Diving Deep with Lectio Divina


Growing up in Georgia, hot muggy July summers invited us to leave Atlanta’s smothering heat and journey to St. Simons Island. The window unit in each bedroom barely dented the thickness of humidity. We ached for a breath of wind and an escape into cool waters. Beachside, it was easy to catch cool ocean breezes. 

As a child, sandcastles and jumping waves created a playful experience at the ocean. It refreshed me to frolic in the waves as the humidity slathered me with sweat. 

On Georgia’s Golden Isles, the Atlantic Ocean looks murky, opaque, and cloudy. Those impenetrable shades of water housed life below the surface, yet I couldn’t see what wiggled beneath the waves. 

One hot summer we traveled instead to the Gulf Coast of Florida, a place where water isn’t dark as hot chocolate. There it floated so clear that I could see my toes from above. Minnows cruised around my ankles; stingrays rippled up suddenly from their sequestered hiding place beneath the sand. Blurred gave way to beauty. Muddy gave way to marvels. 

Yet another summer, we vacationed extravagantly by cool clear waters, but these shallow waters in the Bahamas included coral reefs, places perfect for learning to snorkel. Not only could I see my toes and watch where the little fish darted here and there, but I could actually submerge myself down, down, down and see what was all around me. 

By sinking below the surface in such crystal-clear water, I swam at eye-level with the coral, seaweed, and crevices full of hidey-holes for ocean creatures I didn’t even know existed.

Sure, I’d seen some of this sea life in textbooks as an elementary school child. But, diving down, holding my breath, and  actually being in the wavy aquatic world shifted me from an academic understanding to an experiential marveling.  

The Bible reading practice called Lectio Divina* is like that to me. 

Dr. M. Robert Mulholland Jr, in his book Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation points out that when we engage in formational reading, reading that forms us, we “allow the text to master” us. 

In other words, I submerge myself in clear waters of the Word and, as I allow the text to master me, I move from an academic understanding of the words on the page to an experience that brings me to marvel. From above, in murky water, there’s nothing to see. From above, in transparent water, there’s much to see. Snorkeling and diving below the surface allow me to not only see more, but to be changed by that experience. 

For instance, the letter of James challenges me to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. But, if I stiff-arm the text, I make an excuse. “Well, if you had heard how that cousin babbled on, you’d know why I interrupted the waterfall of words that tumbled from her mouth.” "Well, if you knew how they betrayed me, you’d see that my anger is justified.” 

Litmus questions help me gauge my reactions to consider if I am being mastered by the text or if I am trying to master the text from my own context. Like the lifeguard warnings of riptides just out from shore, questions caution me as I move in these waters that want to shape my perspective in fresh ways:

Am I coming to the passage to control it? Do I allow the passage to control me? 

Do I want the Word to conform to my expectations? Do I shift as I am read by the text, moving from disordered affections or false beliefs into a new alignment, one that syncs to the heartbeat of my Good Heavenly Father?

Am I letting the text shape me, truly rearrange the depth of me as it is showing the good, the hard, the wounded, the healing places within me? 

During Lent at our liturgical church, we listen in for God’s voice. Since the sermons have focused on how to listen, it’s easy to take it all in on an academic level for the sermon offers perspectives on meaning and application of the passages at hand.

However, I’m delighted that our Wellspring ministers have not been content to let us simply learn about the text. By lingering below the surface of the Word via Lectio Divina, we enter a new way to be formed into the likeness of Christ.  

The scripture passage is read again, and again. We are encouraged to listen deeply to how the text is mastering us. As a congregation engaging in Lectio Divina, we aren’t just talking about how to listen to God, to Scripture. We are actually sinking below the surface, getting eye-level with the words, listening in, and letting those holy words shape us in fresh ways

Lectio Divina invites us to listen afresh. 

As part of our church practice in this spiritual discipline, I’ve carried it forward each week at home on my own. When I allow scripture to master me as the Spirit speaks, I find myself wiggling in discomfort at times. Reading through Exodus, one of our liturgical passages** for this Lenten season, I discover I’m a bit too much like the Israelites, grumbling for Egypt. I display short-term memory loss towards God as I don’t readily recall the Red Sea He’s been parting for me. Lectio draws my attention to places I’m not particularly thankful for the struggles in my own wilderness wanderings. 

Yet, God, in His great kindness, keeps on whispering His delight over me, His love for me. When I pause long enough to lean in, those words reshape the landscape of my heart. 

Are you discovering the same thing as you enter into Lectio Divina’s shaping ways?  

May Lectio Divina be a place of new marvels for each of us from the One who declares over us: “You are My marvel. I have more to share than you can even ask or imagine. Dive deep. I have depths to share for your heart, ways I want to shape you, My dear beloved.” 

*Lectio Divina, Latin for divine reading, is an ancient prayer practice where we engage with God through reading Scripture. Traditionally there are four steps: Lectio (Read), Meditation (Reflect), Oratio (Respond), and Contemplatio (Rest). Through a listening stance of the heart, we notice how Holy Spirit speaks and how we reply. It invites us into new intimacy with God. In the reading the Spirit speaks images, words, or a sense of being to us while we then pray back to God those words and images allowing us to converse with God at a heart level. 

** Jeff Gayle, part of the family of Wellspring Church, co-developed The Daily Prayer App. It serves as a prayer resource for Anglican and non-Anglican Christ-followers by offering the lectionary readings for each day. 

Lane Arnold offers spiritual direction to women, delighting in the creative invitations of our wild, winsome, and wondrous Good Father, Lover Jesus, and Holy Spirit. You can find her dancing in the kitchen, on a joy hunt, playing with words as she writes, or dabbling with colors as she quilts or messes around with paints. Whenever possible, she is laughing long and often with her grandchildren, children, and high-school-sweetheart husband. Her favorite sound is the heartbeat of her heavenly Father. You can find more about her at lanemarnold.com

Lane ArnoldComment