Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

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

“Slowing Down
And Immersing Ourselves in the Biblical Story

A review of
Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art:
Transforming Words and Images
into Heart-Centered Prayer

by Christine Valters Paintner.

Review by Chris Smith.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]

Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art:
Transforming Words
and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer

Christine Valters Paintner.
Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2011.
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How do we read the Bible in this age when – as Christian Smith has persuasively argued in his recent book The Bible Made Impossible – some traditional approaches to scriptures are on the verge of dying off?  Is it possible for us to engage and immerse ourselves in scripture in ways other than taking it as cold, static textbook?  The ancient practice of lectio divina (holy reading) is surprisingly relevant for our times, and Christine Valters Paintner’s new book Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer is an elegant and useful introduction to this approach to reading the Bible (or other texts) in today’s world. Over the last five centuries, the modernity of the Western world has served to streamline life, eliminating or minimizing practices that seem to be labor-intensive or extraneous.  The result is today’s globalized, fast-food world that is rapidly losing the capacity for attentiveness as it continually accelerates into the future.  And indeed our practices of Bible reading have followed suit with the larger culture.  Scripture is no longer a grand drama about God reconciling all creation by gathering a faithful people, but rather it has been reduced – in the most egregious cases – to a sort of self-help guide that unequivocally shows me how to be saved and make a good life for myself.  What we need in our times is a decidedly slow way of reading scripture, a way of immersing ourselves and abiding in God’s story that fits the incarnational and attentive way of Jesus.  Lectio divina, as Paintner describes it in this new book, offers us exactly the sort of slow and careful approach to scripture that we desperately need amidst the velocity of our times.

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  1. Observation, thought or question: Can Lectio Divina be introduced in a sermon context, as a person (pastor/minister/preacher) reads the text and guides his listeners through the process? Or, maybe more as a tool  to be used as a way of preparing a message.
    Slow me down Father that I might even be able to savor the words that are written here. 

    • Gary, 
      I’m no expert on preaching, so take all this with a grain of salt…  Certainly lectio can be a tool in helping a preacher to prepare.  I had a similar question as I was reading the book.  I was imagining what a congregational time of lectio might look like — as an alternative teaching method? Obviously, if the preacher had done some prep work, there might be some guiding (as you say), but I think it would be pretty amazing to have a slow/attentive conversation together about the text and what it means for our church community.

      You might ask Mike sometime about the group lectio we did at the Ekklesia Project gathering last summer (I was only there for 1 day, so he would have a broader perspective on it, plus a world more experience with preaching/teaching!).  It was amazing and I’d love to find appropriate ways to experiment with in at Englewood.  Again, SLOW is the key word! 

      Just some thoughts, maybe someone with more preaching experience or experience with lectio in the church setting might weigh in here?


      • Mark Lau Branson from the Ekklesia Project is the person who led the breakout sessions and the morning prayer sessions using Lectio Divina. Mark uses Lectio in his urban congregation and in his theology classes at Fuller. Mark tells amazing stories of members and students whose transformed and repentant hearts and lives can be traced directly back to the practice of Lectio Divina.

        I found the process worked remarkably well, both in a circle of strangers and in a circle of well-known brothers and sisters. It seems to me that Lectio is most profound when a particular text is selected and used many, many times over a long, slow, deliberate period of time (even a year). I would love to see us at ECC choose a passage to explore in this way over the long-haul. Congregations sometimes will commit to one passage for a year, beginning every meeting, whether large or small group, no matter how practical or informal the meeting, by reading and meditating on the selected text.  Imagine the possibilities!

  2. It would be a shame to get “up there” and have to tell the Good God, “I’m sorry, I just didn’t have time to read the Testament you left me.”
    For some people, time seems to be the problem…, unless the book is by Stephen King.
    The problem is not the value of the Book, but the lack of an adequate introduction to it. Lectio Divina would be the perfect introduction to fan the flame.

  3. I love the idea of lectio divina in a congregational assembly but have frankly found that it works best in a smaller setting.  I think it’s ultimately blessed in solitude.  Still I can imagine a time to do it in a larger assembly not necessarily as part of a sermon, but maybe as response? 

  4. I meant the above in response to Chris Smith’s comments.