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.