The first step in lectio divina, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, is reading. The theological foundations of lectio divina teach us, though, that our reading of a text must not be a distanced, analytical perusal—one in which we keep the text at arm’s length. This safe, calculated approach will simply not do, for the call of lectio divina is the call to change, to be formed into the image of the Son. Lectio divina, in Jean Leclercq’s words, is a way of reading “entirely oriented toward life, and not toward abstract knowledge.”

Hence, as we move into the second step of lectio divina—meditatio—we will need to learn to read in a different fashion and with a different goal in mind. Eugene Peterson employs a wonderfully evocative metaphor to describe the heart of meditatio:

“Years ago, I owned a dog who had a fondness for large bones. Fortunately for him we lived in the forested foothills of Montana. In his forest rambles, he often came across a carcass of a white-tailed deer that had been brought down by the coyotes. Later he would show up on our stone, lakeside patio carrying or dragging his trophy, usually a shank or a rib; he was a small dog and the bone was often nearly as large as he was. Anyone who has owned a dog knows the routine: he would prance and gambol playfully before us with his prize, wagging his tail, proud of his find, courting our approval. And of course, we approved. We lavished praise, telling him what a good dog he was. But after awhile, sated with our applause, he would drag the bone off twenty yards or so to a more private place, usually the shade of a large moss-covered boulder, and go to work on the bone. The social aspects of the bone were behind him; now the pleasure became solitary. He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we could hear a low rumble or growl, what in a cat would be a purr. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours, he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again…my dog [was] meditating his bone. There is a certain kind of writing that invites this kind of reading, soft purrs and low growls as we taste and savor, anticipate and take in the sweet and spicy, mouth-watering and soul-energizing words—‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalms 34:8).”

I don’t know of a better metaphor describing meditatio than Peterson’s description of his dog “meditating his bone.” Abelard’s image of meditatio as a cow chewing his cud comes in a close second. You might also consider Baron von Hugel’s comparison of lectio divina as “letting a very slowly dissolving lozenge melt imperceptibly in your mouth.” Rainer Maria Rilke describes a reader who “does not always remain bent over his pages; he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood,” a description that applies well to the person practicing lectio divina.

The metaphor of eating captures well the heart of meditatio and its theological foundations. If we have been eating unhealthy food—as delicious and delightful as it may seem to be—should we be surprised that we need a change in diet to regain health? Lectio divina provides us with just such a recipe.

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