From several years back, lectio divina was pushed in small groups as THE way to read the Bible. The term is Latin and means “divine reading.”
Groups may each be calling their practice lectio divina but not all doing the same thing. So we need to be clear on what the real thing claims to be. (Spoiler: You might not want the real thing.) Check out this short description/critique. Basically, a very short passage of Scripture (sometimes just a few words) is to be chosen; or sometimes the idea is to let your Bible fall open, assume you were directed there, and zero in on the few words that jump out.
Since lectio divina tends to link to Catholic sources, let’s see what they say.
- Thomas Keating, a popular Catholic authority, wrote that lectio divina is a practice of “attentiveness that moves toward contemplation.” He became distressed that in certain cloisters, “the inherent tendency of Lectio Divina to move toward contemplation had been lost.” He goes on to say that people were not being brought “to the contemplative states of prayer that St. Teresa describes,” which would include “full union” (from chapter 1, Intimacy with God).It’s extremely important to grasp that the “contemplative state” to be reached amounts to an altered state of consciousness. And this is why Bible passages for lectio divina are to be very short, sometimes repeated as a mantra. As for Teresa’s “full union”? When you understand poor Teresa’s flawed and dangerous spirituality (see my posts here and here) … there’s reason for hesitation to turn to her for spiritual guidance.
- The Catholic TV channel EWTN had a program titled Lectio Divina: Sharing the Word with the Holy Family. Someone quoted Pope Benedict’s promotion of lectio divina as a way to “bring to the church … a new spiritual springtime.” And yet the pope also said, “Most of the time I do lectio, it’s dry.” (If this is a superior method but the pope himself can’t benefit …)
- In that same episode, we were reminded that Scripture intends a certain meaning. But we were also told that the message one person gets may not be the same as another gets. (A different Catholic-sponsored video told viewers that we must attempt to understand any passage’s meaning according to what’s been determined by the Roman Catholic Church.)
- In that same episode, lectio divina was defined as engaging in a dialogue with God. So this and the point above indicate to me that some sort of special revelation/interpretation/experience is supposed to take place.
- In that same episode a speaker conveyed that—(try to stay with this)—the Bible is NOT the Word, but Jesus is the Word. That Jesus is the “first manifestation” of the Word of God. Mary and Joseph are our intercessors because they live with the Word. And “each person is a word of God.” (Well, that clears that up.)
- One promoter said the lectio divina method is useful for people of other faiths too—they can do it with their own holy books. (There’s a clue.)
- Yet another Catholic video said that lectio divina is a “unique” method of reading the Bible to listen deeply to the Word. Wait. Millions of Christians have, for centuries, read the Bible, knowing it to be the living Word, to see what God is saying—without ever knowing about lectio divina or any prescribed formula.
Caution is needed anytime we’re promised that certain spiritual secrets will produce/manipulate some experience. My sister bottom-lined this prescribed method of Bible reading: “Why is this lectio any more divina than any other lectio?”