December can be a crazy month. There deals to search out, gifts to buy, cookies to bake, decorations to hang, and cards to send. But Advent, the church season devoted to preparing the way to welcome Jesus in our midst, is an antidote to the commercial Christmas hubbub. But it will only be this antidote if we let the rhythm of Advent invade our busy lives, if we give quietness, peacefulness, and attentiveness a chance.
Fortunately, the church has practices to help instill in us the rhythm of Advent, that is, things we can do in order to get ourselves into the true Christmas spirit. One of my favorite practices is called lectio divina, which is the fancy Latin way of saying sacred or divine reading. Lectio divina is an ancient way of reading the Bible that promotes a relational encounter with God. Lectio divina encourages us to listen to a biblical passage with our hearts instead of our heads. The goal is not to study it like we might do in religion class or Sunday school, but rather to be in conversation with a passage. When we do this, we can hear God speaking to us through the text.
The keys to lectio divina are slowness, repetition, listening, and prayer. Instead of speeding through a biblical text, we read it slowly and meditatively, either out loud or in our heads. We also read a text more than once, so that we come to know it better and in different ways. Finally, our reading of the text is interspersed with prayer, reflection, and listening. The goal is that we might come to understand what a particular biblical passage means for our lives today.
As you prepare for Christmas, try this lectio divina process with this week’s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28) or with one of your favorite Bible stories.
- Breaths and Invocation: Find a comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes and take a few moments to focus on your breathing. Feel your breath moving in and out of your body. Then ask God to be with you as you encounter God’s word in Scripture.
- First Reading: Read the Gospel passage once slowly. Take a minute of silence and repeat to yourself the word or phrase from the reading that stands out to you.
- Second Reading: Read the Gospel passage again slowly. Take two or three minutes of silence to reflect on the question, “How does this passage connect to my life?”
- Third Reading: Read the Gospel passage a third time slowly. Take two or three minutes of silence to reflect on the question, “What does God want me to do today?”
- Silence: Spend a few more minutes in silence, listening to what else God might be trying to say to you today. Focus on resting in God’s love for you and the world.
Lectio divina is just one prayer practice that helps us to slow down during Advent. It can also help us to hear scripture in a new way.
What other things have you done or do you want to try in order to get into the true Christmas spirit?
*Lectio divina exercise is adapted from Claire Bischoff and Joan Mitchell’s Faith Sharing with Teens: A How-To Guide for Catechists and Parents (St. Paul: Good Ground Press, 2011).