The mystery of holy reading

I knew this little girl.  She was the daughter of some friends.  She had this really odd habit.

She would put food in her mouth and she wouldn’t chew it.  Carrots, cookies, whatever.  She’d just tuck it away, I suppose in her cheek, and let it sit there.  Her parents tell a story of one time, she had something to eat before she lay down for a nap.  When she woke up, she still had some waxy, unidentifiable mass in her mouth.

The other night I splurged on crab legs.  All was at peace in my world.  I was calm, a bit hungry, and they were done just perfectly.

After I used the nutcracker things to open up the shell-part, I would peel the meat out with a skinny fork.  I would dunk it in the melted butter, and then I would place it on my tongue.

I spent a moment with each bite, really in that moment.  I would like to spend forever with that feeling.  I chewed slowly, carefully, attuned to the tiniest details.  After a few moments I swallowed.  And then began it all again.

There is an ancient discipline called Lectio Divina. Roughly speaking, this translates to “Holy Reading.”  Practioners of Lectio draw a parallel between the act of eating and the best way to approach God’s word.  When we eat, we begin by biting the food, then we chew it up, then we swallow the food and then we digest it.

Most of us recognize that this little girl I used to know did something weird.  We wouldn’t ever just take a bite of something and let it sit in our mouths for hours on end.

The way that we often read the bible, though, is a bit like that.  Our eyes scan the page.  Our brains register the individual words’ meanings.  Then we consider ourselves done.  We cross reading the bible off our mental to-do list.  And then we move on.

If all the bible offered us was easy facts, this wouldn’t be a bad way to approach the bible.  But if we want to dwell in the myseries of scripture, it simply won’t do.

A more full way of reading begins by reading a passage slowly.  This is like taking a bite.

Just as we wouldn’t chew something once and swallow, we don’t really retain something by reading it once.  Practioners of lectio divina tell us that the next step is like chewing.  We slowly read the passage, again, considering what God is trying to say to us.  After all, we wouldn’t bit, chew something once, and then swallow it!

When I’m eating something that is really good, I might stop and just take in the full experience of it’s flavor, of the way it feels in my mouth.  With scripture, we’re challenged to savor the experience as well.  This becomes a prayer, a dialogue with God about the things we are reading and how they might impact who we are and what we are doing.  When all this is done, we swallow.  Swallowing, in some sense, is a passive process.  It’s a kind-of submission.  In Lection-Divina we are challenged to complete the process with a passive contemplation of God’s presence.


Published by


The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “The mystery of holy reading”

  1. The monks practiced lectio divina to such an extent that they — as the saying goes — became what they ate — their thoughts, words, and heart became the Word.

    The Rule of St. Benedict is a good example, St. Benedict’s thinking and flow of words is nearly one long Bible passage and allusion.

    The Benedictine practice of extensive daily reading can also be seen as fostering the reading that later spread and helped the broad tradition of education in the western world.


  2. That’s a really fascinating thing: The observation that we become what we eat. Biologically, that is true in a quite literal way. Further, the idea that both scripture and Jesus himself are identified as the word of God, and finally the commandment of the Lord’s Supper all intertwine in a dizzying way.
    (By the way, check at John’s blog by clicking his name. Very interesting stuff, reminiscent of one of my favorite books, the Cloister Walk.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s