Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Lectio Divina analysis?

Hi gang.

As I said, busy week isn't leaving me the time I usually have, but you all are still on my mind.

A reader emailed me, asking if I know of any good resources assessing "Lectio Divina." I don't offhand, and really haven't the time at the moment to do research for the brother... but it occurs to me that I do have some of the Biblically savviest readers in Christendom so, I figures, why not ask them?

Which I am.

Can you point to any sound, sober, Biblical assessments of what is seen as a mostly Roman Catholic practice of Lectio Divina? I say "mostly," because I heard none other than Bruce Waltke rehearsing it positively in a series of talks on Proverbs at Dallas Theological Seminary's chapel. In fact, Waltke even says Calvin and Luther used a similar method.

Have at it.

...and, completely unrelatedly but in classic BibChrTM style: Fred Butler alerts us that today is Star Wars day.

As you were.


Fred Butler said...

If the basic wiki definition of Lectio Divina is correct, why is that a bad thing?

Is this to say that all that insistence by my leaders about having a "daily quiet time" when I was a SBC yout was really clandestine popery?

Rhology said...

Here's something.

Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio critiques Lectio Divina from time to time.

(Word verification: holaeat. What my mom used to do when my brothers and I were playing in the backyard and it was dinnertime.)

trogdor said...

Good question, Fred. I would have axed the same, if I had not encountered lectio divina in one of my past ministries (the youth pastor, in his early dabbling with emergence, started pushing it). If it was just "read the Bible, pray, and meditate on it", by all means we should. However, the meditation is distinctly different from Christian meditation (active, repeated thought about the meaning/application of a passage), and more akin to transcendental meditation.

It is very closely related to the "centering prayer". Basically, you read scripture as a kind of mantra that helps you clear your mind. Then you hear the 'holy spirit' speaking fresh, wonderful new insight. Essentially, you read scripture in order to stop thinking, then hope to get new revelation.

I found a few articles/reviews of books that promote this practice. None is overwhelmingly thorough, but it shouldn't take long to see why this is dangerous, and the opposite of how we are to use scripture.


Robert said...

@Trogdor: Would you then say that this is akin to the churches that sing a chorus 500 times and then pass around the offering plate? Because that is what it sounds like to me.

lee n. field said...

Lectio Divina as practiced by actual Roman Catholics may differ from that as practiced by today's wandering untaught emergent youth and their wolf-shepherds. It would be best to get the explanation from primary sources.

I commented on it once, in Freerepublic, based on what I'd read about the practice among the emergents. RC responders basically said "Huh? That's not what we do."

Brad Williams said...

I have never heard of it before, but I almost immediately liked it because Latin is cool. Now, I just need to find out what it is.

RT said...

The Anglican tradition derives much of its liturgy and practice from the Benedictine and, consequently, uses the Lectio Divina technique. Here is the explanation my church published recently for use during Lent:

"Lectio divina, an ancient art once practiced by nearly all Christians who could read, is a technique of a slow, contemplative reading primarily of scripture that enables a deeper union with God. The practice is one of the precious treasures and defining characteristics of Benedictine monastics, together with the daily liturgy and manual labor. The technique has four basic steps. In the first step, lectio, we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's word for us this day. Once a word or a passage speaks to us in a personal way, we "ruminate" on it. Consider the example of Mary in Luke’s Gospel "pondering in her heart" what she saw and heard of Christ. In the second step, meditatio, we take in the word and allow it to interact with us. The third step, oratio, is prayer understood both as dialogue with God and as the offering of ourselves to God. Here we allow that which has touched our hearts and upon which we have pondered to merge with our deepest selves. The last step is contemplatio in which we simply rest in the presence of God. In this wordless, quiet rest we return to the silence that began our session."

The Prayer of St. Benedict often precedes the Lectio:

"O gracious and holy Father,
Give us wisdom to perceive thee,
Diligence to seek thee,
Patience to wait for thee,
Eyes to behold thee,
A heart to meditate upon thee,
And a life to proclaim thee;
Through the power
of the Spirit of Jesus our Lord.

Personally I think the Lectio Divina is helpful although I do not wait for a word or phrase to "speak to me in a personal way," but rather apply the steps to whatever I perceive to be the main point of the selected passage.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Of course it's Star Wars Day..

May the Fourth be with you.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

And LeeNField has a good point. The practice of meditative reading likely varies greatly.

What RT describes sounds wonderful.
Read slowly and thoughtfully (combating my natural tendency to rush.)
Meditate on God's Word.

Sounds like balm to a busy mom's soul.

Am I missing something?

Dave Miller said...

The new ‘Rob Bell clone’ youth pastor at my former church gave my daughter a handout about what Lectio Divina is all about. Like so many other Emerg* tactics, they have usurped a mostly respectable and historical term and redefined it to mean whatever they want it to mean.

The words I remember most clearly from the handout were, “Repeat the words of a verse to yourself over and over. Don’t think about what the words mean. Listen to the rhythm and textures of the words and then quietly try to feel what God is saying to you.”

The Emerg* version boils down to this: Take a single verse from the bible and ignore its grammatical form, it’s traditional meaning and historical context. Focus on yourself and wait for special revelation directly from God to you.

RT said...

Lectio Divina is an approach to the study of scripture rather than some sort of mindless zen exercise. Next thing I suppose your "Rob Bell clone" will recommend assuming the lotus position while you read.

The technique is not a meditative "end in itself", but is a discipline for careful deliberate study as opposed to cursory reading. The technique used in the context of a weekly Bible study can be quite fruitful. A class studying a particular book of the Bible, for example, can individually apply the Lectio Divina technique at home to the passage scheduled for discussion. If conscientiously applied it is surprising what insights can result, but these are not individual "divine revelations" but rather an apprehension of the revelation already present, but unperceived, in the written word.

Nikki said...

This is from Sola Sisters blog from 2009:

She goes into more than just lecto divino; mostly the whole contemplative spirituality and the dangers of it.

Scooter said...

I've actually done Lectio Divina, at least the version promoted by evangelicalism. I did some digging during my lunch break, and here's what I found:

It seems that the earliest references point back to the time of Benedict, Basil, and Gregory I. The Wikipedia article seems to be accurate there. However, these are only vague references to the mediation of Scripture, not a systematic definition or practice. For example, St. Benedict calls it "prayerful reading."

It appears to have been codified into a practice by medieval times, beginning with Guigo II. He is original author of "lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation)." The modern practice of Lectio Divina seems to be based on these guidelines, though they are much simpler than the Catholic practice.

I found this (large) essay reprinted on a blog. The rest of the essay is found under January and February 2011 history. It's the most through history and explanation of Lectio Divina that I can find on the interwebs. She does use footnotes (yay!) and references actual books. Might be a good place to start.

My (paltry) thoughts: I'm not convinced the original practice was something equivalent to Eastern mysticism. The monks who practiced it did so for long periods of time, as prescribed by Benedict himself. However, as a modern day practice I have my doubts. American Christians have a hard enough time understanding context; not to mention basic words like "Jesus", "salvation", and "love" have little to no common definition in Christian circles anymore. I think we can take some of the principles of prescribed in Scripture, such as prayer, meditation, reading, and understanding) and teach those disciplines to others.

SolaMommy said...

Ditto on what Trogdor and Dave Miller said. That's the form that seems to be most used these days. It's the same type my MIL's United Methodist Church promotes.

Kevin Stilley said...

1. Lectio Divina is magic.
2. Lectio Divina is humanism.
3. Lectio Divina is neo-orthodoxy.
4. Lectio Divina is bad hermeneutics.
5. Lectio Divina is contrary to the Verbal theory of Inspiration.
6. Lectio Divina is contrary to Scripture.

That is just the main points. I tried to give my full response in the comment section here, but it said that my comment could only be 4,096 characters long. So, I just posted my main points of concern here and posted the rest of my thoughts at

EBenz said...

From my research, Lectio Divina is another example of slapping a "Christian" title onto a pagan practice. From "The Center for Mind in Contemplative Society:"

Lectio divina is a Christian practice, a way of praying with Scripture to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray from God's Word.

Before Lectio Divina developed into a regulated practice in the Benedictine tradition, it was practiced by the Mothers and Fathers of the Desert in monasteries both East and West. Later it developed into what is now referred to as the scholastic form.

The scholastic form divides the process into four stages.

Lectio: Read the passage slowly several times.

Meditatio: Reflect on the text of the passage, thinking about how to apply it to one's own life. Gravitate to any particular phrase or word that seems to be of particular import.

Oratio: Respond to the passage by opening the heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but more of the beginning of a conversation with God.

Contemplatio: Listening to God. This is a freeing oneself from one's own thoughts, both mundane and holy. It is about hearing God talk to us, opening our mind, heart and soul to the influence of God. Any conversation must allow for both sides to communicate, and this most unfamiliar act is allowing oneself to be open to hearing God speak.

"As we repeat the phrase or sentence slowly, over and over, a deeper insight may arise. For example, take the words of Jesus, "I will not call you servants but friends." All of a sudden, it might dawn on us what it means to be a friend of Christ. Our awareness expands without our having done anything but allow the Spirit to act. It is a heart-to-heart exchange with Christ. We think the text but we do not think about the text. If we are thinking in the sense of reflecting, we are dominating the conversation. That can be done fruitfully some other time. Here it is a question of receiving and resting in Christ's presence as the source of the word or phrase." - Fr. Thomas Keating

In short, Lectio Divina is another name for meditation...and not the Biblical kind! It is still about "emptying the mind," it just disguises itself as Christian by using Scripture to reach the altered state of consciousness. I warn people against the practice of Lectio Divina, as it is just as dangerous as Eastern meditation. Instead, I encourage those who desire to "hear from God" to open the Bible and read it!

DJP said...

Yes, that's right: Kevin Stilley gets a rare personal pass on the "Nice blog, come see mine" prohibition.


RT said...

"1. Lectio Divina is magic.
2. Lectio Divina is humanism.
3. Lectio Divina is neo-orthodoxy.
4. Lectio Divina is bad hermeneutics.
5. Lectio Divina is contrary to the Verbal theory of Inspiration.
6. Lectio Divina is contrary to Scripture."

What utter nonsense. (the main point of my otherwise 4,096 characters-long response).

DJP said...


Kevin Stilley said...

Someone needs to remind RT that blustering isn't an argument.

DJP said...

The moderator steps in to remind everyone that my post requests "sound, sober, Biblical assessments" of LD.

So, anyone, everyone, if you haven't, let's do. No one wants a BibChr meta to come to "is not!" / "is so!"

Rhology said...

No one wants a BibChr meta to come to "is not!" / "is so!"

Do too!

DJP said...

LOL. Thank you.

I knew I was setting that up, thought about heading it off... then thought, "Nah, it's fun to be the straight-man sometimes."


Scooter said...

I thought the average age of the readers was 10?

DJP said...

No; that's the average mental age of the main author.

Rachael Starke said...

My husband learned a little about this while in his MBA program at Santa Clara University (still, somewhat, a Jesuit institution). He says that Scooter and RT have it right about the most historical/literal definition (making Scripture a means to true fellowship with God, rather than merely a means to our selfish ends). That the emerg* types have bastardized it shouldn't be surprising, no?

There is a tremendous propensity for the evangelical and even Reformed church to simply see Scripture as a means to human ends, rather than an open door to fellowship with the living God. It seems like an approach like LD would produce more good fruit than bad.

Anonymous said...

I've done some reading in times past, and haven't liked what I found. Mostly the kind of thing Kevin Stilley and others have said here.

HSAT (to steal an acronym) my wife attends a group that does Lectio from time to time and I'd have to go with those who stress the huge variety in practice (and knowledge).
The group my wife is involved in is led, sometimes by her, but always by someone with serious biblical grounding, which has enabled them to avoid the craziness Kevin has noted.

In this case (I speak as a critic, just ask the Mrs.) I would agree with Fred, it's really just "quiet time" in a group, and has really borne good fruit.

Like so many things...the people involved make it or break it I think.

DJP said...

I'm thinking that it may be that answering this question is like answering the question "Meditation - is it good, or bad?"

It all depends on what you mean by it.

Robert said...


Do you mean an approach like pray, read, meditate upon what you read, and then apply it? I'm not aiming this at you, but at the whole notion of "Lectio Divina" or any other fancy method that people try to come up with. This is the pattern that has been set up from the beginning of time. Although, I might add, that it actually starts with God revealing Himself to us in some fashion...or in the case of man from the beginning of time, God spoke first (instead of us praying).

philness said...

Lectio- eat the word

Meditatio- enjoy the words every sweet tastes without regard to smacking or use of napkin

Oratio- with mouth full and chewing speak to the Lord in thanksgiving with both scholarly and gitty musings

Contemplatio- sit back with tooth pick in utter joy and satisfaction of digested word

Return with awe (key word) back to service in the working field equipped and renewed for change and growth - so that you may eat again tomorrow.

Rachael Starke said...


Mostly. But there are some folks in my church who do those things (or say they do), and yet bear no more evidence of regenerated love for Jesus and others than a broomstick. They use the Bible either as a self-help manual, or as a means to get things (temporal peace, feelings of righteousness and superiority, happy marriage/kids/job, ammunition for the next elders' meting). In their case, the power for whatever temporal change they're looking to accomplish remains in them- the Bible is merely a means to help them accomplish their ends.

Practitioners of the "bad" LD methods commit a different version of the same error. In their case, the power is in the actual syllables, and the utterance of them. Their desires may be noble (even more so than the manual users) - it's just the method is out of whack

God's Word is neither a manual nor a magical book of incantations. But it is the very literal, eternal, revelation of God about Himself. It is spiritual food and life to those who know Him, and the entrance into that life for those who don't.

I've been studying Psalms recently, and this is a big theme - Psalm 16:1, for example.

As a practical note, though, I'd love to understand how some of the more "out there" advocates choose passages for this approach. Leviticus? Obadiah? Some of the gnarlier sections of Hosea?

Anonymous said...


I believe that before we consider Lectio Divina as a God honoring practice we must consider the origins of it. My understanding is that this method of meditation originated with the Desert Fathers; Roman Catholics who were attempting to find/create a way to have a closer 'union' with God.

We cannot presuppose that just because the intention of these monks was to be closer to God that God will bless the practice. In considering the source we must remember that in the monastic tradition many mystical practices were adopted from other religions like Hinduism. How is that any different than what Israel did?

God has prescribed how He wants us to meditate, pray and worship in His word. Isn't that sufficient?


DJP said...

Thanks, Yvonne. We should be mindful of a practice's origins.

At the same time, we need to beware the "genetic fallacy." If I were to learn, for instance, that the inventor of the hamburger were a God-hating Communist or a Neil Diamond fan, I wouldn't stop eating burgers. I'd just shrug and say, "Hunh, even blind idiots stumble on good ideas."

For instance, unable (unwilling) to deal with the truth of Scripture, Roman Catholics love to focus on the many flaws and follies of the man Martin Luther. They put their man-worship on us, as if we are bound to respond "Onoes! my idol is flawed?! I must abandon Scripture!"

Instead, my response is "Imagine that: even a flawed, foolish man was able to see and embrace what all the geniuses in Rome continue to pervert and deny."

I say this neither to defend nor impugn LD; just to keep our focus on the real question which, to my mind, is: is the practice itself Scriptural?

Anonymous said...

Alrighty then! You have certainly presented an interesting point, Dan.

I have been through Introductory and Intermediate Logic (Canon Press) with both of my kids and have never heard of 'genetic fallacy'. I stand corrected. (-:

Point well taken, Dan.

OK. Is the practice of Lectio Divina scriptural?

I've participated in it twice. Both times the purpose was to calm/empty one's mind in an effort to get closer to God. I have read books and articles about this monastic practice and have come to the conclusion that the answer is, no.

I'd certainly be interested in someone using scripture, as opposed to tradition, to prove that it is. Until then, I'll stick to my conclusions.


Anonymous said...

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray(recorded in Luke 11), he gave them the Lord's prayer as a model. They are told to ask (or make requests). They are taught to be persistent. A pattern is not set forth for Lectio Divina there.

Maybe look at examples of prayer in the bible in different places. How is prayer presented in these contexts?