Friday, 8 May 2009

Listening to God

Still on this head versus heart theme I came across this little article which invites us to encounter God through the Bible by using our hearts rather than our heads. Interestingly I was introduced to this way of Bible study through two books which I have read recently – although ‘read’ is perhaps overstating it a little, perhaps ‘forage’ would be a better word. The books are Jan Johnson’s “Savoring God’s Word” published by Navpress and “Too deep for words” by Thelma Hall and published by Paulist Press. Navpress is a firm of predominantly evangelical publishers and Paulist Press is predominantly Roman Catholic. Both meet here in the middle in bringing us a way of reading which is as old as Christianity and is much needed today in our very wordy and head-centred church. Both are excellent reads and brilliant resources for going further and deeper in encountering God through His word, surely the primary aim of all scripture reading.

Anyway here is the article. Just a brief intro to whet your appetite:

Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long. Psalm 119:97.

There are two ways, broadly speaking, we can read the Bible: ‘Bible study’ and lectio divina. In Bible study we mainly use our head; in lectio divina, our heart. Bible study is reading the Bible for doctrine; lectio divina is reading the Bible for holiness. Bible study may degenerate into purely ‘reading for information’; lectio divina is ‘reading for transformat- ion’. In Bible study there is a tendency to be over the Word, as a critic of the Bible text; in lectio divina we are under the Word: it becomes our critic! Lectio divina is a Latin phrase from the 4th or 5th centuries which means, literally, ’sacred reading’. It involves ‘reading, meditating, praying’ or, in Latin, lectio, meditatio, oratio.

Margaret Hebblethwaite (Finding God in All Things, Collins: Fount Paperbacks, 1987/1990) writes: ‘Choose a passage from Scripture… Read it slowly and reverently… This is the lectio. As you come to a phrase that touches you in some way, stop, repeat it over and over. Let [these words] sink into your subconscious. This is the meditatio… ‘When you have dwelt on the phrase for a while, let prayer arise out of you… In some way you gather up what is going on within you and direct it towards God in prayer. This is the oratio.’ (pp. 92 ff).

Lord, help me to use both heart and head in reading your Word in Scripture: may I be transformed as well as informed by it. Amen.

PS. There is another stage to the process of reading called ‘Contemplatio’ but I think Margaret Hebblethwaite is just giving us an introduction and saving that stage for the more practised student

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