Practicing Lectio Divina

In our corner of the world we are working remotely, staying home, and slowing down in hopes to slow the growth of COVID19 cases. The first week or so was new and sort of exciting but by now it’s set in that life will continue to look different in the coming months. I’m sure we all have mixed feelings about the forced slow-down. I know I do.

If you find yourself in a new rhythm of life, you may also find a little bit more room for family time, walks outside, solitude, preparing meals, or whatever else springs up when you’re at home.

As you recalibrate your routine, consider adding a new (or beloved) form a prayer, lectio divina. This form of prayer can be done individually or with a group.

“By its very nature, meditation is a discipline that enables us to slow down and respond with intentionality to the truth. We might compare this kind of reading to an extended meal that lasts through an evening, where each morsel and course is savored without hurry. We pause, consider, ruminate and take it in at a moderate pace, realizing that if we move too quickly we will miss something important.”

Gordon Smith, The Voice of Jesus
delta-breezes:
“Ann | @ancherdesign
”
photo: pinterest

What is Lectio Divina?

I won’t overcomplicate this type of prayer by getting too detailed, so if you’d like more information I’ll include a few resources at the very bottom. Essentially, there are only 4 elements. All you need is a passage of scripture and a notebook and pen if you’d like to jot down your thoughts.

“…the lectio divina honors the historical and human character of the Bible. It is important to stress that this kind of reading of Scripture takes the nature of the Scriptures seriously…We do not honor the Scriptures when we do not honor the way in which God brought them into being. Scripture has a fundamentally human character that must be respected if we are to appreciate its divine character.”

Gordon Smith, The Voice of Jesus

Lectio

Begin by reading or listening to a passage of scripture. The passage does not need to be too long; 10-15 verses will do. Many suggest reading the passage 2-3 times either silently or aloud.

What is the scripture’s literal meaning?

Meditatio

After reading or listening to the passage, meditate on the text for a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to picture yourself in the passage. Consider how the scripture is relevant in your own life. Does anything stick out?

Where do I see myself in this passage?

Oratio 

When you feel ready, respond with prayer. Aloud or silently, spontaneous or with a prayer book, long or short — how you respond is up to you.

How will I respond to God?

Contemplatio

The final step is to contemplate how to practically apply what you’ve just read, meditated on, and prayed about in your day-to-day life.

Where in my life can I implement what I’ve learned?

Read more:

Guided Lectio Divina

If you’re like me and you like a little structure, here are some resources that might be helpful as you explore what works best for you. Most are relatively short and easy to listen to.

  • Contemplative at Home
    • “Guided meditative prayer sessions which help you slow down and listen for the truth that is being born out of God’s love for you today. Imaginative and contemplative prayer with gospel stories, psalms and other scripture, drawing on Ignatian Spirituality and Lectio Divina.”
  • Being Podcast
    • “You’re a human being, not a human doing. A podcast for taking a moment to just be.”
  • Exploring Peace Meditations
    • “Caring for your soul is vital to living a peace-filled and purposeful life. Join author and host, Whitney R. Simpson, for a regular dose of peace and calm for your breath, body, and spirit as you explore these practical mediations. Using yoga teachings and ancient spiritual tools such as the Prayer of Examen, Lectio Divina, and Breath Prayer, allow Whitney to companion you on your spiritual formation journey.”
  • The Slow Word Movement Lectio Divina
    • “Savor the scriptures with lectio divina with host and spiritual director, Summer Gross.”
  • slō
    • “This is a facilitated space for you to slow down and be still in the presence of God. Whether you are listening with a group, on your way to work, cleaning your house, or in a focused time of devotion, may your heart and mind be filled with peace.”
  • Exhale
    • A contemplative prayer podcast led by Pastor Faith Romasco.

Music

If you need some music to accompany your lectio divina or other forms of prayer or scripture study, here’s a few to get you started:

On Earth, Lissom, Salt of the Sound, Rhys Machell, as well as this album.

If you’ve prayed in this way, I’d love to hear about it!

Using the Book of Common Prayer and Other Prayer Books

How were you taught to pray?

I wasn’t so much directly instructed on how to as much as I watched how others prayed at church, before meals, and often before class. Spontaneous prayer was a frequent choice and sometimes the Psalms were used. People usually spoke from their heart and used common phrases of gratitude and names for God.

Another form of prayer was introduced to me in college through the Book of Common Prayer, which I describe more below. I wasn’t sure why it was being used or where it stood compared to scripture but I was intrigued. Could you really pray while you were reading the words from a page?

I soon discovered prayer books don’t replace scripture, nor do they replace spontaneous prayer or induce a “scripted faith” — they simply offer ways to draw closer to God through community. You may read the prayers alone or corporately. Either way you’re connected to the communal liturgy and broader (sometimes ancient) worship of the church. Sometimes I don’t have all the words to express how I’m feeling or what I’m sensing; a prayer book invites me into the prayer of another and reminds me I’m not alone.

photo: Lilian Dibbern

Here are a few I’ve picked up over the last couple years.

Book Of Common Prayer

This book shapes most of our regular Sunday services in our episcopal parish. There are many other churches who use prayers from this book, too. Perhaps this is one of the most popular, oldest prayer books out there and for good reason, no doubt. There are morning and evening prayers, daily devotionals, collects, creeds, Psalms, prayers for confirmation, baptism, marriage, ordination, sickness, thanksgiving death, church planting, and more.

Although somber, one of the most meaningful prayers for me is one we pray corporately every Sunday.

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in though, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

— Book of Common Prayer, pages 359-360

(There is an album where some of these prayers are sung. It’s lovely.)

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

This is a beautiful collection of art, songs, and prayers. This prayer book also includes morning and evening prayers, as well as occasional prayers, but what is special about this particular book is one’s ability to use it as a daily devotional. It begins at the start of the liturgical year, the first day of Advent in December. Each day is a liturgy with prayers, a scripture reading, a brief paragraph on someone in church history, a space to pray for others, the Lord’s Prayer, and some include a song. (The sheet music is included in the back!) Each month has a theme and piece of artwork.

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.”

— Common Prayer

(Someone created a playlist with all the songs used in this prayer book.)

Every Moment Holy

This might be my current favorite. There’s a prayer for everything; the artwork is stunning. You’ll find occasional liturgies as well as prayers during the loss of electricity, for those who feel awkward in social gatherings, and a table blessing for each day of the week.

I’ll allow it to speak for itself. This is an excerpt from A Liturgy for Changing Diapers I:

“…I am not just changing a diaper. By love and service I am tending a budding heart that, rooted early in such grace-filled devotion, might one day be more readily-inclined to bow to your compassionate conviction — knowing itself then as both a receptacle and a reservoir of heavenly grace… So take this unremarkable act of necessary service, O Christ, and in your economy let it be multiplied into that greater outworking of worship and of faith, a true investment in the incremental advance of your kingdom across generations…”

— A Liturgy for Changing Diapers I, pages 53-55

Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants

This one doesn’t have the same visual beauty as the last two books, but it does have a thorough devotional quality. Its outline follows the rhythm of the liturgical calendar with various scripture readings and quotes from authors, artists, and theologians. The general focus is geared towards those who serve in the church but I think most anyone would benefit from it if they enjoyed the style.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

This prayer book was given to us by a dear friend. The style is more traditional than the other books mentioned here but it could appeal to a variety of traditions. It lists short prayers by topic or emotion, and also includes morning and evening prayers. The book itself is small and leather-bound, which makes it handy to slip into a backpack or purse for everyday use.

“…May the truth that is in him illuminate in me all that is dark, establish in me all that is wavering, comfort in me all that is wretched, accomplish in me all that is of thy goodness, and glorify in me the name of Jesus… Uphold my steps by thy Word. Let no iniquity dominate me…”

— “Truth in Jesus,” pages 308-309

Prayer: Forty Days of Practice

Again, art and prayer are means for inspiration and reflection. Created by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson, this is a small, but powerful, book. These prayers are shorter, maybe a few lines or half a page, but they certainly give you enough to think on. I’ve shared many of Erickson’s pieces on my Instagram in the past.

“May it be enough for me to see God in the world.”

— Prayer 35

How do you pray? Do you use a prayer book?

What is Spiritual Direction?

Although this may be your first formal introduction, you may have already received or given spiritual direction. Perhaps you’ve consulted a pastor or spiritual leader for advice. Maybe you made time and space to listen to a friend. “Spiritual direction”, in my opinion, is a fancy term for something we do or look for all the time: companionship.

Spiritual direction is spiritual companionship, not clinical counseling.

Spiritual direction is holy listening, not a bible study.

Spiritual direction is meant to be nourishment for your soul, not a one-size-fits-all formula.

This chart is a very helpful comparison between spiritual direction, discipleship, counseling, and other similar relationships. There is no universal solution to life’s questions and therefore no superior approach.

“The environment of spiritual direction, then, is affirming and encouraging, but it is also a place of authenticity. In spiritual direction we look at the truth of our present situation and experience. The question asked is not “What should be happening in my life?” but “What is happening in my life?” We look for God here, now, because the place where we are in our lives is the place where we find God.”

Alice Fryling

Who are spiritual directors?

Some spiritual directors are trained through specialty programs or master degrees and others appear in the form of untrained, but sage friends or leaders. Some receive payment for their time and have warm, inviting offices. Others generously offer to listen for no formal compensation in settings like living rooms or coffee shops. Spiritual direction can happen in groups or among individuals. There are all types of combinations.

One common thread in each combination is the dedication of time and space to listen. Spiritual directors listen to seekers. Seekers learn to hear and listen to God, the ultimate “spiritual director.” (Yes, this may sound corny, but it’s true!)

Meetings may begin with an open ended question like, “What is the state of your soul?” or “What has caused life to pour into you, recently?” Some meetings are filled with silence. That’s ok, too. Sometimes (most of the time?) we don’t have all the answers.

“The opportunity to tell our story opens us to hear God’s story more deeply – God’s presence and participation in our lives and in the life of the world. In God all human stories connect and when we participate in spiritual direction, we seem to notice more of the connections.”

Jeannette A. Bakke

Is spiritual direction a new practice?

Spiritual direction is far from new. There are examples in Christian scripture and throughout church history.

It’s also not exclusively Christian and there’s no particular denominational affiliation. Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and other eastern religions can practice spiritual direction.

“Spiritual direction is a way of companioning people as they seek to look closely, through the eyes of their hearts, at the guidance and transforming work of God in their lives. It’s a practice that began in the early years of Christianity when people followed the desert mothers and fathers out to the wilderness to ask them how to know God. Over the years, spiritual direction has appeared in many faith traditions. It was kept alive in the Christian faith mainly through the Roman Catholic Church, but today the Protestant church is rediscovering it. People throughout the Christian church, including those of an evangelical orientation, are experiencing again the gifts that God gives to his people through the loving listening and the gentle guidance of spiritual directors.”

Alice Fryling

What does this mean for me?

Have you wondered where God is leading or inviting you? Do you have questions regarding faith or spirituality? Do you feel confident in your faith life, but might be curious for a new approach or perspective? Are you interested in new approaches to prayer or spiritual disciplines? Do you have a desire to nurture your soul?

If you felt drawn to one or any number of these questions, spiritual direction is for you!

Looking for other spiritual formation resources?

This was a brief introduction, so just in case you’re still curious:

An Invitation to Doubt What You Believe

The peak of my conservative, evangelical education included several weeks at a Christian apologetics summer camp while in high school and later as a freshman in college. Those weeks included hiking in Colorado, eating my weight in delicious frozen custard, and learning the conservative evangelical script for hot-button political issues. As the years went on and I lived a little more life, I ran into what some call a “crisis of faith” and was forced to again reconsider what I’d been taught, directly and implicitly, not only in summer camp but in Sunday school and my private Christian education thus far. The script wasn’t helping.

Admitting “I don’t know” can put you in hot water, especially in some evangelical circles. Knowing this, I quietly practiced those 3.5 words as I explored the rest of my college experience, got married, and worked a “real” job. Even as I entered my first few seminary classes I was desperate to cling onto some of that script I’d learned. I assumed that to admit uncertainty was to be either uneducated or too progressive, I might as well become an atheist!

“Most of us come to the church by a means the church does not allow.”

Flannery O’Connor

Turns out, I wasn’t alone. I found others who expressed concern or confusion over what was commonly accepted in the church. I was relieved and hopeful, but also sad. A faith crisis (or the act of doubting or deconstructing spiritual beliefs) is not usually linear. My faith has both peacefully and horrifically evolved over my brief lifetime with new questions, different experiences, and new perspectives. It’s been a cycle of death, lament, and new life.

Death and resurrection shape the Christian faith, literally and metaphorically. Doubt is a piece of this cycle. Are we not called to resist the urge to conform, be “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” and die to ourselves? Isn’t doubt necessary for death and transformation to occur? Perhaps like me, you had/have some idols that need to die, that you need to doubt.

Maybe white Jesus isn’t real.

Maybe Christian nationalism isn’t patriotic.

Maybe God isn’t male.

Maybe Christianity isn’t monolithic.

Maybe science and faith can work together.

Maybe the Bible isn’t clear.

I’m learning to hold the answers loosely and ask a few more questions with holy curiosity, as some might call it. “Always write your theology in pencil!” a beloved professor used to say. Even the most elaborate pencil marks can be edited or erased to make room for better theology and better practices. And because of my doubt, and the willingness to erase some “certainties,” my faith continues to grow deeper.

In my experience, faith isn’t certainty and doubt isn’t apostasy. Faith is the risk of finding joy, beauty and contentment while living in the midst of unanswered questions. Faith is vulnerable and messy, colorful and dynamic, not always chiseled in stone or black and white.

“…because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

A note to the church.

I’ve let go of plenty of unhealthy beliefs (with more to go, I’m sure) and held on to some important ones. Perhaps these things are different than what you’ve held on to. That’s ok. And while I don’t feel like we should romanticize doubt or prolong it unnecessarily, I do think the evangelical church can do better by avoiding the all-or-nothing, black or white, in or out, us and them approach to Christian spirituality.

The church is not for those who are certain or sinless. The church is (or should be) a gathering of sin-sick people, even those with questions and disbelief, searching for wholeness and hope. Is there room in your pews for those experiencing seasons of wilderness? or lament? or silence?

“To a healthy faith doubt is a healthy challenge.”

Os Guinness, In Two Minds

We need to stop being so surprised by doubt. Jesus did not come for those who “have it all together” but instead came to offer healing and rest to those with heavy weights on their hearts, minds, and bodies. If we’re honest, these weights find us again and again in life in different ways. Suffering, pain, doubt, and grief are a reality in this world. Do our congregations, sermons, worship and outreach practices, and theology reflect this?

To those who are unsure.

If you are challenged by what you read in the Bible or what you’ve been taught in your faith community allow me to invite you to ask your hardest questions. You are not alone.

I recognize your church or family may not be a safe place to express your dissatisfaction or pain but please search for supportive spaces that are. (There are many, many online communities!) If we can learn anything from the Psalms, Job, or even Jesus’ disciples in the Bible, God is not afraid of our questions.

Read a bit more:

Crafting a Mission Statement for Marriage

On the topic of marriage, one of the more meaningful topics Aaron and I have recently discussed was a mission statement. It’s come up at a perfect time, too. We’ve been challenged in recent months to be more mindful in our relationship, vocation, and patterns of rest. A mission statement, although kind of corny upon my first impression, (can we find another name!?) has offered renewed focus as we enter our fourth year of married life.

Similar to developing a rule of life, a mission statement considers several categories. Aaron and I opted to keep it simple and chose to include spirituality, the physical body, the heart, and the mind. (We also included a statement that introduced the categories we chose.) You might prefer more general or specific areas. Just like the rule of life, this should relate to your particular context.

photo: steven schultz

This activity may stir up easy and not-so easy conversations. These are important but if you find yourself continually down the rabbit trail, focus on the ultimate goals for the relationship. What’s the big picture? How would you like to be remembered? This statement can be helpful by showing you where you’d like to go as a couple, even if your present circumstances aren’t what you’d like them to be.

Here’s a few questions to get you started:

  • What makes you come alive, as an individual/couple?
  • What factors strengthen the relationship?
  • Where do you want to grow together?
  • Where would you like to be in 20 years? 40 years?
  • Who would you like to be known as?

Below you’ll find the current state of our mission statement with a few descriptions. We expect it to adjust as we grow together and potentially expand our family. I hope that you’ll be encouraged and inspired to write one for your own relationship.

We aim to humbly honor the complete imago dei found in each person, in spirit, body, heart, and mind – reflecting the Trinity, which has no hierarchy. (In this introductory statement it was important for us to recognize each other as whole, individual reflections of God. We do not believe the act of marriage “completes” us, nor do we believe hierarchy, especially gender-based, is appropriate in our marriage.

We aim to engage with scripture, as well as offer up holy questions and creativity, to grow closer to the Creator and in our worship and witness to God’s eternal faithfulness. (We believe embracing uncertainty and mystery, as well as divine creativity and curiosity, is important to our faith and study of the Bible. It is also important to us that we refer to God with gender-neutral language whenever possible.)

We aim to holistically care for and share our bodies with love, respect, and wonder. With proper nourishment and rest we hope to be sources of generous hospitality for one another and others. (Although we have very different methods of achieving physical health, we both believe our bodies are extremely important to not only our individual wellbeing and also communal wellbeing in marriage and society. We recognize the human body is impressionable and powerful – something that requires deep respect and care. Physical spaces are important too, and significantly impact all other areas of life, thus our hope of generous hospitality either in presence or place.)

We aim to listen to one another empathetically, speak to the other with gentleness, and strengthen each other with truth and patience. (We could list the fruit of the spirit in this category but we’ll save that for another day. Both Aaron and I feel our emotions pretty deeply, and I’m stubborn as hell, so this is something we’re actively working on.)

We aim to pursue wisdom through thoughtful study of scripture and our world, in history and present day. We encourage the exploration of art, ideas, and stories to sharpen our minds (and imagination), direct our energy, and increase compassion for others. (Thoughtfulness and intellect are God-given gifts that we believe should be encouraged and continually developed in marriage. We hope to be lifelong learners.)

I only include the italicized descriptions for the purpose of this post, otherwise this statement isn’t too long. Your statement can be playful and concise, or detailed and romantic – as long as it reflects your mutual vision for marriage.

I created a reminder for us to hang somewhere in our home. (Still figuring out the perfect spot.) If you’re up for sharing, I’d love to see or hear about yours!