// joined-up thinking

lettherebelightI spent most of the past month and a half typing up essay plans, re-reading primary texts and learning quotations, and so the prospect of sitting down to a half-hour studying John’s gospel in depth, as unexpectedly happened this morning, didn’t exactly appeal at first. A group of us meet up on Wednesday mornings to eat breakfast together and pray, and today we tried out an ancient way of reading that’s known as Lectio Divina. Eugene Peterson describes it like this:

Lectio Divina comprises four elements: lectio (we read the text), meditatio (we meditate on the text), oratio (we pray the text), and contemplatio (we live the text)… Reading (lectio) is a linear act, but spiritual (divina) reading is not – any of the elements may be at the fore at any one time.

In practice, that generally involves slowly reading each verse of a text, letting it sink in, exploring its nuances and waiting for a fresh perspective, and then praying through that and enacting what you’ve learned…

It all sounds a little bit like a hyper-spiritual version of my degree, if I’m honest, and that’s why I was so surprised at being so refreshed after sitting down to do this earlier today. Yes, it’s a bit like reading the Bible as a literary text, but it’s also remarkable how nuanced this text is when you take the time to sit down and really look at it in depth, when you give it space, time, not needing to rush off to the next thing. It’s easy to talk about ‘letting the Bible speak to you’, but to actually *do* that requires a conscious decision to silence all those voices that tell you that ‘you’ve heard it all before’, that ‘you know this bit off by heart’, that ‘it has nothing new to teach you’ or that ‘you have more important things to do’.

That was the state that I was in as I sat down this morning and, I’m embarrassed to say, it has been the state with which approached quite a lot of the times that i’ve supposed to be spending with God recently. I mean, it’s fine seeing this as an important thing to do, even resolving to do it, but actually stopping, breathing, that’s a very hard thing to do indeed. The first couple of times I heard John 15 read out this morning I found myself running through in my head a whole list of clever points I could use to make myself look good, different ‘ways of seeing’… and then, finally, after the third or fourth time of hearing it, when all that pretension fell away, it became painfully clear that this was never about looking good, not even slightly.

David exclaims in one Psalm, “how sweet are Your words to my taste, | Sweeter than honey to my mouth!”, pleads with God, “teach me, LORD, the way of Your decrees, | That I may follow it to the end. | Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law, | And obey it with all my heart”. Surely I can’t be the only one who finds it so easy to forget that this text sitting in front of you is, first of all, a record of how people have met with God throughout history, and that, even if only for that reason, it is an astonishing text. But it’s also just as easy to forget that this is living and active, too, especially when you don’t give it the space to have that effect – when it’s viewed as a static text rather than a text that interacts with its readership, even today, this many years later. And it is so easy to forget that this book is more than just a ‘life-manual’, and so read it without any kind of awe whatsoever…

This isn’t meant to be about heaping condemnation on anyone, as I’m speaking from my own experience here. But it does remind me of the need to change posture, at least, to start approaching this book and the way God speaks through it as not just ‘another thing to do’ before the day starts, but to remember that it is something really important; vital, even. The truly ironic thing is that John 15 is shot through with those words, “remain in me” and a phrase that I’ve heard a thousand times, “apart from me you can do nothing”. Again, I’ve missed the point; again, I tried to do this on my own, treating God like a Deistic God, remote and uninterested in human affairs, when the truth is dramatically different. Without the space to let him speak, to stop, breathe and listen, it’s remarkably easy to fall back into that trap – a category misreading of almost everything about God’s nature.

Thank God for grace, then, as I’m aware at the moment of how much I need it, but also for the power of His word, too. It’s still breathtaking, paradigm-shifting and, a lot of the time, mysterious. And awe, and a fresh perspective, that’s got its value. It’s amazing that this text can still surprise me, still cut to the heart, still, after almost seven years reading it, keep saying new things.

What I need to do is make sure that I keep that in mind, and stop assuming that I’ve got this all sorted. I don’t, and I’m glad of that. That keeps my Bible from being just another revision exercise, yet another essay plan to master.

Thank goodness for that.

I’ve got more than enough essay plans to deal with already.

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  1. Thanks, that hit the spot with me. I’m finding it difficult to focus, and years of reading and hearing the Bible can make you numb and complacent. Over the past couple of years I’ve used this http://www.sacredspace.ie and more recently really liked http://www.examen.me as a way of doing Lectio Divina

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