Lectio Divina for the Doctrinal, Mystical Seminarian

by on February 12, 2016

As part of my two-year Internship process for my seminary, each semester there is a particular Christian Spirituality practice we are to do regularly. We have done the Ignatian Examen and the Daily Office. This semester, we are doing an ancient process of sacred reading called Lectio Divina. Here’s a really great video summarizing it:

I have found this to be the most life-giving–as well as most difficult–practice of spirituality I’ve done while in seminary. And the more I do it, the more I’m convinced that this particular practice is suited so well for every seminarian to cultivate deeply in their own spiritual lives.

Now, approaching a discipline like this heightens many of the unique differences with the ways we are wired. I think I am uniquely bent towards both typical extremes you may encounter as a seminarian approaching Lectio Divina for the first time.

On one hand, you have the spiritual wiring that many seminarians probably resonate with where there is lots of content or stuff to “get through”. You know that type of devotional time: you have a series of prayers, a few paragraphs of a devotional, a set Scripture reading, etc.

In other words, you have a bunch of things you have to engage with. If you’re like me, and your mind races very quickly, the “content” of the Book of Common Prayer, a Lectionary, or a devotional can feel more like I’m skipping along the top of the water; skipping from the Opening to Sentences to the Confession to the Psalm to the Reading to the Our Father to the Collect to the end. Skip. Skip. Skip.

I feel I need lots of time to really settle into those things in a way that really connects me with God. Often, it’s only after I’m done with the prescribed discipline that I feel I can step back from those things to commune with the Spirit.

These resources are helpful to give me “guardrails” of sorts so I don’t spin out in my thinking, and so I have a telos for my time; and I’m confident they shape and form me deeply even while I’m scattered. But still, there’s a mysticism often lacking in those disciplines.

On the other hand, I have also found a lot of great times with meditation, silence, music, breath prayers, and even praying in tongues (GASP!). These are, in a sense, “content-less” ways of engaging with God. It clears my mind, it’s embodied, and rather than skipping, it’s like floating and sinking into the depths of the Spirit.

And yet, the downside to this is its subjectivity, of course. It’s not rooted in God’s primary means of making himself known–the Scriptures. It can easily turn into a navel-gazing focus on self and experience, rather than on God.

I think most seminarians can resonate with one or both of those extremes. We like to be guided by content into our spirituality with God, or we long for a mystical communion without words or prescribed “stuff”.

For both of those groups, Lectio Divina is a great help. 

Lectio Divina is going deep with content. As a protest to the urban, secular context, it is not about what is produced, or what you “get through”. You could sit in one verse or one chapter, and that’s okay.

For me, the hardest part, is fighting the propensity to judge the quality of a “Scripture-based” discipline by the quantity of text gone through, rather than the quality of time spent with it. This makes Lectio Divina really hard.

For example, I had to preach recently on all of Hebrews 11 into the first few verses of chapter 12. I tried to do Lectio Divina through all of that (40 some-odd verses), and….well, that’s not really advised.

So if you’re looking for a Scripture-based spiritual discipline of depth, I have so far not found a better ancient practice than Lectio Divina. Read up on it and give it a chance. If you want to go even deeper, for my internship we’ve been reading through David Benner’s Opening to God: Lectio Divina & Life as Prayer.

Lastly, I’ll say that Father Martin video was so good, that we’re using his way of approaching Lectio Divina as a primary way of guiding our home group sermon discussions this year. We’re exploring all the possible applications of this ancient practice and trying to press it deeply into both our personal and communal lives.

Have you ever done Lectio Divina? What have you enjoyed about it? What do you anticipate being the hardest part about it?

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About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.