Lectio Divina–A Reflecting Spirit


My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2)

The four-step sequence of the lectio divina spiritual exercise commences with a reading of the Scriptures and a listening spirit. With an ear attuned to the voice of God, we read slowly, listening for those words or phrases that the Spirit draws to our attention. Once identified, our hearts turn not to our heads for translation, but to a period of reflection in which we immerse ourselves in the word or phrase in order to discover the message that God is delivering through it.

Meditatio is the next step that we ease into as our word or phrase has been heard. We are going to meditate on this small segment of God’s Word in order to discern what it means to us. Reflection enables us to delve much deeper in the words and asks the Spirit’s participation to direct our heart-thinking to communicate the nuances of the message. For example, we all read the beginning words of John 3:16 the same: “For God so loved the world…”. If I say that I love my wife and that I also love lasagna, it is easy for all of us to distinguish the difference in meaning between the two uses of the word love.

If the Spirit has raised the word love to our attention as we listened to the passage, as we meditate on the word He will communicate the specific application that it has for each of us. If I am struggling with a brother or sister in my faith community, God may communicate to me the need to surrender my position for the good of the other. Meditation on that word may reveal to you that God is pleased with your sacrificial love for others. There are innumerable messages that can invested in that simple word, all unique and most easily overlooked when we read simply to read the book. Meditating on the word moves it deeper, into our heart where the Spirit can cause it to reverberate and reveal its meaning. We do not seek definition, we seek revelation.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7

Our reflection centers itself on the single question, how are your revealing yourself to me Lord? Whether a single word, a verse or even a broader passage. Our immersion into the Scriptures is not seeking information, rather, we seek identification. The voice of the Lord speaks the passage directly to us and we are to receive it, perhaps differently than others who may be hearing the same exact passage. He may want us to take Peter’s place in the shadows as the cock crows, or to substitute for Mary in early morning chill as Jesus makes His first resurrected appearance. There may be warning or encouragement in “Be holy, because I am holy”. The single word “finished”, uttered from the cross may be the single reflection that alters your theological understanding of all that comes before and after.

Grace and peace to you.

The Tools of Theological Reflection

imageWhen Christians voice their position on a theological subject, the expectation of a disciple is that this position has been considered in the context of their faith. Taking a stand on a particular subject is saying to the world, “this is my best understanding of what Christian faith means.” This understanding is the cumulative experience and meditation of the Church as we have witnessed God at work in our lives, in the Church, and in the World. A theological framework derived from our embedded theology is necessarily limited by what others tell or teach us. A deeper understanding of what faith means is the product of a craftsman utilizing the tools of Christian reflection.

The depth of this theological viewpoint is important because it is the framework on which we organize input and process events. A shallow embedded framework provides us with a limited number of ‘hooks’ on which we can process information or events. We are reliant on others to grasp the world around us. A reflective theological process, on the other hand, builds a stronger and more in-depth framework through which truth and events are interpreted, correlated, and assessed in light of the Christian faith.

Resources for Theological Reflection

In my last post we established the the methods of the theological craft (Interpret, Correlate, Assess) but without a proper orientation to the resources of the craft, the methods are of little worth as they will rely on secular constructs. The list of resources is fourfold and include Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. Many readers will identify this as the Wesleyan quadrilateral** (or Methodist quadrilateral) but that should not be read as endorsing or leaning toward a specific theology. These four tools provide a way of assessing ideas within the framework of Scriptures, of the work of the Church throughout history, and of your experience with how God has and does work in the world. Some may argue otherwise but the crafting of theological takes place in the crucible of life.

Christians have often been referred to as ‘people of the book’ since the Bible forms the chief resource for reflection. Each of the other tools is subordinate to the words of the Scriptures. Through the pages of the Bible we draw propositions about divine truth, descriptions of the nature of God, we see the faith experiences of those who have come before us, and we hear repeated invitations to a new life offered through the grace of the Father. The craftsman recognizes that while the Scriptures offer a treasure house of knowledge that applies to all areas of life, it does not speak specifically to every question. It requires responsible interpretation that is cognizant of its scope and the broad strokes and categorization that may encompass specific areas of concern. (For example, the specific question of abortion is never addressed. The Scriptures do reveal God’s perspective on the sanctity of the life of His creations and from this we can interpret His feelings toward the practice.)

Rational human beings utilize their ability to reason constantly and theological reflection is no different. Reason is crucial in the ability to assess and correlate theological thought. To take the individual words ( or verses ) of scripture literally from the page into application often leads to misinterpretation. We must understand and recognize the ever widening circles of context that exist in the Scriptures and work from the tenet that all of the Bible works together. It does not deny itself. If we craft a new theological idea that stands apart from the rest of the Scriptures, reason tells us that we must tread carefully. Our ability to reason also contributes to our evaluation of alternative portrayals of the Christian faith. Contrasting limited and unlimited atonement as an example, requires the theologian to sift through and evaluate the entire body of the Scriptures before concluding which of these two lines of thought most adequately fits the nature of the Faith.

If, in the midst of crafting your theological understandings, you arrive at a conclusion that has never been heard within the Church during the centuries of her existence, be very cautious. Tradition plays an important role in the craft. Many thousands upon thousands of Christian thinkers and practitioners have preceded us and certain doctrines and beliefs have survived the transference from generation to generation. We must always take these into account, remembering that similar evaluations of their validity have been conducted prior to our coming on the scene. Tradition serves as an anchor as well, preventing us from being blown about by every new doctrinal breeze.

Finally, our experiences play a role in theological reflection.  The degree to which you consider your experiences valuable is going to vary. Some Christians will elevate experience to a level equal to or above that of the other resources but a more temperate approach is called for. Relying on experience as a prime determinant can push us towards reading this experience into the scriptures rather than trying to understand an experience in light of the Scriptures. Our own experiences, while not definitive, aid us in evaluating the theological truth claims that are based on other’s truth claims. If a televangelist claims riches for all of those who contribute to his ministry but it is later discovered that many who contributed to the appeal remained impoverished, we can rightly judge the evangelist’s theology to be lacking.

Working at the Craft

The Christian crafting a theological viewpoint brings many resources to the task. Scripture remains the primary resource around which the others orbit and it is from the Bible that our process should start. Even when it is an experience that we are seeking to understand we should return to our knowledge of the Bible to begin forming a theological explanation. This requires that we are consistent students of the Scriptures, regularly reading and storing the truths within us so that we have as complete an understanding of God’s word as possible. As we become masters of these tools, we will become more adept at using them to assess, interpret and correlate truths in our theological crafting.

** The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

This structure has been criticized many times throughout its brief history. Though Wesley expressed these as the tools of theology, it was only in 1964 that the term came into being when written by biographer Albert Outler. He has expressed regret at doing so since it has been incorrectly interpreted (both intentionally and unintentionally) and gives and invalid impression of Wesley’s method. The Quadrilateral is often expressed graphically as an axis with the four tools placed in each of the quadrants.


One draws from this diagram the impression that the importance of Scripture is equal to or subservient to the others but this is incorrect. Wesley always places the Scriptures at the center of theology with the others contributing to a lesser degree. This diagram could be improved by either varying the sizes of the boxes (which would spoil the quadrants I suppose) or portraying it in some other form.

image lyzadanger

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day One

imageWe’ve all spent time in the psalms. They are a source of challenge, comfort, and promise for us today in the same way that they were for the people of Israel. At times pleading and others praising, God and His incredible works remain front and center in this poetry. The Church enters the season of Lent today, a period of pointed reflection on the Lord that moves day by day toward the celebration of Easter. We meditate on the bloody and horrible cost of salvation, how the perfect Seder lamb had to be sacrificed so that you and I might be saved. It is at the same time a sober and celebratory time.

Psalm 85 expresses our need and desire perfectly. The psalmist pleads,

Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.

Will you be angry with us forever?

Will you prolong your anger through all generations?

Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. (vv 4-7)

Begin our walk through the desert toward Calvary by asking yourself, what am I contributing to prolonging God’s anger?  What must I shed on this trip through the wilderness? Our goal is to reach the cross rid of the dead weight  and dross that interfere with our relationship with the Savior.

Grace and peace to you.


image wolfgang staudt

Contemplating Creation

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Ps 19:1)

image Returning to Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism she suggests that one interested in beginning the spiritual discipline of meditation start “with that first form of contemplation which the old mystics sometimes call the ‘the discovery of God in his creatures.’” Meditating on creation is a contemplative form that lends itself to practice at any moment during the day when you can view the world around you. By focusing on His creation from its grandest examples such as the Sierra Nevada or the Grand Canyon to its most minute in the tiny flowers of the Verbena. You seek to encounter God through the glory proclaimed in all that he created, in whatever form it takes. Allow yourself to meditate on the symmetry of the flower, at the wonder of its shape and color. From the tiny stamens your meditation can move to reflect on the thousands and thousands of types and colors of flower in the creation and glory at the creative mind that brought them all to life. Your soul will find its humility and allow you to commune even closer with your Father.

Meditation and Recollection

image “So slothful, however, is man in all that concerns his higher faculties, that few deliberately undertake this education at all. They are content to make their contacts with things by a vague, unregulated power, ever apt to play truant, ever apt to fail them.”  Evelyn Underhill – Practical Mysticism

The meditative process known in Christian circles as recollection is simple to understand. It is time that you will devote solely to becoming still and silent through intentional action. Taking your thoughts captive into silence is an effort of the will to keep the senses in check and not allow them to stray off onto different avenues. All of the contemplative focus is limited to a single subject, the love of God.

Foster describes the Quaker practice of ‘centering down’, a part of the Quaker meeting practices. The worshiper begins by placing the palms down as a physical indication of one’s desire to give over your concerns to God. The palms down position releases the concern. If you wish to receive from the Lord, the position is reversed with the palms up. The practice continues until you released everything within you and are prepared to commune with the Lord. The centered mind can enter the silence of that communion.

Teresa of Avila was a proponent of these focusing exercises, practicing them daily. She explain that the practice is called “recollection because the soul collects together all the faculties and enters within itself to be with God.” (The Way of Perfection) It may sound mystical but it is not. The disciplines are meant for all people of the Lord and He will grace us with the gifts and abilities necessary for their practice. All we have to do is ask.


Image by Keraoc

Imaginative Contemplation


Many Christians are hesitant to engage the spiritual disciplines because they have allowed themselves to be convinced that only the spiritual giants are able to immerse their lives in the practices. Meditation is one of the disciplines that seems to be far out of the reach of the saints. We have a picture in our minds of one sitting cross-legged in a deep state of communion with the divine, completely disconnected from world around them and possessing a peace that you and I cannot seem to find. Looking at this picture we turn away, thinking that we would be unable to attain this state and surrender back to splashing around in the shallows of our life of faith.

Well, erase this image. You have every ability to integrate every one of the spiritual disciplines into your life, starting with meditation. One of the things we learn as we begin to explore meditation is that there are numerous avenues into the practice. One of the easiest ways to begin meditating and linking the mind and the heart is through your imagination. To use the imagination is not to engage in flights of whimsy, forming new stories of our relationship with God based upon our own desires. It is to use the power of your mind to place yourself immediately at the feet of the Master. It is to place yourself in the Upper Room as the Lord speaks to His disciples, you included. Feel how tight the space is filled with people, smell the bread and the wine, see the Lord’s face in the candlelight and watch the shadows dance about the plaster walls. Now, hear the words he speaks:

A new command I give you: Love one another. (John 13:34)

Your imagination will allow you to see his face as he mouths these words. You can look about and see how they strike each of the men present. Judas has gone—would he have recoiled at this statement? Do you? The images of your mind help you to be fully present to the Spirit as He moves the words from your mind into your heart. Have you loved others as the Lord loves you? Do the words pierce your heart or comfort you? Contemplate on the words as the Spirit communicates the truth to you in ways related to your life.

Meditation using the imagination troubles some people as they fear that this sense can be corrupted just as our others can. We have to live with this reality but the question to ask is this; if God can redeem other aspects of our life can He not redeem our imaginations as well? Trust in God and open your mind.


Image by OkaySamurai

Building A Contemplative Spirit


The contemplative life of the Christian has nearly vanished within the Church. In many circles, the contemplative has become a person of church history or more dauntingly, has taken on mythical status. The Christian of 2009 involved in Sunday school, small groups, missions, VBS, midweek service and classes can scarcely imagine finding the unscheduled time for quiet meditation. We who shepherd the Church do little to remedy this situation because we have allowed her to become judged by the values of the world. In doing so, the Christian suffers, the Church grows weaker, and the kingdom mission goes unfulfilled.

Soul work starts quietly, learning to hear the voice of God. Meditation moves us from the superficialities of the world and the shallow Christian life into the deep waters of full communion with God. Meditation is the first discipline of change.

The purpose of meditation in the Christian life is to seek out a transformative encounter with the Living God. We meditate in order to hear His voice and, in reflecting on what we hear, to obey Him and His calling on our lives. The Bible clearly portrays God as desirous of our fellowship and the contemplative practices bring us into His loving embrace. As Thomas a Kempis describes it, we are growing into a “familiar friendship with Jesus.” Activity and busyness may make us feel as though we are participating in the Christian life but we are fooling ourselves. We are living our faith like a stone skipping across a lake; tap…tap…tap…splash! We dip our toes here and there and when challenged we have no internal strength to keep ourselves from sinking. Transformed souls come only from those willing to swim far, far out from shore.

Get ready to swim.

Image by Prahkar