Primary goal of ‘Lectio divina’ is to listen to God through his son, the Christ
In last month’s action packed episode, we looked at how and why high school freshmen must read the biblical text aloud with the teacher, frequently stopping the reading to be able to ask questions regarding the text.
In this column, we will take a look at high school seniors reading the biblical text. The intensity of reading is the same, but the method is different. The method used by high school seniors is an ancient practice known as lectio divina.
Lectio divinais Latin for “sacred reading.” It is really prayer, and the goal of lectiois to listen - to listen to what God is saying to the reader through the text. If the object of reading the biblical text for freshmen was to pass along the story and to learn Christian vocabulary, then the object of lectio with the seniors is to inaugurate and instill a lifelong habit of lectio, and for the seniors to listen to God and pray.
One reads slowly in lectio divina. Slowly. There is no predetermined amount of text to be covered. In other words, one does not begin lectioby saying to oneself, “I’m going to read all of chapter one of Luke’s Gospel.
Why? Because in lectio, the reader is not in charge. God is. One simply reads the text until a word or phrase strikes the reader. Then the reader stops and ponders on that word or phrase (or chews on the word or phrase as the monks like to say). How long will that pondering take? Who knows! Who cares! It is the pondering, the chewing on the words, the listening to God, that matters. It is highly possible that only one verse, or only a portion of one verse, may be read in any one session. Information is not the point, here. Formation is.
Now, this is totally counterintuitive to 18-year old high school students. All their academic life they have been trained to read a text for information, for facts. Scanning a text for relevant information has been the goal. Speed reading is a prized skill. That is why students have such problems with lectiowhen they first begin this method. In lectiothey are told notto scan; not to read quickly; not to search out for facts and information. They are told to slow down. To slow down! They are told they are not in control of the reading; they are told God is in control. You see a lot of bewildered faces when this method is introduced. Not until the semester is nearly over does the method begin to resonant with the students.
So, how does lectio divina play out in an actual classroom setting? Here is how I conduct it.
In my Catholic Spirituality class (seniors only) each class begins with either Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Lectio Divinafollows immediately at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Hours. Now, before beginning the Morning or Evening Prayer, I instruct the students to open up their Bibles to the point where they left off in their lectio from the previous class. I also instruct them to get out their lectio notebooks and pen. I require each student to keep such a notebook. In this notebook the students write down the word or phrase that struck them and I check these notebooks weekly. Frankly, this is a means for me to ensure the students are complying with instruction. However, as I explain to the students, at the end of the semester they will have compiled their very own prayer book which they can consult at any time.
The Liturgy of the Hours usually last about ten to twelve minutes. I then allow another ten minutes for lectio. Thus, in a 70-minute class the first twenty or so minutes are totally devoted to prayer, leaving 50 minutes for regular classroom work.
Ten minutes may not sound very long. However, when the students first begin lectio, that ten minutes seems like forever to them. However, as the semester progresses those ten minutes seem to grow shorter and shorter, at least for most students.
Remember what is trying to be accomplished, here. With the freshmen the goal of the Bible classes is to pass on the story and to cultivate a Christian vocabulary. With the seniors the goal is to introduce and instill a lifelong habit of lectio divina, that is listening to God the Father through his Christ.
Reading the biblical text, not reading aboutthe biblical text, is fundamental. Students cannot become lovers of the text unless they actually read the text. A lover wants to savor the experience of his or her beloved. The same goes for the Bible.
Raymond Studzinski, a Benedictine monk at St. Meinrad Archabbey, writes in his book “Reading to Live: The Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina”: “The Scriptures provide the reader, not with logical arguments…but with a sacred narrative that would lead the reader to wisdom.”
Don’t we all want wise students?