Here's another informative article by Brian Flynn on one of the contemplative prayer methods, Lectio Divina.
Modern day contemplative prayer movement stems from the monastic period of Christianity (early middle ages), which was a time of experimentation and mystical practices. One of the practices, lectio divina, meaning sacred reading, involved taking a page of Scripture and reading it over and over again.
Friar Luke Dysinger, a present-day monk at Saint Andrews Abbey, describes lectio divina this way:
"Choose a text of the Scriptures ... Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved 'prayer word' or 'prayer phrase' they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. For some the practice known as 'centering prayer' makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina....
”Then turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the 'still, small voice' of a word or phrase that somehow says, 'I am for you today ...'
”Next take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories and ideas.
”Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity."
In Richard Foster’s book, Devotional Classics, he quotes 16th Century mystic Madame Guyon to describe the practice, “…make use of scripture to quiet your mind. First read a passage of scripture. Once you sense the Lord’s presence, the content of what you read is no longer important. The scripture has served its purpose; it has quieted your mind; it has brought you to him. …You should always remember that you are not there to gain an understanding of what you have read; rather you are reading to turn your mind from the outward things to the deep parts of your being. You are not there to learn or to read, but you are there to experience the presence of your Lord!”
This practice has become extremely popular in today's Christian youth organizations and programs. Youth Specialties, a world renowned Christian organization, instructs young people and youth workers to incorporate lectio divina into their prayer lives. In their magazine, Youth Worker Journal, they describe lectio divina this way:
"This is a fancy Latin term for 'sacred reading' and has also been called 'meditation on the Word.' Sacred reading is the practice of reading scripture slowly in a spirit of contemplation. The goal isn't exegesis or analysis, but allowing God to speak to us through the word. Christians often refer to the Bible as God's love letter to mankind, and when we take the time to read it as such, we are practicing sacred reading."
The article then exhorts readers to:
"Take a short passage and repeat it over and over again aloud. With each repetition, remove extraneous words until you've broken the passage down to one thought. An obvious example is John 14:27, which could easily be broken down to the word 'peace.'"
The concept of allowing God to speak through His Word is perfectly legitimate. I experience that when I read or meditate on the Bible. However, in the context of this article the purpose is not to contemplate the meaning of a Bible verse by thinking about it but is rather meant to gain an experience from it.
There is a difference between reading the Word and understanding its meaning versus a method of focusing on a single word to gain a mystical experience. Through Youth Specialties and many other youth-oriented organizations, our youth are being taught to treat the Bible as a meditative vehicle rather than a source of knowledge to further our understanding of God.
Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project (created by San Francisco Theological Seminary, in partnership with Youth Specialties and Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church) embraces the contemplative life and teaches children and teens the basics of lectio divina. Please note that the steps below, while giving no direct instruction to repeat a mantra in order to enter the silence, closely parallel those of contemplative meditators. Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project presents a softened and subtle description, which will make the unfamiliar reader unaware of what is really being introduced. In short, the young participant is being groomed so as to make future instruction on mystical meditation more palatable.
Read these steps and see how frightfully clever they really are:
"Reading (lectio) - Slowly begin reading a biblical passage as if it were a long awaited love letter addressed to you. Approach it reverentially and expectantly, in a way that savors each word and phrase. Read the passage until you hear a word or phrase that touches you, resonates, attracts or even disturbs you.
"Reflecting (meditatio) - Ponder this word or phrase for a few minutes. Let it sink in slowly and deeply until you are resting in it. Listen for what the word or phrase is saying to you at this moment in your life, what it may be offering to you, what it may be demanding of you.
"Expressing (oratio) - When you feel ready, openly and honestly express to God the prayers that arise spontaneously within you from your experience of this word or phrase. These may be prayers of thanksgiving, petition, intercession, lament, or praise.
"Resting (contemplatio) - Allow yourself to simply rest silently with God for a time in the stillness of your heart remaining open to the quiet fullness of God's love and peace. This is like the silence of communion between the mother holding her sleeping infant child or between lovers whose communication with each other passes beyond words."
Why is it necessary to do this at all? For two thousand years, since Christ’s ascension, His followers have been able to gain assurance of God's presence in their lives through the knowledge that He has risen and now dwells in their hearts. For the early church, there was no written word in wide circulation to "resonate," "attract"' or "disturb" them. Throughout the centuries, faithful believers focused on the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) rather than trying to find assurance through a single written word circulating through their minds.
I was having a discussion over lunch with a pastor who taught Lectio Divina at a local seminary, and he attempted to defend the practice. He stated that in the process of reading a page of scripture over and over again a word will “jump out” at you. He said that the Holy Spirit chooses this word for you. However, how do I know that this concept is true? First, there is no reference to Lectio Divina in the Bible. Secondly, how do I know what this word is supposed to mean to me? If it were “love”, does that mean I should concentrate on love for self, God, the world, sister, mother, brother? There is no way of knowing other than using my own imagination or desire.
If the Holy Spirit wishes to give me my word for the day, why would it only come from the Bible? Could it not come from another source? Why would I need to read an entire page of Scripture? Could I not simply flip the pages of the Bible and point to a word with my finger? If the Holy Spirit is controlling this then it should work just as well. I attempted this once and my finger landed on the word “divination.” Hmmm, I don’t think that will work.
By using this practice, we are turning the Bible into a mystical device for personal revelations rather than a source of knowledge. By taking passages of Scripture, which have an intended meaning, and breaking them down into smaller, separate segments, often for the purpose of chanting over and over, the true meaning of the passages are lost. Rather a form of occult mysticism is practiced—with the hope and intention of gaining a mystical experience that God never intended when He gave the inspired words to His servants.