"Lectio Divina" is an ancient art of spiritual reading of the scripture at a deeper level. The formalization of the art is dated to about 1600 years ago. About 5 years ago, Pope Benedict XVI personally recommended this art to participants at the international congress, believing that this practice will bring about "a new spiritual springtime" if effectively promoted. You can read the entire papal address here.
This art was introduced to us this morning. We were led to practice the Lectio Divina as part of our learning process on the topic spiritual discipline.
This method of reading scripture was once perceived by Protestants as a risk for uncontrolled and heterodoxal mystical experience. Martin Luther was given as an example of someone who did not explicitly endorse this practice. Then we were told that though Luther was not explicit about it, his past as an Augustinian monk would have probably exposed him to this ancient art. Hence we do detect the pattern of Lectio Divina in his writings. This art is not that alien to Protestants. That's what we were told.
Anyway, there are preparations needed prior to our practicing of the art. For instance, we are told to regulate our breathing, make sure we take constant, slow, and deep breath. We were suggested to pay attention to our own breath.
The first stage was Lectio. A passage from the scripture was read by a volunteer while the rest of us had our eyes closed. We were instructed to listen attentively to discern between the voice of the world, of our selves, and that of God.
Then the second stage is known as the Meditatio. The same scriptural passage was read. This round by a different volunteer. We were asked to listened with diligence to capture a phrase that resonates with our present state of meditation.
The same passage was read by another volunteer for the third time. This marks the third stage known as Oratio. Here, we are told not to use our analytical or logical skills to understand the scriptural passage. Instead, we are directed to meditate further over the catch phrase, try to connect the phrase with our life experience.
Then came the fourth and final stage, Contemplatio. At this stage, all of us were instructed to simply rest in the presence of God. After that, we were asked to share our own catch phrase and the experiment within our group. No one should respond either positively or negatively to individual's sharing as there is no right or wrong in one's personal connection with the scriptural passage.
Each one of us came up with an understanding of the passage without reference to the context of the text. When my turn came, I passed on as I didn't have anything to share. This entire experiment is an example of a type of spiritual discipline. (Or is it?)
For more information of this ancient art, go here.
Then it occurred to me that this practice overturns all that we have learned from our other classes that emphasize heavily on exegesis. Classes on Old Testament, New Testament, Biblical Interpretation, Theology, and even Mission & Evangelism stress on the right understanding of the scripture. And a right understanding can never be detached from the text's context.
We learned that the sort of hermeneutic underlying Lectio Divina is known as 'reader-response criticism'. This method emphasizes the reader's personal experience with the text regardless of what the text really says.
If Christian spirituality cannot be detached from Christian theology, which I think it is so, and if theology cannot be separated from exegesis on the scripture, which every Christian should think so, then all Christian spirituality should involve proper exegesis on the scripture.
Anyway, this is just my thought. I can be wrong. Yet I cannot help but to wonder what does this mean after this morning's experiment with Lectio Divina?
Does it mean that we have to do eisegesis in our cultivation of spirituality? If yes, then what's the point of reading commentaries on the scripture, writing exegetical papers on scriptural passages, reading theological treatises over matters pertaining to our faith? What's the point of getting degrees on theology and biblical studies?
Anyone can simply establish any meaning on a particular scriptural passage in the name of Lectio Divina. And claim spiritual growth for that. Having a degree or not is not in anyway relevant to the proper handling of scripture.
If not, then why are we practicing this ancient art which contradicts all that we have learned? Does spirituality has to be dichotomized from exegesis? Does spiritual discipline, like Lectio Divina, necessarily irreconcilable with intellectual discipline, like proper hermeneutic? Can Christian spirituality be understood as a progress that includes proper exegesis?
I think we can. We should. How about you?