One of the dangers of studying Scripture is that the focus can be too much on the cognitive side. While this is an important aspect of being human, it is only one aspect. Applying different methods for studying the Bible can help avoid these pitfalls. An approach that has helped me a lot in catering to various aspects of my being is called Lectio Divina (Latin for “divine reading”).
This monastic tradition is built up in four phases:
- Lectio. Read the Bible.
- Meditatio. Meditate on what you read.
- Oratio. Pray about what you read.
- Contemplatio. Contemplate on what you read.
One person leads the study. The others do not need a Bible; they can just close their eyes and listen.
Step 1. Read the selected passage. Take it slow and let the words sink in. At the end of the reading, no one speaks but lets the text resound internally.
Step 2. Give the group the instruction: “Is there a sentence or word that stands out for you? If not, this is not a problem.” Read the passage a second time. After that, again take a moment of silence and then invite the group members to share what stood out. Make sure that they don’t elaborate on that. They only share the Bible.
Step 3. Give the group the instruction: “Prayerfully ask yourself why this part stands out? In a lot of cases, this is because there’s a connection between the Bible and our lives. What is that connection? Again, it is not a problem if you don’t know what to answer to that.” Read the passage a third time. After that, be silent for a short period. Then let people share the connection they’ve seen. Ask them to be brief — a few sentences should be enough — and monitor that no one is taking over the conversation.
Step 4. Give the group a final instruction: “Now you have seen what stands out and you have an idea of the connection with your life, is there something that God wants to communicate to you through this? God speaks to us through the Bible, and maybe he is doing that right now. Sometimes God doesn’t speak instantly, or we just don’t understand. It’s no problem if you don’t know (yet) what God is saying through this passage.” Read the passage a fourth time. Invite the group members to share what they think God wants to say. Again, make sure that people are brief. This sharing is personal, so prevent members from interrupting or commenting on what others share.
Step 5. You can read the passage for a fifth time, but the most important thing is to take time to pray for each other about what has been shared.
As you can see, this approach can easily lead to an extremely subjective reading of Scripture. While I do believe that there is no such thing as objective reading, the text does give boundaries. Ideally, this method is frequently practised — to see the trends in God’s word to you — and in a cognitive and practical framework — to make sure that you’re not talking nonsense, and to make sure that the Bible is practised.