by Jo Kadlecek
I’ll admit it: I wasn’t sure if it would work. Few of the women on our retreat had heard of this idea known throughout church history as Lectio Divina. Latin for “divine reading” and a structured way to pray in quiet moments, I felt sure introducing Lectio Divina to my fellow churchwomen could invite them into a deeper place with Jesus. It was intentional, structured and—did I mention?—quiet, a refreshing alternative for busy Christians.
The ‘break out session’ on Lectio Divina was scheduled during free time, which meant they had other options: naps, walks, shopping, whatever. Still, I’d wanted to offer some practical tools for their lives with Jesus, and this time-tested way to pray with scripture requires us to slow down. When we hear God’s word spoken over and over, we can quiet our hearts and minds to receive anew truths in a passage from the greatest book ever written. There’s wisdom in long, lingering soaks in Scripture.
So I sat in the conference room and waited—and waiting is always a good way to begin praying, no matter where you are or who you’re with. I put hand outs on the chairs. I opened my Bible to the passage in 1 John I’d use for our divine reading. And I waited some more.
The next thing I knew the room was so full we had to expand the circle and get more chairs. I smiled at God’s faithfulness. Then I shared my own first encounter with Lectio Divina, how at another women’s retreat decades earlier, a leader had led us through a 40-minute time of guided reflection and prayer, and it marked a new beginning in my walk with God.
First she’d read Psalm 84 aloud and encouraged us to sit silently with the words as we read them in our Bibles. Ten minutes later she read it aloud again and encouraged us to reflect silently on certain phrases, asking God to lead us. Ten minutes later, she read the psalm aloud again and invited us to respond in quiet praise. And after the final read through, we offered quiet prayers to God audibly, a rich time that deepened the truths of the passage because we were hearing one another’s voices as Christ’s body.
It was such a profound way to renew my mind with scripture while also giving me new ways to pray—especially during those times when I had no words—that I’ve loved it ever since. And the praises and promises of Psalm 84 have remained a guide for me:
“O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” —Psalm 84:8-12
My friends were nodding. They were hungry. We looked through the hand out, an outline I’d borrowed in part from Whitney R. Simpson’s book, Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit (Upper Room), and I explained Simpson’s four steps we’d use to “pray the scriptures”. Then we asked God to lead us, got comfortable, and I read aloud 1 John 3:1-11.
As one reads the passage, others listen. They may follow along in their own Bibles but some might need simply to listen. It’s a practical way to experience Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.”
After a five to ten minute pause, the passage is read aloud again and we’re encouraged to reflect on a word or phrase or image from the reading. What stands out? What speaks to you?
As we hear the passage read again, we respond to what we hear. How does it make us feel? In what ways does it lead us? We respond to God in silent prayer.
In the final read through, we rest in what we have heard. We thank God for his word and rest in his promises.
At the end of our 45-minute session, I asked my friends to share what insights they’d had or what new rest they’d found in God’s love. They were grateful for the introduction to Lectio Divina, and explored other ways to reflect gently on Scripture, to meditate on the knowledge of Christ, and to set aside time from the busyness of life to read scripture aloud together.
In fact, after the retreat we begin a weekly time of what one friend came to call “Sacred Listening”, where we read, prayed, meditated on and considered God’s word anew. With kookaburras laughing outside our church hall and the breeze moving through the eucalyptus, we grew together in the quiet of the Word Made Flesh. And we’ve never been the same since.
Jo Kadlecek is the creative director at Anglican Deaconess Ministries in Sydney, Australia. For two years she served as the coordinator for women in ministries at Anglican Church of Noosa in Queensland, and is the author of several books, including Desperate Women of the Bible (Baker) and Woman Overboard: How Passion Saved My Life (Upper Room). She has taught writing and communication at colleges across the U.S., and now can often be found walking her dog Clark Kent with her husband on the beach. You kind find her on Twitter.