Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

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

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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.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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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.