Have You Learned to Read?

Last week I posted a few comments about one of the books from Renovare, Spiritual Formation Workbook, and I’ll like to follow up with some material from the introduction to Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups.  This is another book that grows out of the work of Renovare.  It has 52 readings from classic spiritual writings.  

What follows is a few paragraphs from Richard Foster’s and James Bryant Smith’s introduction to the selections.  They give some great pointers on how read the selections and provide a good understanding of what lectio divina can be.

A word of instruction needs to be given about reading these devotional classics.  These writers make no attempt to grab you quick and hold you tight.  They have no intention of tickling your ears and titillating your fantasies. They promise no easy steps to instant holiness, no guaranteed plan for personal prosperity, no surefire technique for peace of mind.

Since these men and women wrote before the modern notion of speed reading, they did not know to fill each paragraph with trite clichés and meaningless jargon. As a result, each phrase is pregnant with meaning and it is best to read at a measured pace, pausing often to reread, rethink, reexperience the words until we not only understand their meaning but are shaped by the truth of them. Jean-Pierre de Caussade counsels us: “Read quietly, slowly, word for word to enter into the subject more with the heart than the mind. … From time to time make short pauses to allow these truths time to flow through all the recesses of the soul and to give occasion for the operation of the Holy Spirit who, during these peaceful pauses and times of silent attention, engraves and imprints these heavenly truths in the heart. … Should this peace and rest last for a longer time it will be all the better. When you find that your mind wanders resume your reading and continue thus, frequently renewing these same pauses.”

There is a technical word for this kind of reading and it might be helpful for you to know it – lectio divina, “divine reading.” This is a kind of reading in which the mind descends into the heart, and both are drawn into the love and goodness of God. We are doing more than reading words; we are seeking “the Word exposed in the words,” to use the phrase of Karl Barth. We are endeavoring to go beyond information to formation—to be formed and molded by what we read. We are listening with the heart to the Holy within. This prayerful reading, as we might call it, transforms us and strengthens us.

From:Foster and Smith, Devotional Classics, pp 2-3

Just as de Caussade counsels a quiet, slow read with frequent pauses in approaching writings such as have been selected for Devotional Classics, you will probably want to read the above paragraphs a few times to absorb as much of it’s counsel as you can for now.  Come back to it later and see what more speaks to you.  

And you might want to look into _Devotional Classics_.  Each of the 52 selections is accompanied by a Scripture passage, reflection questions and suggested exercises. It seems we might call it a “workbook” also.  


{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

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