For a number of years now, a group of Melbourne evangelical Anglicans has been hosting quiet days and overnight retreats with the purpose of introducing and sharing prayer practices that are anchored in God’s word. The discipline of creating time and space dedicated to prayer has been welcomed by all who have come.
One of the methods that many have found very helpful is that known as lectio divina, a way of reading short Bible passages slowly and prayerfully. What follows is an introduction to this. May it bring life to your prayer relationship with God.
‘Let us ruminate and as it were chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort and consolation of them.’
These words about meditating on Scripture from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer remind us that many of us have lost the art of the slow reading of Scripture which was well-known to our forebears.
Cranmer described the Scriptures as ‘the fat pastures of the soul’, a place to graze and nourish ourselves. He invites us to ‘as it were chew the cud’ or, if we prefer a carnivorous image, to feed on ‘heavenly meat’. ‘Night and day’ he invites us to ‘muse and have meditation and contemplation in them’.
The sacred reading or lectio divina approach was developed in the early Christian monastic communities as a way of praying Scripture. In its five steps we are invited to read the Scripture text, reflect upon it, then respond to God in prayer. We can remain quietly soaking in the love of God before returning to our everyday life to act upon what we have read. Lectio divina is not a replacement for other forms of Bible study, but is another way of digesting and applying God’s word.
Some guidelines for slow reading of Scripture
Choose a quiet place and begin with prayer or a time of silence. Take a minute or two to put aside distractions so that you can focus on the Lord. Some use a notebook for reflections and prayers.
1. Read (lectio)
Read through the day’s text slowly, attentively and prayerfully. Note anything that particularly stands out to you or draws your attention. You may find it helpful to read the text aloud, or to read it through several times. The slow reading of Scripture is best suited to short passages (up to ten verses).
2. Reflect (meditatio)
Take a few minutes to think over the text. This is the ‘chewing’ stage of your reading and reflection. Mull over it in your mind and heart. What questions does this text raise for you?
3. Respond (oratio)
Talk with the Lord about what you have read, and about your reflections and responses to the text. Ask for a deepening relationship with him, for insight, for courage and strength to follow and serve him.
4. Remain (contemplatio)
Spend a minute or two in the presence of God, soaking in his love for you. You might recall a phrase or idea from your reading. You could play a track from a CD or sit in silence. An upright posture may help you to sit comfortably, or you may prefer to lie on the floor.
5. Return to daily life and gospelling (ruminatio and evangelizatio)
How will this text and your reflection and prayer impact your daily life? Returning through the day to a short phrase or image may help you to carry your insight or experience out into your everyday world.
Jill Firth, Libby Hore-Lacy and Tanya Costello are part of the EFAC planning group that has been offering quiet days and retreats in Melbourne since 2008. Quotes are taken from Thomas Cranmer, ‘A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture’ (1547) and ‘Preface to the Bible’ (1540).