On Sunday, January 25th, we used the sermon time at the White Plains Presbyterian Church to practice lectio divina, or divine reading. The method was new for most of the members, and the experience was both powerful and deeply meaningful. The scripture passage was John 1: 43-51, which I include below so that you can practice this at home.
One of the features of our church library is a collection of nearly twenty-five books by the poet, activist and contemplative writer Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist Monk who lived in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky; he was an early and active proponent of interfaith understanding, and a pacifist. Merton once said
The great thing about prayer is prayer itself.
If you want a life of prayer, the way to get it is by praying. . . .
You start where you are and you deepen what you already have.
Merton lamented that prayer if often reduced to asking and receiving, or the one directional offering of praise. But there is a rich heritage of different ways to pray. In his writing Merton re-introduces the ancient way of praying the scriptures called lection divina, which simply means divine reading. In place of the sermon this morning I would like to briefly describe the practice and then prayerfully read our gospel passage with you.
Lectio Divina has four steps and involves reading the scripture four times, and I would like to invite our scripture readers forward now. The four steps are called reading, meditating, praying and contemplating. But since the third century theologian Origin of Alexandria called this practice “scripture as sacrament,” there is a long tradition of calling these steps eating, chewing, tasting and savoring the Word.
The scripture will be read four times. A time of silence will follow each reading. A bell will end the silence and introduce a time for sharing. I will instruct as to what to listen for before each reading of the passage. Our first reader will read the passage twice. You should listen for a single word that stands out for you, that “shines” or “shimmers.” During the third reading, we will ask ourselves the question, “How is my life touched by this passage?” During the final reading we will ask, “Is there an invitation in this text? What is God calling me to be or do in response to this reading?” After each reading we will spend a couple of minutes in silence – listening. I will ring a bell to end this time of reflection, and then I will move around the sanctuary with a microphone so that you have an opportunity to share with one another how God has spoken to you.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”