Ignatius of Anti­och loved to empha­size that we are all image-bear­ers. In every one of his let­ters, writ­ten as he jour­neyed to mar­tyr­dom in Rome, Ignatius described him­self as Ignatius the Image-bearer.”

Yet to employ a com­mon phrase in New Tes­ta­ment the­ol­o­gy, we are already but not yet.” We still live between the times.” The spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline of lec­tio div­ina is espe­cial­ly con­cerned with the incom­plete­ness, the imper­fec­tion, the not yet-ness” of our present con­di­tion as God’s image-bearers. 

We are cre­at­ed in and bear the image of God, but our image-bear­ing is now cracked, skewed, dis­tort­ed. The dis­ci­pline of lec­tio div­ina works with­in us to straight­en us out; it helps to heal the spir­i­tu­al genes that have mutat­ed. Through the pow­er of the Spir­it, it is a form of spir­i­tu­al gene therapy. 

The prac­tice of lec­tio div­ina stretch­es back across the years to wor­thies such as Ori­gen, Basil the Great, John Cass­ian, Gre­go­ry the Great and Bene­dict of Nur­sia. For instance, a fun­da­men­tal aspect of Benedict’s Rule con­cerns lec­tio div­ina. Those who joined Benedict’s monas­tic com­mu­ni­ty were expect­ed to be able to read; if they could not do so, they learned. 

Bene­dict knew that the abil­i­ty to read would enable a more spe­cif­ic kind of read­ing that had as its ulti­mate objec­tive the imprint­ing of what was read on both the mind and the heart, the intel­lect and the affections. 

My mod­ern iPhone acoustic read­ing resem­bles some­what the ancient Bene­dic­tine read­ing tech­nique for spir­i­tu­al trans­for­ma­tion. Jean Leclerq explains that in Bene­dic­tine monas­ter­ies — and for Bene­dict him­self — to read and to med­i­tate entailed the phe­nom­e­non of rem­i­nis­cence,” much like the rep­e­ti­tio (“rep­e­ti­tion”) that I men­tioned in a recent blog. To facil­i­tate rem­i­nis­cence or remem­brance, both the church fathers and medieval monas­tics read out loud. 

Leclerq writes that They read usu­al­ly, not as today, prin­ci­pal­ly with the eyes, but with the lips, pro­nounc­ing what they saw, and with the ears, lis­ten­ing to the words pro­nounced, hear­ing what is called the voic­es of the pages.’ It [lec­tio div­ina] is a real acousti­cal read­ing; leg­ere [to read] means at the same time audire [to hear].”

Bene­dict employed oth­er words and phras­es to describe the silent read­ing that marks how most mod­erns read texts: tacite leg­ere (to read silent­ly); leg­ere sibi (to read to one­self); leg­ere in silen­tio (to read in silence). 

Michael Casey helps to bring Bene­dic­tine read­ing prac­tices to life: 

The monks tend­ed to read slow­ly, prob­a­bly vocal­iz­ing the words as they read. Often sig­nif­i­cant pas­sages would be com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry; only a few schol­ars had the pos­si­bil­i­ty of tak­ing notes for per­ma­nent ref­er­ence. With so few titles avail­able, favorite works would be re-read many times. Because there were few ref­er­ence books or com­men­taries, the monks had to learn to sit with dif­fi­cul­ties and obscu­ri­ties and try to puz­zle out for them­selves the mean­ing of the page before them. Read­ing became a dia­logue with the text.” 

The the­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tions of lec­tio div­ina sup­port the rhyme and rhythm of spir­i­tu­al read­ing, whether we are read­ing the bib­li­cal text or oth­er devo­tion­al lit­er­a­ture. We’ll explore these foun­da­tions in next week’s blog. Blessings.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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