What about Lectio Divina?

This is a question that someone asked me on Twitter in response to my last article on reading the bible in context. You can read it here. https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/august/bible-was-not-written-to-you.html In this article, I make the claim that the Bible was not written to you. My point is that context is key when reading and interpreting the Bible and that the writers of the ancient text did not have you, particularly, in mind.

This is hard for many western evangelical Christians who look to the Bible as their “answer-book” for contemporary life. Who should I marry? What job should I take? Where should I send my children to school? These are all important questions about life that we don’t find answers to in the Bible. The point is, the authors of the Bible did not write an answer book for contemporary questions. They wrote to and for the ancient communities of which they were a part in order to pass down the story of Yahweh and to address issues and conflicts that the community dealt with, among other things.

One of the reasons that many Christians find this difficult is represented in the question: “What about Lectio Divina?” Another way to ask this question is, “So, what then does the Bible mean for my life?” My response to this question is, “Everything. The Bible has everything to do with every part of your life, as a Jesus follower.” Consider the practice of Lectio Divina and what it can offer us in answering this question. Lectio Divina (divine reading) is an ancient monastic practice that developed around the 6th century and was later formalized during the 12th century. Today, most people understand Lectio Divina as a 4-step practice when reading the bible: read, meditate, pray and contemplate. It is a way to “enter” the text instead of critically judge it or analyze it. In Lectio Divina one asks, “What word or phrase jumps out at me and Why?” Then the reader is to pray and ask God why this certain element jumped out and contemplate what God may be saying to the reader through meditating on the words. Lectio Divina acknowledges that God is at work in the text and that God is at work in the reader. It is in this holy connection that personal revelation can come.

So, how is it possible for me to make the claim that the Bible has everything to do with the personal life of the Jesus follower and that the Bible was not written to you? These two claims are not contrary to one another. They are both true. Claiming that the Bible was not written for you and that context is key for interpretation and understanding is not claiming that the Bible cannot speak to you.

What if we read the Bible in its context and we read the Bible looking for God’s message to us in it? What if we allowed both to be true?

Here is a way forward. What if we embraced the Bible as a sacred conversation? Paul Mendes Flohr uses this language of conversation and dialogue in his book, “A Life of Faith and Dissent,” p 158. We can learn to read the Bible as more than just an answer book and we can learn to read the Bible in a way that honors the context and audience for which it was written as we learn to embrace the Bible in three ways.

  1. We can learn to read the Bible as a conversation between the me and God. We could even practice Lectio Divina! This practice and many other contemplative practices offer the reader the opportunity to ask God about the text. We can pray and ask, “What does this mean for me in this moment or this season of my life?” In this simple meditation we can invite the Holy Spirit to join us in our reading and enliven our hearts to hear and see and discern God’s voice.
  1. Lest, we slip into an American individualized version of Bible reading, we can also learn to read the bible as a conversation between God’s people. The Bible was written to communities and it is best understood and interpreted within community. As we engage in a conversation within our community about the Bible, we learn from one another. Jewish people have historically read the text this way. They question and challenge and doubt and commune with the ancient text, all in an effort to love God and love their neighbor more. (Pete Enns, David Gushee and other scholars have pointed out this “Jewish” way of reading the text.) As we read the Bible together, we hear a diversity of perspectives because we invite men and women, young and old, people of all races and ethnicities together to ask “How do you read or see or understand this?”
  2. We can learn to read the Bible as a conversation between God and God’s people (both historically and contemporarily). The conversation between God and God’s people has been going on long before we got here. This invites us to humbly take our place in the this big story of God. It also frees us from the need to have the right or perfect interpretation. The way we understand and interpret the Bible has changed. It has not given us a fixed meaning for personal or church life. Consider how the majority culture has shifted in their interpretation on slave ownership and women’s roles.

Learning to read the Bible as a conversation between these entities that can help us read and interpret the Bible as we seek to live faithfully to it.