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. I thought Lectio Divina was closely linked with monks and reflective living, but it is a practice of praying with the scriptures that can be used by anyone. It is quite similar to Godly Play in its reflectiveness, but without the lovely things to touch and move. As I have researched it, there seem to be a few different ways of explaining it depending on who you ask, but most advocate either a four or five-part sequence of prayer and Bible reading:
1. Lectio: Read the Bible. Read it slowly, prayerfully and carefully, asking questions such as: what stands out? What questions do I have?
2. Meditatio: Meditate on what you have read. Use your imagination to place yourself in the story and become one of the characters. How do they feel? Keep asking questions.
3. Oratio: Pray. Have a conversation with God about the text, your thoughts and your questions, allowing time for him to speak with you and to reflect on what he says.
4. Contemplatio: Contemplate what God is saying and spend time with him. Be still, invite God to be there and enjoy his presence.
Some people add reading around the context, and looking at notes and study guides as part of the first response, while others add an extra point:
5. Act: Apply the guidance of the Holy Spirit to your life. Allow it to give you new direc- tion and to help you act in a different way.
This might sound like a very difficult style of prayer and Bible reading to do with chil- dren, and I won’t pretend that I found it as easy to do with my children as I did alone. It is something that takes a while to get into, even for some adults, but given time many families find that it enhances their family times together with God.
Slowness isn’t always something that comes easily, but it is good for us. Adults are programmed to do things quickly and get stuff done rather than enjoying the journey. Children, and especially young children, are better at doing something for its own sake. For this reason, Lectio Divina is a great way to apply the brakes and slow down. It acts like a mini-Sabbath, giving us space to rest, reflect and connect with God. It is also recommended that we repeat the verse or verses a few times, which is something 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 particular story or section. Both changes of pace help us to ‘dwell in the Word’, to become more connect- ed with the story and to be present with the scriptures, just as putting away your phone can help you have a better conversation with someone sitting opposite you. Instead of racing to get to the end of the story we have time to notice the details and wonder what it was like to be there.
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 have used Godly Play-style wondering with my children since they were toddlers, and have noticed how now, at 6 and 7, they will introduce their own open-ended wonderings (“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 a part of Lectio Divina 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 while listening to a story, and it can be as creative as you like!
Sometimes, the play happens after the story has been read, when there has been time for processing. One thing I noticed when doing Lectio Divina with my children is that the sequence rarely all happens in one sitting, but it often happens later that day or week. This is a process of trust for me: trust that they are engaging and trust that God will meet them where they are.
Praying looks different for each family, and I think chatting with God about our questions and thoughts on a passage is a powerful thing to do. It is also a good way to deepen prayer from the classic TSP (“Thank you…sorry…please”). One question to ask relates to which bit God wants to draw our individual attention
to. 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 support parents in helping their children hear, or, as she calls it, ‘catch’ from God. Again, this is something we will get better at with practice, and what safer place is there to do that than in our families?
Contemplation isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when planning time for children to spend with God, but maybe ‘soaking’ or ‘slowness’ is. Or Christian mindfulness. However you describe it, our lives are bereft of spaces when we can just be, and where we can simply enjoy God’s presence with us. Spending time doing this can only enhance our lives and our faith. For some families this will work best lying on the floor listening to a worship song. We love to do this outside. One of my daughters particularly likes to sit outside in a hammock and be with God. We all need to spend more time doing this, and I think having completed the first three steps of Lectio Divina we are more likely to do so.
Action is something I usually find children are keen to partic- ipate in, but we need to make sure that this isn’t just a random moral tacked on at the end of a God story, such as: “Jesus says love your neighbour, so you need to be kind to your brother.” It needs to be something that happens in response to our moments spent with God. Maybe it won’t happen each time we do Lectio Divina, but let’s honour each other enough to encourage one another to follow through without applying guilt when it does.
Where we are in our lives – our seasons, our circumstances, our sorrows and our joys – can change the way we read and understand God’s Word. Lectio Divina suggests that we ask ourselves how the Bible verses are speaking to us. I was recently at a funeral and was surprised to rediscover how the words in the songs and Bible verses seemed different in light of the occasion. The verses about God being our light (where we need no sun) and of changing from glory to glory had more power than I had ever thought possible. It’s not that I was changing the words to fit my circumstances, but that God’s Word has the ability to speak to us wherever we are in our lives. Lectio Divina can help us find our place in his Word.
Another way I have seen Lectio Divina described is in the form of four questions:
- What does the text say? (This could include using a commen- tary, Bible notes or a picture Bible dictionary to look at the geographical or historical context of the verse.)
- What does the text say to me?
- What do I want to say to God about this text?
- What difference will this text make in my life?
This may be a good place to start if you are trying Lectio Divina with your family for the first time. Why not try a little bit with your family today?