What makes scripture “holy?”
Ask that question to a fundamentalist Christian, and the answer is simple. “The Bible is the literally the word of God,” some Christians will tell you. “It is historically accurate and without error.” Other Christians may have a more nuanced approach. “The Bible was written by men who were inspired by God,” a more liberal believer might say. “It’s not literally true, but often points to a higher truth.”
Secular readers take a different view. “It’s a collection of stories and legends,” the skeptic asserts. “Some of it is based on history, but most of it was dreamed up to support an early church faction or some obscure theological argument.
How do you read Holy Scripture?
Not too long ago, I stumbled across another way to read the Bible—one that I’ve found helpful in my own somewhat skeptical spiritual search. This approach is based on a medieval mystical tradition known as lectio divina, and like many things spiritual, it is best practiced in small groups—and with an open mind. Here’s how you do it:
Find a short passage of sacred writing that speaks to you and your brethren. It could be from the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, Buddhist sutras, the Koran, the Tao de Ching, whatever. Make enough photocopies of the passage to hand out to your circle of friends. Begin with a little meditation or silent prayer.
One member of the circle then reads the passage aloud. Just listen like you would listen to any story. Try to let go of any preconceived ideas you have about whatever book you’re using. Listen with your heart and your head. Then another member of the circle reads the same passage aloud a second time. This time, listen for one word or phrase that calls out to you. After the second reading is finished, wait until the spirit moves you and if it does simply say that word or phrase out loud. After a short period of silence, have another member of your small group read the passage a third time. This time, each member of the circle has the opportunity to explain in a brief and prayerful fashion what the passage tells them about God, themselves, or the spiritual search. Don’t get into a discussion or a debate. Try to really listen, and be open for a possible moment of grace.
The lectio divina ends with a fourth reading of the passage. Notice if the story sounds different or means more now than the first time you heard it. Finally, if you get a chance to try this, please share your experience with the other readers of The Spiritual Search. Or just post a comment about what makes scripture “holy” for you.
Don Lattin is the author of five books on religion and spirituality in America. He tells his own lectio divina story in the last chapter of his latest book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk.