Lectio Divina (a Latin phrase meaning “sacred” or “holy reading”) is an ancient practice of reading Scripture in a slow, meditative, contemplative way that survived for centuries in monasteries but is recently being discovered and appreciated by Christians from all backgrounds. Lectio is foundational for contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition, and provides a way for us to open to the presence and indwelling of God through the revealed Word.
If you’re familiar with reading Scripture, you likely have a favorite translation. My go-to is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). It is informed by solid scholarship, it uses inclusive language, it is presented in contemporary English that is easy to comprehend, and is frequently used in academic courses in theology. Since every act of translation is an act of interpretation, consulting more than one translation can help us to appreciate the nuances of language, and certain translations will open up insights and deeper prayer simply because they strike our imagination in new and creative ways.
Recently one of my grad students used a translation of Saint Paul’s famous section from Romans 8 for her presentation, and she used a translation called “The Message.” I was immediately struck by how “fresh” the translation sounded, and found it quite inspiring for my own prayer. Here’s the full translation of Romans 8: 22-24 that she used from The Message Bible:
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting.
I have since been using this translation for my own prayer, and I find myself going back to this section, especially the line about how “we are enlarged in the waiting.” In fact, it has become my daily meditation during Advent, as we enter into this period of waiting for the coming of Christ. I find myself struck by how many of the “birth pangs” I see in the world today – our politics is dominated by contempt, we continue to destroy our earth, new policies seem almost intentional designed to harm the most poor and vulnerable (rolling back health care coverage and tax cuts focused on the richest). And so the line, “we are enlarged in the waiting” provides me with tremendous hope, not just to wait but to allow the aches and groans to move me toward compassion and work on behalf of others.
The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language is a what the author Eugene H. Peterson refers to as a “paraphrase” of Scripture. Peterson began his career as an academic trained in biblical scholarship, and has spent most of his career as a pastor and a writer. He notes that it is not meant to be a study Bible, but “a reading Bible,” offered in everyday language intended to be fresh and accessible. Peterson spent a decade working on this translation-paraphrase, and it is an impressive result! (Note that it does not contain the Deuterocanonical books, or Apocrypha, the books of the First Testament that are part of the Roman Catholic canon but not considered revealed by most Protestant denominations.)
I find myself reading over passages, such as the Psalms or Gospels or favorite texts, and it is as if I am reading some both comfortable and familiar, but also new and exciting! And what could be better for seeking greater intimacy with God through the Scriptures? “For Jesus doesn’t change – yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself” (Hebrews 13:8, TM).
If you’re interested in learning more about lectio divina and its role in the development of contemplative prayer practices in the Christian tradition, check out “Everyday Mysticism: Contemplative Christianity for Busy People” at Contemplative-U.com.
During this season of Advent, may you find yourself – and your compassionate heart – “enlarged in the waiting”!