The Word is also effective. It is the “living and active” Means by which God “accomplishes what He desires and achieves His purposes.” Indeed, the Word is the agent through which our petitions to have “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” find fulfillment. The Word is effective.
Luther captured these thoughts when he said, “The Word says what it does and does what it says.” This prompts a question every Christian should ask, “Is there a way for it to do its thing in and through me?” The answer-Yes.
Lectio Divina (roughly translated, “holy reading”) is an ancient method that has been employed by Christians for over 1500 years. Luther practiced this method throughout his career and ended up reforming it so it would be a useful method for believers. Together with his translation of the Bible into German and the catechetical tools he produced, Luther worked to get Christians into the Word so the Word would get into them and become the Word out of them in the form of love for others.
Lectio Divina is composed of four elements.
Literally this means “read,” but it is better understood as “listen.” The reader understands that God speaks through His Word. The Holy Spirit, who “carried along” the original authors of the text, continues to guide contemporary readers with a “still, small voice” each time their eyes travel across a page. Reading is done slowly, gently, expectantly; anticipating the penetrating truth and beauty described in Hebrews 4:12. Rainer Maria Rilke says, “This requires a reader who does not always remain bent over his pages. Instead, he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood.”
The reader reflects on details surrounding the historical and cultural context (ex. Why would the Samaritan woman of John 4 be out collecting water alone in the heat of the day?)
He explores what lies behind a significant phrases (“living water” in v10).
He lets the text formulate questions and then listens for their answer (v21-24, If the place, Mt Gerizim in Samaria or Mt Moriah in Jerusalem, does not determine true worship, what does? Truth does. Where is Truth found? John 14:6-true worship is centered on and offered through Jesus Christ.)
Lectio encourages us to savor the Word with delight, allowing it’s sweetness to dissolve and be absorbed by our mind, heart and the very fiber of our being.
Means what it sounds like, “meditation.” In this element the reader transitions from examining the words of the text to entering the world of the text. He has taken the text into himself and now the text takes him into itself. This places the reader into a Scriptural event and lets the event play itself out in his imagination. The reader “steps into the sandals” of someone present in the narrative and sees through the person’s eyes and hears through their ears (ex. What would the Samaritan woman who had gone through five husbands been treated like by her townsfolk? How quickly are a person’s poor decisions and mistakes forgotten in a small community? How would living with that kind of baggage feel?)
Next, the reader overlays their own personal story over the Biblical one and seeks commonalities. They listen for echoes that connect them to the original audience whom Jesus taught, touched, corrected, healed and loved. Associating oneself with a character present in the text helps the reader to receive for themselves the ministry of Jesus (Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well. Instead, He offered her God’s limitless, flowing, cleansing, satisfying love in the form of “living water.” Do I have a history of poor decisions? God forgives. Have I looked for value and validation in people and things that cannot offer it? God can…and does.)
This literally means “prayer.” This element reminds the reader that they are invited into an active dialogue every time they open the Bible. God takes the initiative. In the first two elements of the method the Holy Spirit speaks, guides, instructs and comforts. Through the words of the text and then the world of the text, the reader personally experiences the truth and love of God. The reader then responds. He speaks back to God. In this part of the dialogue his speaking may come in words, ideas, emotions, even images. These express what we are learning about ourselves and God through the method (ex. “Father in heaven, I have looked in many different places to quench the thirst that burns deep within me. I have looked to relationships-expecting another person to make me complete. I have looked to material stuff-thinking a house could make me secure. How could I ever be so foolish! I have made so many poor decisions and looked in so many wrong places and still left thirsty. Living Water…I need it! Quench my thirst with your love. The moment I sense a dryness within me turn me again to the fountain of your promises and let me drink deeply. Satisfy me….fill me to overflowing with your love. I pray this through Jesus. Amen”)
Some readers may feel inadequate when first engaging in this element of the method. The readers should remind themselves that this is not a graded performance. Rather, this is a conversation with a loving friend. The beginnings may seem awkward, but the depth of the dialogue will deepen over time as the participants share more and more of themselves.
Some proponents of this method describe this final element as the achievement of a mystical level of spiritual knowledge and communion with God. They liken this level to a change of consciousness. This language and understanding should make you uncomfortable. Luther had difficulty with it, too. He reformed this element and called it Tentatio, which means “suffering and temptation.” Sounds very “Luther-an,” doesn’t it? Luther experienced that the closer we are drawn to God through reading, meditating, and praying, the more we will encounter resistance from our sinful flesh and the Devil. I do not disagree. Luther said this conflict should drive us back into the Word where we find God’s resources for this conflict and not out of the Word where we are left empty-handed in this spiritual struggle. This method will reveal our weaknesses. Staying in the Word reveals and imparts God’s surpassing compassion and strength.
I suggest yet another way of understanding this final element. Lectio Divina is intended to get the Word into our muscles and bones and lungs and heart. The reader himself become more and more a “letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor 3:3)” The reader takes the Word into him so he can take the Word out and live it in the world. Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “A contemplative life is perforce an everyday life, of small fidelities and services performed in the spirit of love, which lightens our tasks and gives to them its warmth.” This element makes the reader a doer of the Word as well as a hearer of it. He joins with Mary in confessing, “Let it be to me according to your Word.”
Living out the text is an extension of the Lutheran teaching on Vocation. Unlike the previous three elements, this one is not something we deliberately orchestrate nor one I can easily describe through an example. The expressions of this element are as unique and diverse as the people who follow Christ. We can be ready for it and prepare for it, but we cannot prescribe or dictate it. This means it is unscheduled and often unnoticed. It is manifestation of who you are as a Christian and example of God’s ongoing work in you.
This method will be imperfectly followed and expressed because we are imperfect people. That very imperfection calls us back to the Word to listen again to the One who loves. That love moves us to respond in living it, though imperfectly, and the cycle begins again.