is an ancient monastic practice of reading Scripture and is pretty simple. It begins by sitting silently in God's presence while relaxing and quieting your mind. Then you read the Scripture passage slowly, out loud, and write down what jumps out at you. Then you read the passage out loud a second time, asking God what it is He is speaking to you and writing down what seems to be the answer. On your last reading of the passage, you pray in response to what God seems to be saying to you. Then you spend time in silence, resting in God speaking to you through Scripture (see Adele Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, pp. 168-169).
I recently spent time practicing lectio divina on a number of passages related to the atonement following a time of carefully studying the doctrine (a lot of the fruit of this study is in my series, Why Did Jesus Die?). I found this to be a fruitful and life-giving time. A key difference between this time of lectio divina and my previous attempts is that I utilized the practice after carefully studying the subjects and the text. I felt familiar with the text in a way that kept the practice from being, "What does this passage mean to me?" I could understand what the passage was saying and ask God how He was speaking that particular message to me. I found it more fruitful to study first and spend time praying with the text second. It allowed the text to speak in its own historic, cultural, and grammatical way. Yet following that up with lectio divina kept it from being a process of dissecting the passage with the right tools, but an encounter with the living God who inspired them.
I did not find I generally had the same struggles prayerfully paying attention to the text as I did previous attempts. However, I found I struggled to be present to Scripture when I utilized the same approach multiple days in a row. Lectio divina itself could become a routine or a tool for generating a particular kind of experience. Lectio divina is a wonderful practice to pray through Scripture. However, it is not the only method of praying through the Bible and can grow stale as any other practice. I found when I did it every couple of days, it was a much richer experience that allowed the text to remain alive to me rather than something I could dissect with exegesis or lectio divina alone.