I’ve been Twitter friends with Fred Liggin for a while now (he also blogs at “Inside this guy’s head“). Each week, his missional community gathers with other communities for communal worship. Some weeks, they practise the ancient church discipline of Lectio Divina - a reflective, communal approach to Scripture, which can be used in churches in place of a sermon. I asked Fred to tell me more about this technique, and how it works in a large group gathering.
Each Sunday morning all of our missional communities and faith family come together under one roof. We sing, we share at the Lord’s Table, and we focus on God’s Word. As a church, we are learning to value dialogue (not only monologue), and are fostering a conversational community where communal discernment is embraced and invited, where shared leadership is emphasised, and each person actively participates. We use a variety of techniques to explore Scripture together, including Lectio Divina.
Lectio Devina: Discerning Life With God Together
The Sundays we practice Lectio Devina prove to be beautifully formative experiences. I could offer story after story of what we’ve seen and heard in the midst of our gatherings (and I will tell you one of them today). But first, this is how we practice it in a large gathering of people.
There are four basic moves in our practice of Lectio Devina (we call these “moves” in an effort to distinguish them from a “steps” mentality because it is not a four-step linear process; it as a movement between states of awareness where each stage naturally progresses). This is not a Bible study where we are interpreting the text, as much as allowing the text to interpret us. Here is how it works in detail.
Movement One: Reading Deeply
While sitting in a comfortable position after a few moments of silence (which is awkward in our noisy world!) we begin with silence before God. We are now ready to listen as someone reads the text aloud. Everyone is reminded to savor each word as they listen for a particular phrase that speaks to them and captures their imagination. After the reading a few moments of silence each person is invited to ask God, “What word or phrase do you want me to hear today?” A few more moments of quiet reflection is offered. Finally, anyone is welcomed to share aloud just the word or phrase. No elaboration is needed. This means we do not share anything that isn’t present in the text. In other words, we do not seek to make application. Not yet. We just listen. We simply allow God’s Spirit to speak through His Word slowly as we identify a word or phrase directly from Scripture.
Movement Two: Thinking Deeply
The text is read aloud again using the same translation, preferably by a different voice as it provides a different experience. Each person is invited to slowly repeat the phrase that seems to be for them while the passage is read again. We want to think deeply with God. We ask God, “Where does this phrase touch my life?” After a few moments to reflect each person is invited to share their reflection aloud using phrases such as “I hear…” “I see…” “I feel…”
Movement Three: Living Deeply
The text is read aloud a third and final time. Each person is invited to speak to God in words or images what He places on their heart. That response may be confession, thanksgiving, joy, or repentance. Finally, each person asks God, “What do You want me to do in light of this phrase?” This may come instantly for some while for others it unfolds throughout time. After a few moments of reflection anyone is invited to share aloud their response.
Movement Four: Rest
Finally we simply rest in silence in God’s presence, meditating on this experience with His Living Word.
Once we have enjoyed this time together I usually ask the church if we could identify any consistent themes within the room. I don’t force it. I want to allow the chance for deeper listening to what the Spirit could be saying to us as a community. I may offer extra insight into the particular Scripture in its context, but for no more than 10 minutes and only after we’ve all listened deeply to God through the text. I do not want to shape our readings, only ask God to shape our understanding of what it means to live from this text as His people joined with Him in Williamsburg, Virginia. My hope is that this part of the experience gives our collective reading theological and missiological integrity while inviting all of God’s people to work out the text in their lives as disciples of Jesus.
Lana had joined us in our gatherings for quite some time. She wasn’t sure what do with Jesus, much less church. Like many she had been burned. And like many she enjoyed complete and utter independence. If anything Lana was a New Age spiritualist. But over the past few months Jesus had been capturing her attention. Most weeks, Lana would come late to gathering and leave early in an effort to avoid as many people as possible. This Sunday would be different.
After practicing Lectio Devina with Psalm 131 (which is a great text to introduce Lectio Devina with, by the way), Lana was compelled to share her reflection from movement three: “I think God is telling me I need to forgive my ex-husband, who abused me and left me almost homeless along with our children.”
She began to weep. And as she did, many in our community stepped out of their seats and just simply surrounded her in silence. It was as if God wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. No words were said, no advice given. People just surrounded her. Some were praying silently for her peace while some were just simply sharing her burden.
Making space for God to work
A sermon on forgiveness would not have created the space for that to happen. Yes, of course the Holy Spirit can work in, through, beyond and in spite of a sermon, I get that and I believe it. It’s why I preach. I’ve seen God use sermons in countless ways. But God is often a both/and Person, not an either/or. He is not limited in His capacity to work through a variety of circumstances, moments or mediums. Because I believe in His creative power to work among us, I feel it is my responsibility to make space for God to work when we gather.
At Williamsburg Christian Church we are finding that using a variety of practices of learning from Scripture blesses us and forms us in particular ways. We are embracing mutuality as a core value as we learn what it means to be citizens of God’s kingdom in everyday places and spaces. We are learning to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to one another.
Have you practiced Lectio Divina or “Dwelling in The Word” in your church community? How has it impacted you? Do you see the value in this practice of listening to God’s Word and to each other?