Monday, June 02, 2008

Lectio Divina

On the weekend I was introduced to the spiritual practice of "Lectio Divina", a discipline that is said to extend back to Saint Benedict in the early sixth century. In essence, the idea is to read a passage of Scripture several times and then stop to reflect upon a word or a phrase that the Holy Spirit has brought to the attention of the reader. These reflection then lead to prayers the individual offers up to God. This is a process that is meant to transcend mere intellectual ruminations.

Reading through "Imitation of Christ today, I was struck by the words of Thomas a Kempis on the art of reading the Scriptures. He writes:

In the Holy Scriptures we must look for truth, not eloquence. All Scripture must be read in the spirit in which it is written and in the Scriptures we should look for what will help us, and not for subtle points.

Upon reflection, this makes perfect sense to me. Throughout history, the majority of the Christian population has been poorly educated and illiterate. In this sense, the idea that one can get to the deeper truth of Scriptures by clinically analysing sentence structure and grammar seems rather absurd. I suspect the authors of the books of the Bible weren't aiming for such nuances, given that they expected their message to be heard by and understood by a peasant community.

It seems to me that those who believe that they are theologically sophisticated because they analyse Scripture with what they believe to be precision miss the point completely. They are like scientists dissecting a frog - understanding the internal organs is interesting, but this doesn't change the fact that the scientist has killed the frog. Scripture is meant to be a living, breathing entity that speaks to the individual by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, not a dead entity that can conquered objectively. For these people, they want to tame Scripture and turn it into something that they possess and I suspect that the idea that Scripture may be bigger than they are might be far too confronting. Only when they subject themselves to the Holy Spirit will the Scriptures be opened up to them.

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