I came across Lectio Divina quite a few years ago but it was only recently that I thought of using it as a way of exploring the Bible together as a family.
Lectio Divina seems to be most closely linked with monks and reflective living, but it’s a practise of praying with the Scriptures, which can be used by pretty much anyone. When I’ve researched it, there seem to be a few different ways of explaining it depending on who you ask, but most have either a four or five-part sequence of prayer and Bible reading.
The Bible Society give these four activities:
1 Read the Bible (lectio) – read it slowly, prayerfully, and carefully, asking questions such as:
What stands out? What questions do I have?
2 Meditate (meditation) – use your imagination to put yourself into the story, become one of the characters, how do they feel? Keep asking questions: Why did they say that?
3 Pray (oratio) – have a conversation with God about the text, your thoughts and your questions, allowing time for God to speak with you and to reflect on what He says
4 Contemplate (contemplation) – be still, invite God to be there and enjoy His presence
Others have added:
5 Act – apply the guidance of the Holy Spirit into your life, allow it to give you new direction, to act in a different way.
This might seem to be a very difficult style of prayer and Bible reading to do with children, and I won’t pretend I found it as easy to do it with my children as I do alone. However, it is a practise, even for adults, and I think given time many families would find it enhances their family times together with God. Here’s why:
1 Slowness isn’t something which comes easily to most children. Most of us, children and adults alike, are kind of programmed to do things fast, to get stuff done, rather than to enjoy the journey. For this reason, Lectio Divina is a great way to put on the brakes and s….l….o….w……….d…..o……..w…………n. It acts like a mini-Sabbath, gives us space to rest, to reflect, and to connect with God. It’s also recommended that we repeat the verses of verses a few times, which is something children, especially young children, enjoy and find helpful.
Reading the Bible slowly can include reading the actual words and sentences at a slower pace, and reading fewer verses so as to take longer over a story or section. Both these changes of pace help us to ‘dwell in the word’, to become more connected with the story, to be present with the scriptures, kind of like putting away your phone helps you have a better conversation with someone opposite you. Instead of racing to get to the end of the story, we have time to notice the details, to wonder what it was like to be there. And that brings me on to ….
2 Imagination is something children are experts at. When we apply our God-given imagination to the Bible, it allows us to get inside the stories in a new way, discovering more about and with God. I’ve used Godly Play-style wondering questions with my children since they were toddlers, and I’ve noticed how now, at 6 and 7, they will ask their own open-ended questions (I wonder what he was thinking when he did that) and interrupt Bible stories with their own suggestions about the character’s motives or feelings. This is part of Lectio Divina which they are good at, and it doesn’t just have to be a verbal imagining – we often use paper to draw or Lego to build with while listening to a story, and it could as creative as you like! Sometimes, the play happens after the story has been read, when time for processing has happened. This is one thing I noticed when doing L.D. with my children, is that the sequence doesn’t always, or perhaps even rarely all happens in one sitting, but it does often happen later that day or that week. This is a process of trust for me, trust that they are engaging and trust that God will meet them when and where they are.
3 Praying looks different in each family, and I think chatting with God about our questions and thoughts on a passage is a powerful thing to do. Asking Him which bit He wants to draw to my attention, which part is especially for me Rachel Turner’s Chat and Catch chapter in her book Parenting Children for a Life of Faith gives a really helpful step by step guide to help parents help their children hear, or as she calls it, catch from God. This is again something which we get better at with practise, and what safer place to do that than our family?
4 Contemplation isn’t the first thing which jumps to mind when planning time for children to spend with God, but maybe soaking is. Or Christian mindfulness. However you describe it, like slow-ness, our lives are bereft of spaces when we can just be, and enjoy God’s presence with us. For adults and children, spending time doing this can only enhance our lives and our faith. For some families this will work bests lying on the floor listening to a worship song. We love to do it outside. One of my daughters particularly like to sit outside in a hammock and be with God. We all need more time to do this, and I think having done the first 3 steps we are more likely to.
5 Action is something which I usually find children are keen to do – but we need to make sure this isn’t a moral popped on the end of a God story, like “Jesus says love your neighbour so you need to be kind to your brother.” This needs for each of us to be something which happens in response to our moment with God. Maybe it won’t happen each time we do Lectio Divina, but when it does, let’s honour each other enough to be encouraging without applying guilt if we don’t do it.
Where we are in our life, our season, our circumstances, our sorrow and our joy – these change how we read and understand God’s word. Lectio Divina suggests we ask ourselves how the Bible verses speak to us. I was recently at a funeral and was surprised to discover (again) how the words in the songs and the Bible verses seem different in the light of the occasion. The verses about God being our light (where we need no sun), of changing from glory into glory had more power than I’d ever thought possible. It’s not that I’m changing the words to fit my circumstance but that God’s word has the ability to speak to us wherever we are. It’s more like Lectio Divina helps us find our place in His Word.
Another way I have seen Lectio Divina described is as four questions:
1 What does the text say? This could include using a commentary, Bible notes or a picture Bible dictionary to look at the geographical or historical context of the verse.
2 What does the text say to me?
3 What do I want to say to God about this text?
4 What difference will this text make to my life?
This might be a good place to start if trying Lectio Divina out with your family for the first time. Why not try a little bit of Lectio Divina with your family today? Have you come tried A GodVenture through the Story of Lazarus? It’s a brilliant introduction to slow (and fun) Bible reading and dwelling in the word …. with stickers!
Resources you might find helpful from the Scottish Bible Society