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Lectio Divina: A way to slow down and listen to God

Ancient discipline also practiced by Lutherans

Martin Luther took Scripture reading very seriously. But Luther was far from the first to do so. Less than 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection, Christians were already meditating on written biblical texts proclaiming Christ.

At first the texts were one or more of the original seven letters penned by Paul the Apostle. Within another half century there were written gospels to ponder.

A half millennium after Paul, the gospel writers and other New Testament writers, and nearly a thousand years before Luther, a system for using Scripture reading for spiritual growth was coming into being. “Lectio Divina” (Latin for “disciplined reading of sacred texts”) arose among the Benedictines, members of one of the several monastic orders that continue today.

Because this discipline focuses on Scripture and not specific Christian doctrines, it is compatible for use among the faithful in several faith traditions, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican, Lutheran, or general Protestant. There are, in fact, devotees of Lectio Divina in all such branches of the church. (This is a nuanced way of saying that, should a Lutheran choose to practice Lectio Divina, he or she would not be doing something “Catholic” — except in the same sense that Lutherans confess to being “catholic” in the Apostles Creed.)

Sam Rahberg

“To gain deeper understanding, consider staying with the same text for an entire week.”

A Lutheran layman currently employed by a spirituality center sponsored by a Roman Catholic monastery in Maplewood, Minnesota, is a strong advocate for Lectio Divina. Sam Rahberg grew up in a Lutheran home. His father was a Lutheran director of Christian education, his mother a Lutheran teacher. He himself served as a Lutheran director of Christian education in a St. Paul congregation.

So, how did Rahberg find himself directing a spirituality center at a Roman Catholic monastery? He explains, “I earned a Master of Arts in Theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. While there I met a Benedictine sister who was to become the next prioress of St. Paul’s Monastery. She invited me to apply for an opening at the Benedictine Center [a ministry of the monastery].” Today Rahberg is the center’s director.

That’s quite a pilgrimage for a young man who, by his own admission, “went through high school ready to do anything but church work.”

A hole in the stone

Here is how Rahberg explains the value of Lectio Divina. “[This discipline] is one of the great treasures in the tradition of Christian prayer. It’s a prayerful way of reading Scripture and letting the Spirit form us to the likeness of Christ.”

Historically, Lectio Divina has taken a variety of forms, but most who practice it follow four steps (Martin Luther followed three — prayer, meditation, and confronting temptation — a pattern which is the exception). The most popular approach, formulated in the late 12th century, consists of reading Scripture, meditation, prayer and contemplation.

“Lectio Divina is a prayerful way of reading Scripture and letting the Spirit form us to the likeness of Christ.”

Rahberg cautions that rushing the process can be counter-productive. “Relationships, especially the ones that feed and nourish us, are slow work. It takes time for trust and connection to be built. Relationship with God deepens in a similar way.”

He likens the process to dripping water. “As a saying from the desert tradition goes, ‘The nature of water is yielding, and stone is hard. But if you hang a bottle filled with water above a stone and let it drip, drip, drip, it will wear a hole in the stone. In the same way, the Word of God is tender and our hearts are hard. So when people hear the Word of God frequently, their hearts are opened.”

For a Lutheran, the Lectio Divina discipline could work nicely in parallel with the Sunday lectionary readings. (The Scripture selections used in weekly worship in any Lutheran congregation.) Here is Rahberg’s advice: “Choose a passage from one of the Sunday readings. Begin with a minute of silence. Next, read the text aloud, slowly. Then simply journal about what you notice, and how you are led to pray. Read the text again. To gain deeper understanding, consider staying with the same text for an entire week.”

The Benedictine Center is offering a workshop on Lectio Divina and other spiritual disciplines on Thursday, July 11. The fee for the two-hour program, “A Practiced Christianity,” is $30. The presenter will be Meg Funk, an international teacher of Benedictine spirituality.

For those wanting to delve more deeply into Lectio Divina, the center regularly offers a six-day “School of Lectio Divina.” This is an intensive program, with a fee of $700.

For information about either opportunity, call 651/777-7251 or email benedictinecenter@stpaulsmonastery.org.

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