Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Sacred Reading

Dear Friends,

For years I wasted my time reading the Bible. Honestly. I’d start my day ramped up on home-ground Starbucks and speed-read through the day’s obligatory scriptures and then end my day in bed with the open Bible before me - the sacred words of scripture competing with stressful thoughts of the day replaying in my exhausted mind. I read my Bible like I read everything else. It was my Protestant emphasis on Bible study. What I’d been told was that I should just read the Bible. Absorb it. Understand it. Know it. I was told that I would be sanctified and made holy by reading the Word. So I read the Word. I even at one point in my life read the Bible cover to cover. Every page. Every word. Did that make me any holier? I wish. Did reading the Word make me a better Christian? Well, it made me a more knowledgeable Christian. It definitely made me into a better pastor/teacher. So maybe reading my Bible wasn’t a complete waste of time, but it wasn’t making me into a better Christian. That’s because “reading and understanding” doesn’t necessarily mean you are “becoming and doing.” Jesus didn’t say read about Me. He said follow Me.

Then in my study of Christian history, I became drawn to the devotional life of the ancient Christians and early monastics and began to incorporate some of their practices including the way of reading scriptures called Lectio Divina (lex-SEE-oh dah-VEE-nah) that was beginning to be practiced in the 2nd century. For those of us who are not Catholic, and even for those AMEN Corner readers who are, incorporating monastic practices in our day-to-day lives may seem eccentric but in ancient Christianity, a “monastic” was any man or woman who was seriously living out their faith. If you are also serious about living out your faith and using the Word of God to transform your life, you might want to consider the practice of Lectio Divina. That’s a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading” and it’s a way to read God’s Word that takes you into His presence and changes your life. These are the four steps of Lectio Divina:

I Lectio – reading
We find a portion of scripture and begin to slowly read it out loud. Reading out loud brings it from our head to our mouth and from our mouth to our heart. We read it once. And we read it again. We read it until we are stopped by a word or phrase that speaks to us. A word that calls to us. A word that comforts us. A word that unnerves and challenges us. A word that convicts us. It’s as if the Holy Spirit has taken an invisible yellow highlighter and has emphasized a word that is ours to ponder. We may not know why this word or phrase has stopped us, but we trust in the Holy Spirit and we pay attention to what He is showing us.

II Meditatio – meditation
For those of us Protestants who get ecclesiastical heart-burn at the mere mention of meditation, we can instead “ponder” the scripture–meaning that we can just sit-a-spell and think about it. Someone said, “We long to be filled with God but we cannot because we are already too full of ourselves.” Meditation on God’s Word empties us of ourselves and makes room for the Holy Spirit. Meditation is taking that word or phase that the Holy Spirit highlighted for you and gently repeating it. Thinking about it. Allowing it to trigger thoughts and memories. Maybe victories and maybe long-forgotten hurts. Maybe successes and maybe failures. The Holy Spirit is at work. He is the Great Counselor. He is the one taking you down this path of memories. It’s through this second step of meditation that God’s Word in the Bible becomes His Word for us. For this moment in time. His Word for that specific memory. For that hurt. For that specific sin. His Word for you. Right now.

III Oratio – prayer
We’ve been meditating on the word or phrase that the Holy Spirit gave us. We’ve begun to go down the path lead by the Holy Spirit and we’ve encountered memories and thoughts. And now we talk to God about it. The Holy Spirit has been leading us to this place and we find ourselves praying with a different heart. Our conversation with God is different now. We allow God to take this word, this phrase and now use it to change us. And as we pray, our ears are open and now we may hear that small, still Voice.

IV Contemplatio – contemplation
We have come into the presence of God and we simply rest there. When we come into the holy of holies, it’s not a place to do something. It’s a place to be. Entering that contemplative place with God is the highest expression of our spiritual life. It is here that spiritually we are fully awake and alive. Our spirit has been intertwined with the Holy Spirit. We are in the presence of the One who is the source of all love. We are in the presence of the Creator of the Universe. We are in His embrace. And time slows down...

Sacred reading is an ancient spiritual practice that is meant to be a life-changing conversation with God. It is where the Holy Spirit takes God’s Word and intersects our life with His truth. We meditate on His Word and then when we pray, we leave behind our normal list of requests and our prayers now reflect our innermost desire to be changed according to His will. And now we enter that contemplative place – the holy of holies – where we linger in His presence and simply rest awhile with Him. Just God and us.  Amen?

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(If you would like to print out the following to keep in your Bible, click here. Then use your browser to print and then cut out the guide.)

A Guide to Sacred Reading

Go to your sacred space.  Relax – Be still.  Take a couple of deep breaths.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you into God’s presence.  Find a scripture.

Slowly and quietly read the scripture out loud several times. Listen to what the Lord is saying with the ear of your heart.  Pay attention to a word or phrase that the Holy Spirit highlights for you. Romans 10:8: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart"

Ponder the word or phrase.  Repeat it.  Let it dwell within you.  Allow the Holy Spirit to stir up images, feelings and memories.  Be open to the way the Holy Spirit is intersecting those images, feelings and memories with His Word. Psalm 4:4: “Meditate within your heart.. and be still.”

Ask God to reveal His will for you.  Is He bringing direction?  Healing?  Correction?  Forgiveness?   Listen for His Voice and respond accordingly from your heart.  1 Kings 19:12: “..a still small voice.” 

Be with Him.  Relax in silence.  Continue to listen for His Voice.  Be aware of His presence.  There is no right way to respond.  You are in the holy of holies. You may weep and you may find words of worship and praise springing forth from your lips.  Linger in His presence.  This is where He wants you to be... Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God”

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