Divine Reading: Hearing God’s “Still, Small Voice”
Lectio Divina is a Latin phrase meaning “divine reading.” Kevin Irwin defines Lectio Divina as “...a holy reading of the Scriptures…requiring prayerful reflection on the text leading to communion with God in prayer.” Evan Howard writes, “Lectio is not so much about reading a book as about seeking Someone,” or as Basil Pennington is quoted, “…lectio divina is: letting our Divine Friend speak to us through his inspired and inspiring Word.”
As part of the spiritual discipline of meditation, my wife and I practiced lectio divina yesterday before a time of prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines meditation as a time that “...lets us be alone with the Word…We ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us…We expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally.”
The practice of lectio divina has four parts: 1) lectio (reading); 2) meditatio (meditating); 3) oratio (praying); and 4) contemplatio (contemplation).
First, one might read a chapter, collection of verses, or passage. Often this is done silently but might also be read aloud, allowing one to hear the words as well. Secondly, one should spend time repeating over and over and reflecting deeply on one or several selected verses. Thirdly, one recognizes that “understanding of the text must come from the Spirit who inspired it;” thus, as John Wesley wrote, “our reading should…be closed with prayer, that what we read might be written on our hearts.” Lastly, one sits quietly before God, having read, meditated, and prayed over His Word or the inspiring Words of one of His servants. During this time of contemplation one follows the teachings of George Whitefield who taught,
“We often pray best when we speak least. There are times when the heart is too big to speak…and perhaps the soul is never in a better frame than when, in a holy stillness and unspeakable serenity, it can put itself as a blank in Jesus’ hand, for him to stamp on it just what he pleases.”
Writing about Carthusian abbot, Guigo II and his twelfth-century classic, The Ladder of Monks, Muto summarizes Guigo’s description of the spiritual practice of lectio divina. She writes,
“Turning to the text in the initial act of reading, we pray that the Holy Spirit will open our hearts and enlighten our minds so that we may imbibe, beyond information, the formative meanings disclosed in the text, reading, so to speak, “between the lines” and remaining receptive to the ways in which the Holy Spirit can use the power of the word to touch and transform our lives. We abandon the potentially arrogant position of being a textual expert and become a disciple who not only reads but also prays with these words, who hears them not only in an auditory manner but also with the ears of the heart.”
Recently, my wife and I turned to the Epistle lesson for the week, found in the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of scripture readings, including an Old Testament passage, Psalm, Epistle lesson, and Gospel lesson each week. Each year follows one of the synoptic gospels: Mark, Matthew, or Luke. The Gospel of John is interspersed throughout the three years, especially during the Holy seasons like Lent and Easter. Over the three-year cycle, one reads through much of the Bible. Many Protestant churches use the Revised Common Lectionary as it follows the Christian year and helps churches and pastors not focus simply on familiar and comfortable Biblical texts or jump around helter-skelter in the scriptures. You can follow the Revised Common Lectionary at…
The scripture my wife and I focused on was Romans 12: 9-16.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevere in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
First, I read the scripture aloud several times, slowly as to hear each word, listening for the word or phrase that stuck out each time I read it. What word or phrase was I drawn to each time I heard the scripture read?
The phrase that stood out for me was “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” The phrase that stood out for my wife was, “…persevere in prayer.”
Since these two phrases or scriptures were back to back in the passage read, we focused on the two verses…”Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevere in prayer.”
I lifted these two verses up multiple times and we simply sat quietly, letting the words sink in, applying them to our current situations, issues, and emotions, letting the words speak to us.
Then we prayed, each taking turns, asking God to help us never to be “lacking in zeal,” to keep our enthusiasm, our “spiritual fervor,” for God’s work and His church, regardless of any struggles we might face. We prayed that God would help us, through His Holy Spirit, to “persevere in prayer.” We prayed that God would allow our enthusiasm, our joy, our zeal to be contagious, helping others to get excited about all God is doing and can do.
Lastly, we sat for a few moments quiet, listening, before we said our morning prayers, lifting up our family, friends, and churches, along with our worries and concerns to God.
It is a simply process, yet extremely difficult for so many of us in our hurried pace and busy schedules. What is difficult is that we need to be intentional about making the time. What is difficult is we need to learn to be quiet for awhile and not talk, just listen for God to speak. What is difficult is that sometimes what we hear through His Word, the phrase or scripture that will immediately connect with us, will also challenge us. At times we will not like this.
Lectio Divina is a process to “chew” on God’s Word, allowing it to sink in and attempting to hear what God wants to say to us individually through His Word. As with any practice, the more we do it, the more impactful and successful it will be.
Take time to sit with God this week. Take time to practice the spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina. Allow God’s Word to speak to you. Allow God, Himself, the Creator of the Universe, to speak to you.
Rev. Drew M. Christian