When the poet T.S. Eliot converted to Anglicanism and was trying to explain his love of prayer to Virginia Woolf, he summed up the essence of prayer as “to concentrate, to forget self, to attain union with God.” As an agnostic, she didn’t quite get it. Though I am a Christian, I’m not at all sure I do either.
Lectio divina, our spiritual practice for April, is a way in to that union. It's a method of reading Scripture that involves deep rumination over small passages rather than quick informational reading or mastery. As I indicated in Flunking Sainthood, however, it's harder to implement in practice than it is to read about it in theory.
Lectio divina is divided into four stages, and this month we'll take up one each Wednesday:
- Lectio (reading the text)
- Meditatio (meditating the text)
- Oratio (praying the text)
- Contemplatio (living the text)
The first stage, lectio ("LEX-ee-oh") seems at the surface the easiest of all. I love reading, always have. Some of my defining moments in childhood revolve around losing myself in books in ways that might be similar to the kind of self-forgetting T.S. Eliot described about prayer.
But I don't routinely read scripture in the way I read fiction. As Eugene Peterson noted in an interview I did with him last month, this is a serious problem. That's because I typically come to fiction expecting to be changed, or at least transported beyond myself. I approach Scripture as a task that I know is good for me, like eating more bran.
This month as I revisit lectio divina, I'm focusing on Jesus' parables in the Gospel of Luke. This first stage of lectio involves reading the passage slowly, multiple times, after praying for God to prepare our hearts to be changed. After reading, we ask ourselves: What one word or phrase jumped out at me from this passage? What touched my heart?
The image of a woman reading a book is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.