I want to propose a special kind of reading for lockdown, perhaps a perfect antidote for the anxieties of sequestration. It’s an ancient practice, much of it sparked by St. Benedict as he opened his great monastery at Monte Cassino in the sixth century. With a collapsing classical culture all around, Benedict believed the Christian life could not flourish without both reading and prayer. Along with work, these were his three pillars. We have much to learn from this enduring practice.

This kind of reading is sometimes called sacred reading or holy reading. The term used in medieval monasteries is lectio divina. You may have heard about it. I am told it is becoming more prevalent. I have tried to practice this kind of reading for some fifteen years now.

What is lectio divina? The content for this reading is mostly the Bible, holy scriptures, the very Word of God. How might we listen better if we believe we are actually listening to the voice of God? That’s the fundamental question that drove the formation of lectio divina.

So how do we practice lectio divina? First, we set aside a time for sacred reading, every day. I know, I know, time is so often hard to come by, but maybe if we cut a little time off other kinds of reading, or the news, or Twitter, we can find a time for lectio divina. For me, it’s first thing in the morning, accompanied by that first sip of good coffee.

Locate a place for your reading, a special chair, an isolated spot of quietness and privacy. I call it my prayer chair. It’s in my study. It has become a sacred space, a place where God is invited to visit each morning. I don’t usually do other reading in this chair.

Then select a text from the Bible. I read a Psalm every morning, that too, by the way, an ancient practice. I add a text from another part of the Bible, from the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the prophets Jeremiah or Isaiah, Genesis. Don’t try to read too much in one sitting. We’re not aiming here to read the Bible through in one year. Discard your normal urge to read fast, to get through the text. No, no, read slowly. Stop often to reflect on what you are hearing. Even though you are reading in translation, listen to the music of the text, the beauty of the language, the power of its images, the grip of its extraordinary stories. You might even want to read out loud.

And then let God speak. That’s the whole point. Remember this is God’s language, his Word, his voice. That’s the guiding presupposition. Treat the text and this reading moment with reverence. You’re not looking for information here. You’re not interested in the historical setting or proving veracity or providing theological interpretation. In this kind of reading, you are listening for God’s voice. What does God have to say to you this day, this very moment?

There is so much more to say about lectio divina (maybe later), but let’s imagine we are doing it right now. Find a chair. Get your coffee. Close the door. Open the window for a wisp of that new spring air. Now read this portion of a Psalm with me. Read it very slowly.

You care for the earth and make it fruitful;
you enrich it greatly,
filling its great channels with rain.
In this way you prepare the earth
and provide grain for its people.
You water its furrows, level its ridges,
soften it with showers, and bless its growth.
You crown the year with your good gifts;
places where you have passed drip with plenty;
the open pastures are lush
and the hills wreathed in happiness;
the meadows are clothed with sheep
and the valleys decked with grain,
so that with shouts of joy they break into song. (65: 9 – 13)

I used this passage in a previous post because I consider it a perfect text for our moment of enclosure. We are blasted out of our confinement here. We are reminded, in case we have forgotten, that beauty and health and plenty flourish around us. And we know, this is the main point, that God walks in his garden. We feel his love so deeply we too break into song.

Well, we rise from our prayer chair knowing that God has spoken to us. We are renewed, refreshed. What a gift of joy. This is what lectio divina promises. Every day. What we have here is an almost breathless welcoming of God into our little prayer corner in the morning. Are you ready for lectio divina? It can change everything.