“Four minutes is a long time,” one of the retreatants told me in surprise last month when I led lectio divina in a group for the first time. But even over the course of our 24-hour retreat, the silent reflection of the “meditatio” step began to feel like a gift.
Coming second in the four stages of lectio divina, meditatio (meditating on the text) is the beginning of the middle. And as I have learned recently from Lauren Winner’s memoir Still, the middle can be a surprisingly fruitful, even revelatory, place to be. But middles are also difficult. There is a settling in, a kind of hushed expectation, as we wait for the text to speak to us. We don’t quite know what is about to happen, and that can be uncomfortable.
At the women’s retreat where I led lectio divina, we did two different passages, alternating reading the texts aloud with periods of silence. And yes, in that context, four minutes is a long time. You wonder if you are “doing it right,” and then chastise yourself for wondering (and wandering). But what’s interesting is that even in a brief time of group practice, four minutes begins to feel much shorter than it did at the beginning.
Meditatio is the stage where you begin to really chew on the passage you’ve just heard. What word or phrase jumped out at you? What might it mean for your life? One of our passages on the retreat, for example, was Jesus reassuring his followers about the futility of worry and anxiety—something a majority of contemporary women resonate with personally.
But meditatio is also the stage where any problems or issues you might have with a particular part of scripture all come to a head. When I tried lectio for Flunking Sainthood, this is when I realized that there were parts of the Bible that made me deeply uncomfortable. In fact, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark often sounded incredibly pissed off. Here’s what Emergent writer Debbie Blue says:
The Bible isn’t really at all good at being an instruction manual. It’s good at leading us into a tangle of wild poetry, heartbreaking stories, contradictions, twists and turns, the concrete struggles of a vast array of unruly, disparate human beings being sought after by God. . . .The Bible isn’t a cage that contains God, making God available to take out or hang in our living room, it’s a witness to the fecund, ungraspable Other (and our relationship to that Other).
Debbie Blue, From Stone to Living Word: Letting the Bible Live Again
I love that quote because at its best, meditatio—and indeed, all of lectio divina—has the potential to let God out of whatever domesticated boxes we’ve designed to safely hold divinity. Scripture can become the dangerous witness that Blue suggests, pointing to the “fecund, ungraspable Other.”
That’s a lot to accomplish in a few minutes of silence. But more than any session of lectio I ever attempted on my own, doing it together with a group of women gave me a glimpse of what deep scriptural meditation can feel like. A free-range God met me there.
The image of a woman praying is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.