Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

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

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Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art begins with a historical introduction to the practice, which emphasizes that it was rooted in the Judaic tradition of Haggadah, an “interactive interpretation of the Scriptures by means of the free use of the text to explore its inner meaning.” Paintner also notes the monastic origins of lectio divina; many centuries before the invention of the printing press, when scripture was nowhere near as accessible as it is today, monks would memorize and ruminate on scripture, praying over it throughout the day and continually submitting themselves to the words of the text.  It was out of this context that the four-fold practice of lectio divina would be formalized among the Benedictines in the twelfth century.

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The heart of Paintner’s book, the middle of its three parts, focuses on exploring each of the four steps of lectio divina:

Lectio: Settling and Shimmering

Let go of distractions, assume a posture of prayer, and do an initial reading of the text paying attention for a particular phrase that stands out – i.e., that shimmers, “beckons you, addresses you, unnerves you, disturbs you, stirs you, or seems especially ripe with meaning” (10).

Meditatio: Savoring and Stirring

Slowly read through the text again, using the phrase that stands out as a lens to guide your reading and stir your imagination

Oratio: Summoning and Serving

Allow the text to speak into your own life (and the life of your church community).  What light does it shine on the present situation? What are we being compelled to do?  How is the text drawing us deeper into the life and way of Jesus?

Contemplatio: Slowing and Stilling

It is striking that following the Oratio stage, we do not jump up immediately and go follow the Spirit’s leading through the text, but rather, “[this] movement is about slowing yourself down and resting into the still presence of God. The idea is to simply be, rather than trying to do anything. This is a time for offering gratitude for God’s presence in this time of prayer and stilling yourself in silence” (11).

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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.