What happens when a group of modern LDS women attempt an ancient monastic spiritual practice, reading scripture in a contemplative way?
This weekend I’m going to find out, as I’m the keynote speaker at a Mormon women’s retreat in Ohio. The main focus of my remarks will be about how spiritual practices can enrich our lives even when done imperfectly, as was my experience when researching the book that became Flunking Sainthood. I also volunteered to lead a separate workshop on lectio divina if there was any interest among the retreat participants.
I wasn’t at all sure there would be, because to my knowledge lectio divina has rarely or never been practiced among Latter-day Saints. I wasn’t even sure that people would know recognize what it was. I didn’t want to try lectio in the large group setting in case anyone felt uncomfortable with it; no one should ever feel forced to try a new spiritual practice, especially in a group. But I thought offering the workshop separately could accommodate women who wanted to try it while not offending those who did not.
Lectio divina was listed as one of many possible workshops on the retreat’s website, where attendees were encouraged to vote on the ones that would interest them the most. Surprisingly, lectio divina was the top vote-getter. Wow!
What this tells me is that I’m not alone in craving a deeper engagement with the Scriptures. In Mormon life, we’re encouraged to read the Scriptures daily, and many Mormons do engage in this life-giving spiritual practice. But some feel uninspired by it, hurrying through some morning verses as they pack kids’ lunches or try to haul everyone out of bed. It becomes more of an obligation than a rejuvenation. Others enjoy reading the Scriptures, but in a way that is more informational than transformational. (I am in this category.) Still others—I have gotten some emails from these people—don’t read the Scriptures much at all because they either don’t understand them or have too many issues with organized religion to keep trying.
I don’t think that lectio divina is a cure-all for these acedic maladies that befall us as we try (or don’t) to live a more spiritual life. I don’t do lectio every day, or even every week. But it was one of the more potent practices I took away from my year of flunking sainthood, especially when done in groups. There is something beautiful about being read to, about group silence, about focused prayer that asks God to steal into our hearts in a new way.
“Reading seeks for sweetness of a blessed life, meditation perceives it, prayer asks for it, contemplation tastes it. Reading, as it were, puts food whole into the mouth, meditation chews it and breaks it up, prayer extracts its flavor, contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes.”
--- Carthusian monk Guigo II (often credited with founding or at least popularizing lectio divina)
The image of praying the Scriptures is used by permission of Shutterstock.com.