Eugene Peterson reminds us that reading the Bible can be downright dangerous. How so? Reading the Bible can be a perilous exercise—for ourselves and others—if we go about our reading the wrong way.

“Reading the Bible,” Peterson writes, “if we do not do it rightly, can get us into a lot of trouble. The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person’s hands with the command, ‘Read it.’ That is quite as foolish as putting a set of car keys in an adolescent’s hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, ‘Drive it.’ And just as dangerous” (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eerdmans, 81).

What kind of reading of Scripture would qualify as dangerous, at least from the perspective and practices lectio divina or “divine reading” offers and develops?

Dangerous reading occurs when we limit our reading of the Bible to analysis only. It occurs when we consciously or unconsciously distance ourselves from the text, making it a source of information and nothing more. It occurs when in our reading, we attempt to control the text’s access to us, rather than allowing the lively, active, inspired text of Scripture to address us directly, an address to which the Holy Spirit asks and expects a response.

By way of contrast to a distanced, dangerous reading, lectio divina is, in Peterson’s words, “a way of reading that refuses to be reduced to just reading but intends the living of the text, listening and responding to the voices of that ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ [Heb. 12:1] telling their stories, singing their songs, preaching their sermons, praying their prayers, asking their questions, having their children, burying their dead, following Jesus” (Peterson, Eat This Book, 90).

Consider for a moment a cluster of participles that captures well the heart of lectio divina: pondering, ruminating, chewing, embracing, addressing, imitating, responding, following, repenting, eating, digesting, revering, meditating, praying, hearing, considering, listening, remembering.

All these participles connote a movement toward rather than away from the Scripture, a willingness to read slowly, hungrily, attentively, prayerfully, with the full expectation that there is a word in the text—an inspired word spoken by the eternal Word made flesh—that is to be believed, obeyed, hugged, devoured, as if all one’s life depended on it. Lectio divina is a slow, paced, meditative reading of Scripture, a method of reading the text of the Bible—or other devotional material—in which the specific goal, as I mentioned earlier, is ever deeper transformation into the image of Christ.

Lectio divina concerns much more than the act of reading itself. Yes, in lectio divina we are reading a text, but we are reading in a manner and with a purpose that far surpasses the vocalization of written or printed words and their comprehension by the mind. In lectio divina we are reading with the mind in the heart. We are reading to be changed, to be transformed, to be recreated, to be reshaped every more fully into the image of the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ our Lord, sent by the Father to redeem and recreate us into his holy, loving image.

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Cover Image by Michael Theis via Flickr Creative Commons.