Featured: Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art – Christine Valters Paintner [Vol. 4, #24]

November 18, 2011 — 6 Comments


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In the third and final part of the book, Paintner strives to broaden our imaginations about how lectio divina can be a practice that pervades our lives.  She introduces the lesser known practices of visio divina and audio divina – in which we reflect on images and sounds respectively, opening our hearts and minds and being attentive to what God might be saying to us.  She also offers the idea of nature as sacred text that can be read through its own sort of lectio.  This chapter on nature was one of my favorites, and it resonates with a number of nature-study books that I have reviewed here over the last few years (If this chapter also resonates with you, I would recommend in particular Kathy Ross Hugo’s Seeing Trees, which, although it does not use the language of lectio, does utilize trees to immerse us in a lectio-like conversation with all God’s creation that surrounds us wherever we are.)  The final chapter focuses on using other facets of our lives as the opportunity for lectio-like reflection, including dreams, our bodies and the newspaper.

What distinguishes Paintner’s work from a host of other recent books on lectio divina is its focus on beauty.  Paintner is an artist and has reflected at length on the role of the arts in spiritual formation (for instance in her book Awakening the Creative Spirit, co-written with Betsey Beckman, which we reviewed here).  Part of what is lost in the ever-increasing pace of Western culture, is the joy of the beautiful, and Paintner, deeply aware of this loss, presents lectio divina in a way that draws the reader in and compels her to immerse herself in the beauty of engaging slowly, intentionally and personally with the biblical text. Lectio divina is presented here in language that clearly explains what it is and how it could be practiced in a variety of contexts, but so in a way that is full of life and joy.

In the past, I have often recommended Tony Jones’s book on lectio divina, Divine Intervention, which also is a simple and thoughtful introduction to the practice.  Paintner’s treatment here, however, although it covers roughly similar ground, does so more eloquently, and takes a broader view that spurs our imaginations to consider lectio divina as a way of being, a practice that helps us slow our lives in a world that is speeding out of control.  Tony’s book was written for younger readers, and probably is preferable for younger audiences, and his work does better at imagining the place of lectio as a social practice within the church community, Paintner’s reticence on the place of lectio in the faith community is one of the few shortcomings of her book.  To be fair, she makes the general statement early in the book that “many people can read the same scriptures and each person will have a unique experience that rises up out of his or her own life context in that moment” (9), but she never develops this superb thought in the direction of what it might mean as we practice lectio together in the church community.

I have been excited in recent years to see a rising tide of interest in slower, more attentive expressions of Christian faith.  Christine Paintner’s Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art is a lovely apologetic for recovering an historical practice of reading scripture that is not only a way of appreciating and engaging scripture that befits our times, but also a practical way of orienting our lives toward becoming a slower people, a contrast community that proclaims in our life together the good news of a caring and more meaning-full life!

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]


Chris Smith is a member of The Englewood Christian Church community on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, and editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He blogs (along with John Pattison) at SlowChurch.com.