Friday, October 18, 2019

Lectio Divina (Seminary Notes)


I love seminary. I always say it gave me my life back. Two years ago, I ran into my old friend Patricia on a fluke visit to a church where she happened to be helping lead the liturgy that morning. She invited me to a Lectio Divina series she was about to start there, and I soaked it in. At one of the classes, she shared with me about the much more in-depth Inductive Bible Study method developed at Asbury Theological Seminary, where she was an MDiv student. I started drooling. The next thing I knew I was in the Orlando campus admissions office, fulfilling a lifelong dream. True story. 

I'm well into my second year of seminary now. Three of my classes have at least touched on Lectio Divina, either in classroom discussion or in the assigned books Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton and Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson. I'd like to share with you two of my assignments for Biblical Narrative, an Old Testament / New Testament survey course I'm taking online now with Dr. Ruth Ann Reese. Keep in mind that these are in the format of a short seminary report, not in the format of how I would do a Lectio Divina session for my own devotional purposes! I have also participated in Lectio Divina in at least three different small groups. I have links and a photo at the bottom of this post which refer to my other Lectio Divina experiences, as well as a few other links to helpful articles. Keep reading!

Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) is not a formal systematic Bible study, even though the whole time is spent contemplating and praying through a passage of Scripture. It is an ancient devotional model first introduced by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c 330- 395) and established as a monastic practice by St. Benedict in the 6th century. It has several facets, which vary depending on what model you are using. These are the core ones, with some of the extras combined with the traditional four:
  • Lectio: prayerfully prepare your soul in silence (this first part is sometimes a separate step called Silencio), then read the passage slowly, savoring it - traditionally you are to choose one word or phrase which especially speaks to you. I don't tend to do this in private use, and if I do, it might be a whole cluster. 
  • Meditatio: read it again, reflecting or meditating on the meaning, and what God is trying to communicate to you through this reading today
  • Oratio: read it a third time, and respond to God in prayer, pouring out your heart to him about how this passage resonates in your soul
  • Contemplatio/Incarnatio: rest your mind and then, guided by the Holy Spirit, choose specific actions for application in the next few days so that you can "live the text in Jesus' name" 
Last month, I chose John 13:1-5, and this month I picked Isaiah 55:6-12. Here we go!

Lectio Divina #1: John 13:1-5

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Introduction & Setting: I did the Lectio exercise in my quiet study area in my bedroom in the afternoon. To set this in the context of my day, I had been outside gardening in the morning in my bare feet, getting quite dirty. This has something to do with my Lectio experience.

Lectio: I chose to study John 13:1-5, first reading aloud from my very old 1984 NIV Bible which is most comfortable for devotional purposes. This passage, which is about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, had stood out to me in this last week’s Gospel of John reading assignments. At that earlier time, reading in the library, I was thinking of it in sensory terms, such as the warm water, the texture of the towel, the tender touch of Jesus. I tried to recapture that during my re-reading of the verses, and this was more relevant after getting my feet dirty while gardening. The sensory experience of washing up added to my understanding during Lectio. However, a different word from verses 1 and 3 stands out to me in this reading of the passage: knew.

Meditatio: I read the passage again from my old Bible, as well as the most recent NIV and NRSV. In each of these readings, why did the word knew stand out to me? Jesus knew who he was, where had come from and where he was returning, what God’s plan was for that time, and what his essential work would be in the hours and days to come. Thus secure in his identity and his destiny, he could do the things he did, loving his disciples with humility and service. This is startling considering that this passage also includes his knowledge of the impending betrayal by Judas, leading to his death the next day. All of this touches a place in me. I know how much my own life proceeds from my sense of identity and destiny. It has to be firmly rooted in truth: I am made in the image of God, Jesus has redeemed and forgiven me, the Holy Spirit empowers me, God is working in my life for my good and his glory, and I have eternity in heaven as my destiny. My identity must not depend on my marital status, health, bank account, natural abilities, or any other things that come and go. It must not depend on how others have betrayed, rejected, or wounded me. All of these things can become shame traps for me as a divorced mother of 10. However, with my identity rooted in Christ, I can walk forward with joy and confidence into whatever ministry God has prepared for me. It is crucial that I remember who I am and whose I am. I have to know as Jesus did.

Oratio: My prayer, flowing directly from this passage and Meditatio, is that I will increasingly find my identity and destiny in Jesus, that I would be confident enough to live and serve with humility as he did. It is only because I know my identity as a daughter of the King that I can, as in Hebrews 4:16, “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” It is because of the identity that I can pray in the first place, and then praying, in turn, reinforces the identity. This is a good cycle to enter, with prayer and identity strengthening each other. So I pray, “Show me who you are. Show me who I am. Show me how to love. Show me what to do.”

Contemplatio: As Jesus set this example of humble service, so I must find ways to serve others that are not necessarily grand and lofty, but simple and earthy. I have an extremely busy week coming up with hybrid classes and homework assignments. I would like to hide away and study, but there are things I need to do for others, like buy groceries for my kids, help my daughter with her broken down car, bring a widowed neighbor to a church dinner, rehearse for a skit on the Reformation, go to work so I can pay our bills, and work out a misunderstanding with a friend. Those are things I personally need to do. At the same time, I need to be humble enough to realize I cannot do everything for everyone. Ego says I can, but I actually cannot. Jesus didn’t do everything. Later in John 13, he told his disciples he was leaving them behind to carry on his work, even “greater works.” I realize I have to ask for help. My identity isn’t based on how much I can pull off. Peter at first refused to receive a washing from Jesus, but he had to accept it. I can let others be the hands and feet of Jesus to me.

Conclusion: Through my Lectio experience, I experienced Jesus helping me to do the things I needed to get done that I could not do without him. In the middle of Lectio, I was interrupted by the opportunity to serve one of my teens with an urgent errand. Then another teen was yelling at me on the way home. Working from my core identity, I could stay calm, speak quietly, connect with needs, and defuse the anger. I thought of the Lectio passage in the context of the Last Supper as I brought my neighbor to my church dinner group even though I could have stayed home to do other things. I was quite tired, but thanks to the Lectio exercise, I had the extra energy and motivation to go forth in love. My neighbor and I were both very blessed by the Christian fellowship. That is what Lectio does; it brings us into divine presence and compassionate service in a fresh way.

Lectio Divina #2: Isaiah 55:6-12
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” NIV

Introduction & Setting: I did the Lectio exercise in my quiet study area in my bedroom in the morning. I had already selected and read the passage, but this was my first focused time for the full Lectio process of these verses. I should also say I chose this section from the assigned class readings because it made me sing. In post-Jesus-movement churches about 35-40 years ago, we often sang Bible verses nearly verbatim, and a few of them are right here. I can’t read them without singing them.

Lectio: I chose to study Isaiah 55:6-12, first reading aloud from the NIV Bible. I also read the NRSV, and noted the textual differences. One that I noticed immediately from my many years of singing verse 12 is that the NIV says “led forth in peace” whereas the NRSV says “led back in peace.” In the context of their impending return from exile, “back” makes more sense than “forth” if it is referring to Jerusalem. But I still prefer “forth” - as I see it is as encouragement to move forward in life, even if that is going back to what came before. I also note the difference in trees in verse 13. In the NRSV, it is cypress (one of my favorite trees to photograph here in Florida), but in the NIV it is translated juniper. This for me is not about technical study. It is about the pictures in my mind which fascinate me, and part of that is how they relate to my own context. Isaiah 55 is so full of poetic imagery. Beyond the pictures, there are the sounds. If you read the words aloud, there is a cadence of rhythm. This is not just in the English translation, but in the content and structure of the Hebrew literary forms. It is a call and response, like a psalm and a proverb, with one phrase echoing or contrasting the other. I can’t help but think of these things as I read. These speak to me. I also pasted the passage into my document from Bible Gateway and then experimented with the font; this is a novelty of the digital age, of course. I am a calligrapher, so I wonder how changing the visual style of writing affects how we process words internally, especially with Scripture? Did I gain a new perspective? How does God write, anyway? I think he has a way of invading our thoughts, right where we are, no matter what culture, gender, personality style, or in my case, aesthetic sensibilities. See the difference here?

Meditatio: What word stands out to me? It is thoughts! It is our thoughts which shape us. God knows this because he made us as reasoning beings. That is why he tells the evil man to forsake his wicked thoughts, why we are encouraged to lift our minds to God’s higher thoughts, why he sends forth his word to change our thoughts toward everlasting fruitfulness in our lives. When his Word achieves this purpose, our minds and hearts are renewed so we can truly “go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” Joy and peace find root in our attitudes. They are both a cognitive and emotive assent to what is good, which in this case is thinking the thoughts of God. The word thoughts resonates with me personally because I realize this is where it all starts. This is why I am in seminary, to shape my thoughts. I know how quickly thoughts can lead me off the path, and how powerfully they can lead me forth again when I return to God’s higher ways. I look at the verses about the thorn bushes and briers and realize that this could be symbolic of our thoughts too. We may have gnarly tangles in our minds that need to be cleared away so that the beautiful trees may take root and grow instead.

Oratio: My prayer is that I will continually seek God through the Scriptures and prayer, and that I will be able to flourish while thinking the thoughts of God. I pray that I will be a faithful messenger of the Word, for it is usually through his human servants that he sends it forth in any nation or generation. I pray that I will walk in joy and peace, filled with songs of deliverance.

Contemplatio: I will explore what unhealthy thoughts are holding me back from doing the things I am called to do, and seek them to replace them with divine wisdom instead. (I have a few podcasts queued up to listen to that may help.) I will create a blog post with this Lectio and the previous one, then share them on my social media, so that the Word may accomplish God’s purposes in my sphere of influence. I will write out two of the verses in calligraphy to include in that. I will listen to worship music (like the song “Sovereign Over Us”) to help me focus my thoughts on God. I will finish up my seminary assignments for my other class (Gospel Catechesis) which will help me better participate in delivery God’s word to others. I will continue to explore how media shapes the message.

Conclusion: Through my Lectio Divina experience today, I experienced an ancient God who is ever present thousands of years after these words were penned. We may have the Cloud to store our data, but his thoughts are still higher than that.


Yes, I included this ^^^ in my report.  I'm a bit of a quirky student.

So those were my two Lectio Divina reports! They are much less complicated than the full research papers we also have to do. Better yet, they feed the soul, too. That's what I love about Asbury professors and leaders. They are determined to foster spiritual formation and growth in their students. And I love their t-shirts.

But I'm not done yet! Links! Music! Good stuff!

When we have classroom sessions (which I don't for Biblical Narrative since it's all online) the professors start the day with worship music. Dr. Steve Gober chose these for the first day of the Gospel Catechesis hybrid week last month, and I've been playing them ever since. Such truth is a balm for my soul!

I'm also planning to listen to The Presence Project Podcast by Summer Joy Gross. I am linking it here for your exploration but have to say I haven't listened to more than a few minutes, I don't know anything about the person who produces it except what's written here, and I can't even quite remember where I found it. I do know it comes from the more contemplative stream of Christianity that is likely to resonate with those who enjoy Lectio Divina.

More on Lectio Divina and Inductive Bible Study? Sure thing! Here are some from my blogs.
Here are some of my Lectio Divina notes from Patricia's series. When doing this by myself, I prefer my reading journal.

Here are some other helpful links:
And finally, while looking for other resources, I stumbled across a lecture by my very own Inductive Bible Study professor, Dr. Brian Russell. "Astonish me anew with the riches of your word!" "We don't come to master the text. We come to be mastered by the text!" "How does this text shape me for missional living in the world?"

And finally, because I just can't resist...

I was looking through my old blog posts to find some of my pictures of cypress trees.

Instead of the thorn bush, the cypress will grow...

May God bless you 
today and always
through the 
prayerful contemplation 
of his Word.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

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