I know. It sounds like a decadent dessert. But Lectio Divina is not a dessert. It is Latin for Divine Reading.
Lectio Divina is touted as a special way to encounter God through His Word. It is reported to be a wonderful way to unlock the power of God’s Word that is often missed in standard Bible reading and Bible study.
Lectio Divina was developed in the sixth century by the founder of Benedictine monks, Benedict of Nursia. In the twelfth century, a monk named Guigo II formalized the practice as having four steps (reading, prayer, meditation, and contemplation). Today a fifth step, silence, is added to prepare Lectio Divina.
Former Young Life staffer Rachel Hehr learned Lectio Divina while on a Young Life staff retreat. She now works with a ministry called Curate that promotes this practice. She lays out the five steps (see here).
Hehr says that the first step is getting ready (silencio): “Get comfortable, steady your breathing, and begin to quiet your thoughts. Ask the Lord to meet you in this time of prayer and sit in silence for a few minutes.”
Step two, reading (lectio), goes like this: “Slowly read the passage of scripture you’ve chosen (try to stick with only a handful of verses). Listen for any word or phrase that catches your attention.”
After rereading it, she describes step three: “This time, spend a few minutes reflecting upon that word or phrase. Let it sink into your heart and allow God to speak to you. Be aware of any emotions or memories that are stirred up.” That third step is called reflection (meditatio).
Hehr says the fourth step is responding (oratio): “Dialogue with God. What feelings do you have? What struggle or longing in your life today is God speaking into? Let His grace meet you there. What is God’s invitation to you through this passage?”
The fifth step is rest or contemplation (contemplatio): “Rest in God’s presence. No words are necessary. Just be. Taste and see the Lord’s goodness to you.”
This can be done in a group as well. Hehr gives an example of doing this during the Advent season, “Gather your family in the evening, light your Advent candle and pray together, then read an Advent passage out loud, following the movements of lectio above. Ask your family to share what they heard or noticed, and how the themes of the passage are speaking to them in this season.”
Beware of Lectio Divina. It turns the Bible into a magic book.
I don’t know if I ever used a Ouija board. I might have used one at my cousin’s house as a kid. Did you ever use one? Some say that the Ouija board is demonic. Others say that the participants control the answer (see here).i Either way, it strikes me as contrary to Scripture, and I am unwilling to try it.
Lectio Divina turns a paragraph of the Bible into a sort of magic board. The worshipper moves his eyes over a short Bible text, and a few words magically emerge. (Practitioners of Lectio Divina say that God gives the worshipper these words.) Contemplating those words leads to a special message from God that is just for you.
But contemplation in Lectio Divina does not mean what we normally consider contemplation. In an article promoting the practice, entitled “Lectio Divina: A Beginner’s Guide,” Elizabeth Manneh says, “I try not to analyze the passage. It’s easy to slip into ‘study mode’ and think about interesting points rather than listening to what God might be saying. It helps to ask God to make His focus clear” (see here). As noted above, Hehr describes the contemplation phase of Lectio Divina in even more mystical terms: “Rest in God’s presence. No words are necessary. Just be. Taste and see the Lord’s goodness to you.”
Many helpful articles point out the dangers of Lectio Divina. Here are a few I’d recommend:
- “The Bible and Lectio Divina: A Helpful Tool or a Dangerous Practice?” (The Master’s Seminary blog, see here).
- “Lectio Divina: What it is, What it is Not, and Why It is a Dangerous Practice” (Lighthouse Trails Research Project, see here).
- “Psst…Lectio Divina…Your Mysticism is Showing” (Berean Research, see here).
- “On John Piper and Lectio Divina…” (airō, see here).ii
Lectio Divina is counterfeit spirituality. Special revelation ceased when the last NT book was written. God has given us His Word, which is all we have regarding His communication with us. And it is all we need.
i There is actually something called The Holy Spirit Board that is supposed to be a Christian version of the Ouija board. See here.
ii The article points out that in 2012, Piper’s Desiring God website listed Lectio Divina as an acceptable practice. That endorsement was later removed.