We are a doing people. Aren’t we?
I’m not sure when I took to the notion that the quantity of my spiritual striving mattered more than the quality of my spiritual rest, but somewhere along the way, I did. The ethos of doing, doing, always doing, took root in my life, and those roots stretched deep. Serve more; pray more; feed more people; lead more worship; start another study group; read the Bible; read the Bible; for the love of God read the Bible–mine was a practice of devotion by action and performance, by tugging up on the bootstraps, by ever-employing that good old protestant work ethic.
Ah, the Protestant Work Ethic.
According to our good friends at Wikipedia, the Protestant Work Ethic “is a concept in theology, sociology,economics, and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith….” It is an undergirding construct, often implied but less often spoken, and it finds its application in both vocation and spiritual discipline. Simply put, protestant Christians work out their salvation with fear and trembling; they don’t get so mucked up in the rites, ceremonies, and sacraments of our more liturgical brothers and sisters. Right?
Do you wonder whether the protestant work ethic has influenced your Christianity? Ask yourself–do you recall the days of scripture memory quizzes, Bible drills, and reading challenges. I do. Conversely, do remember times of silent listening, of slow and contemplative scripture reading, of meditation on the Psalms? I’ll be honest. I don’t. And all this pragmatic working out of my faith, the do-do-do and more-more-more of my southern protestant Christianity, made for a pretty haggard soul.
So much for finding. (Matt. 11:28-30)
In the early days of my sobriety, a good and right therapist challenged me to sit in the silence with God, to cease striving and begin listening. The practice was simple, he said. Ask God to speak, sit in the silence, and then consider his voice. In my first attempts, the anxieties of the day came to roost, cacophony of crows as they were. These anxieties were too much, and they drowned out the Spirit’s voice. Needing a way to silence the noise, I turned to scripture as a way to anchor my thoughts. I didn’t come to the Bible in the way I’d been taught growing up, though. I didn’t blast through three chapters of my Bible-in-a-Year chart hoping a that some verse would leap off the page and come to the rescue. Instead, I took a more restful approach.
I began my time by sitting in my high-backed chair after the children had gone to bed. After a few moments of silence, of allowing the anxieties to shriek from the edges, I opened my Bible, picked a small passage of scripture, and read. I read the verses twice, perhaps a third time. I prayed, asking God to still my mind and speak to me through the words and phrases of the passage, and then I sat in the silence and waited. And using the scripture as an anchor, I found an amazing thing–the anxieties of the day seemed to retreat. Mind quieted, only the scripture spoke.
This was my first encounter with a smaller, quieter, more restful sort of scripture reading. This was my first real encounter with lectio divina.
The term lectio divina is a horned-rimmed, blazer-wearing, three-dollar phrase meaning “divine reading.” The practice traces its roots back to primitive Christianity. As stated by Greg Russinger and Lisa Kelly in the Lectio Divina Journal,
“lectio divina comes to us from the earliest days of the church; in the third century Origen used the Greek phrase thea anagnosis (divine reading) to describe a way of approaching Scripture for the purpose of finding a personal message for God. This practice became more wide spread when the desert fathers and mothers made the Word of God the basis for their prayer lives, and shortly after this Saint Benedict made the practice of lectio divina central to Western monasticism.”
Lectio divina is not just a historical practice of the church, though. Instead, it’s a way of contemplative scripture reading still used by Christians today. How does it work? I’m glad you asked.
Though the practice of lectio divina could be parsed in different ways, Russinger and Kelly suggest the essential elements are 1) the reading of the text, 2) reflection on the text, 3) responding to the text, 4) resting in the text, and 5) journaling the text. The goal of the practice is less about the do, do, do of the reading (though there is some practical element of effort expended) and more about resting in the text. This being the case, the portions of scripture contemplated are much smaller, and greater time is spent in quiet (or silent) contemplation asking God to speak through the scripture. The practice of lectio divina is the practice of hearing the still, small voice of God in an unhurried, unburdened sort of way.
Be honest–does the prospect of reading the bible in a year or memorizing another chapter of scripture induce a panic attack? Could you stand to read less but receive more? If you answered yes to either of these questions, or if you’re generally burned out on the whole protestant work ethic thing, then lectio divina might be right for you. But be forewarned–if you’ve never read scripture this way, prepare yourself for the shattering of your protestant work ethic. This isn’t the kind of scripture reading that will result in a large number of memorization note cards, or in honing your Bible sword-drill skills. And because we live in a world of constant information stimulus, prepare yourself, too, for the difficulty of quieting your mind enough to rest in the scriptures. (This is a particular struggle of mine.)
If you’d like a tool to help you get started, though, I have just the one. Consider this Lectio Divina Journal created by my friends Greg Russinger and Lisa Kelly. The journal leads the reader into a day-by-day contemplation of certain scripture passages, and gives ample space to journal your thoughts. (Follow this link for a few sample pages.) It’s a great tool for the beginner and experienced practitioner alike, a tool I hope to use throughout the year.
Over the next week, I’m giving away 3 copies of the Lectio Divina Journal. How can you win one of the copies? Just drop a comment below and tell me why you’d like to be entered into the drawing. I’ll throw your name in the hat. (All winners will be randomly selected.) And for those of you who’d rather not wait, you can order your Lectio Divina Journal here.
This year, would you consider resting in the scripture with me? Would you consider practicing lectio divina? Come along, and find rest.
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