Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Reading & Praying the Bible Formationally, part 4

Reading & Praying the Bible Formationally, part 4

So what in the world does it mean to read and pray the Bible formationally?  How can I open my Bible this evening and read it with the goal of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others?

The first key to reading the Bible formationally is attitudinal.  When anyone asks “how can I open my Bible this evening and read it with the goal of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others?” they are asking the right question.  Why? Because the person asking it is open to God, open to change, and realizes that the ultimate source of change is found in God.  The person who is only reading to “get it done” or learn a new fact may not experience any formation.

But for those who want to be formed, there is an ancient practice that is being revived in many Christian circles called lectio divina (lex-ee-o = reading, dih-vee-nah = holy; holy reading).  This is a method of reading the Bible that has been around for over 1,500 years.  It is spoken of by Athanasius (4th-century) and Benedict (6th-century).  Benedict preserved this in his rule for the community: “Therefore, the community members should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

The process of lectio divina is simple: “A phrase from the Bible is first tasted, then savored and chewed – or repeated over and over – and finally swallowed or consumed.” (Maas & O’Donnell, 46).

To expand on this process, Richard Peace provides the standard four step method:

  • Read/Listen (lectio): “Read aloud a short passage of Scripture [repeatedly].  As you read, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you.  What is the Spirit drawing your attention to?”
  • Reflect (meditatio): “Repeat aloud the word or phrase to which you are drawn.  Make connections between it and your life.  What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase?”
  • Pray (oratio): “Now take these thoughts and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks, asking for guidance, asking for forgiveness, and resting in God’s love.  How is God leading you to pray?”
  • Contemplating (contemplatio): “Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation.  Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God.  Listen to God.  Remain in peace and silence before God.  How is God revealing himself to you?”

Here is a good summary of the process: “The point is not to get through the text but rather to “read” it in the deepest meaning of that word.  Significantly, for the modern reader lectio is a form of surrender, of letting go.  God leads the way and sets the agenda; we are never quire sure where the practice of lectio will lead.” (Maas & ODonnell, 49)

Simply put, lectio divina is a method of thoughtfully reflecting upon the Scriptures and turning those thoughts into prayer.  It allows the Scriptures to control our prayers, whether they lead us to confession, thanksgiving, or something else.  It is not unlike Martin Luther’s method of praying the Lord’s Prayer or the 10 Commandments.  In fact, as a monk, it is likely that Luther regularly employed lectio divina.

It is obvious how this method of reading the Bible is very different from the standard Informational Approach.  However, it is also very important to see how the Informational Approach is a necessary component of lectio divina to prevent it from becoming to subjective and individualistic (see the necessary balance discussed yesterday).  In fact, Richard Peace from Fuller Theological Seminary recommends studying a passage at night and then praying that same passage in the morning using lectio divina.  This way, the Bible is understood correctly (Informational Approach) but moves to a more formative reading (Formational Approach).

So I recommend  Dr. Peace’s approach.  Study a passage tonight using a good study Bible.  Get into the meaning of the passage as it was originally written.  But when you wake up, take this same passage through the four steps of lectio divina and see what God might say!

Categories: Brian's Blogs, Prayer Tags: , ,
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  1. May 24, 2010 at 8:25 am

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