Sacred Reading

At Andover Newton, each new student is placed into a Community Covenant Group, or CCG. Much like a freshman orientation group, the purpose of these groups is to provide a “touchstone community” that will serve as a support system of 5-8 colleagues and peers, navigating this period of new experiences, changes, and questions together. Each group meets once a month and is led by an upperclassman, who facilitates discussions about our coursework, guides us in spiritual practices, and helps us reflect on what it means to do theological work in a multi-faith context like ANTS.

Last week I was asked to help lead my group in a spiritual practice to enhance our time together. I chose the practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading. Perhaps you have experience with lectio divina, or perhaps you have never heard of it. In short, lectio divina is an ancient spiritual practice that can be used either alone or in a small group. It involves reading a text, whether that is scripture, poetry, or another passage, in order to hear and listen to what God might be saying to you through that text. It is not a “Bible study,” where one learns about who wrote the text, to whom the person was writing, in what context the passage was written, or what certain words or phrases mean (all things that seminarians like to do, by the way.) Instead, lectio divina invites participants to read a passage, perhaps a paragraph, or perhaps just a sentence or two, in a literal sense, an allegorical sense, and a moral sense. If you are incorporating lectio divinia in the context of a small group, this is one way to do so, and the way that I chose to do so last week:

Lectio Divina Shared in Community (via BuildingSmallGroups.com)

Listening for the Gentle Touch of Christ the Word
The Literal Sense
Participants read or listen to the passage read out loud twice. In a few moments of silence, you look for the word or phrase that shimmers for you, that attracts your focus and attention. Then each person shares just that word or phrase, without elaboration.

How Christ the Word Speaks to Me
The Allegorical Sense
The passage is read again, preferably by a person with a different voice. In silence, persons reflect on the question, “Where does the content of this reading touch my life today?” Then after a few moments, participants briefly share their answers, beginning their sentences with “I hear…” or “I see…”

What Christ the Word Invites Me to Do
The Moral Sense
Finally the passage is read out loud a third time, again by yet another voice. During a few moments of silence, each person reflects on the statement, “I believe that God wants me to ____ today or this week.” At this time the community is encouraged to share, in greater length than the previous steps, the results of this third reflection. The practice is closed in prayer.

As you can see, this practice can be an intentional way of incorporating reading, silence, reflection, sharing, and prayer in the context of a community. I have found this to be a powerful practice both personally and as a way to hold and be held by members of my community.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, I encourage you to do so! Either find a quiet place, or find two or three other friends or family to try it out together. Perhaps you’ll try a passage from the Psalms, or a passage from a spiritual author that you love.

This is the poem that I used last week, verses by Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet who lived and wrote in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. These words are from his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, published in 1905. [1]

You too will find your strength.
We who must live in this time
cannot imagine how strong you will become—
how strange, how surprising,
yet familiar as yesterday.

We will sense you
like a fragrance from a nearby garden
and watch you move through our days
like a shaft of sunlight in a sickroom.

We will not be herded into churches,
for you are not made by the crowd,
you who meet us in our solitude.

We are cradled close in your hands—
and lavishly flung forth.

I’ve found this poem to be particularly relevant during this often busy and anxious month of November, both for myself and for others. If you feel led, please read, reflect, be silent, pray, and then go forth.

May you find gratitude where you feel joy, strength where you feel weak, clarity where you feel uncertain, hope where you feel despair, motivation where you feel passion, love where you feel lonely, and the cradling presence of God where you need it most. Amen.


[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trans. and ed. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (New York: Penguin, 2005), 183.

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