URC :: Spirituality

broadening and deepening prayer
United Reformed Church Spirituality articles:

Slow-reading of scripture

Mark Argent
4 August 2018

Lectio divina — or “holy reading” is a meditative way of reading a passage of scripture. The idea is to read a text slowly, entering deeply into the response to individual words and phrases. One of the strengths of this approach is that it can be used with any passage of scripture, so that it does not depend on the text telling a story. It’s an approach particularly associated with the psalms, but by no means limited to them.

It’s usually easiest to read the passage, then to take a few minutes to enter a deep stillness, perhaps by breathing slowly and deeply or using a mantra. After that preparation, re-read the text, and then read it very slowly, letting as much nourishment as possible from each word or phrase.

Sometimes the end result is to enter into a deep stillness, but more often something happens in the actual responses to the words. If a train of thought is unlocked by a particular word, it is usually worth following it. If the end result is that the whole prayer time is taken up with only part of the reading, this is fine: it is always possible to return to the passage later. At the end of the prayer period it’s helpful to look back over what has happened, and ask how this relates to other things happening in other parts of life, perhaps letting this take the form of a conversation with God.

One helpful summary of Lectio divina is to think of it in four steps: reading, pondering, stillness, and conversation with God.

In the background is an idea going back to the early days of monasticism, when few monks could read. Meditare originally meant “to memorise” and there was a tradition of people being given a word or phrase to remember and be with as they prayed or went about their work, returning to one of the monastics who could read when they were ready to move on.

There is a close parallel between this and the sense of letting the Word speak which lies at the heart of a Reformed approach to preaching, but it is worth resisting the urge to go too far down this path so that lectio divina is reduced to a pathway to sermons. Part of its richness lies in the little drops of nourishment in the fragments as they pass by, which need to be not complete in order to keep the openness for what might come next.