by Brian Rice
wonder if so few of our spiritual communities are experiencing depth
transformation because so few of those who lead/teach those communities
Speed of the leader – speed potential of the team.
Depth and passion of the leader – depth and passion possibilities of the community.
Transformation of the leader – transformation range of the church.
You can’t take people where you’ve not been.
You will take people to where you are (for good or for ill).
Leader’s project, imprint, leak.
Leader’s project, imprint, leak where they are with the Word.
It’s easier to spend your life manipulating an institution then it is to deal with
your own soul.
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth
and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you,
which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive
yourselves. Do what it says. (James
1:21,22 – NIV)
So throw all spoiled virtue and
cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God,
landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. Don’t fool
yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but,
letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! (James 1:21,22 – The Message)
In the late spring of 1999 I was a spiritual wreck.
Since the fall of 1996 I had been leading a “re-engineering” of a conservative
evangelical church, introducing new paradigms for how the church could be a
genuine community of Christ followers who would have a missional impact on
reaching the changing culture around us. After three years of re-engineering,
the church was still far away from what I had envisioned it would be. I had
serious doubts that it could ever be the kind of church I wanted to attend. I
had also been building bridges between three different sub-communities within
the larger church. One sub-community was the contemporary evangelical group
(the largest), one was the charismatic contingency (also a substantial size),
and the third was a more fundamentalist, Baptist group (the smallest, but quite
vocal). After three years of bridge building, it was remarkable how strongly
entrenched and separated the groups still were. I had serious doubts that these
three groups could ever come together around a core set of deeply shared values
We had just finished a stewardship campaign to
raise funds for a new facility. While the campaign was successful, I had really
hoped for a much higher amount of funds to be raised. In my mind I saw the
campaign as a failure. My father had passed away several months earlier after a
short bout with cancer. I was emotionally struggling with his death. Perhaps
most painful of all, my family was not flourishing in our new ministry
location. Actually, it was a struggle to even maintain our well being. And I
(in the pursuit of my calling) was the reason the family was in this place and
season of wilderness struggle.
ended one Sunday morning. One week later I was flying out to begin a D.Min.
program in spirituality and leadership at Bethel Theological Seminary. I
wondered why I was even on the plane? Why am I in the ministry? Should I be in
the pastoral ministry? Where was God as I was working so hard to do “His will”?
Why was life and ministry not working out? And why was I so empty? Empty!
Depleted! The spiritual well was dry – utterly dry. How did that happen? When
did that happen? I was doing my devotions. I was studying my Bible. I was
consistent in the disciplines of my evangelical tradition. Later I would
discover that the spiritual disciplines, as I understood and practiced them,
had stopped working at least ten years earlier. I just didn’t know it. By “stopped
working” I mean they were no longer leading me into a transforming intimacy
with Christ. In the weeks to come I would receive some insight. Howard Baker,
in speaking of his own experience, described my own better than I could.
I came to see some basic missteps I’d made. Primarily, I had lost my soul to
one of the chief rivals of devotion to Christ – that is, service for Him. As
one writer put it, I had “dwarfed and narrowed my soul through a life of all
did not even know how to develop a strong inner life. No one had ever told me
how, and for me, it did not come naturally. So I was easy prey for the lurking
anaconda that swallows souls.
spiritual exercises were done because they were the required duties if God was
“to work.” There was little fulfillment, much frustration, shallow
relationships, insecurity in ministry and dryness in my life with God.
my life was well-ordered and disciplined, I was too busy serving God to take
the time to really know Him. In the famous words of Dante’s Inferno, I had come
to the middle of life and “I found myself astray in a dark wood.”
My soul was dwarfed and narrowed. I had no idea
even how to develop a strong inner life. I was astray in a dark wood. As I was
flying on the plane, I had no idea of the new season of spiritual journey that
was upon me.
I am a scion of my evangelical culture. That
culture and heritage is described by Richard Foster as the Word Centered Life. The
Bible is supremely important as revelation, God’s Word to humanity. It is the
repository of truth that must be understood. I am an “NT” by personality type
(Myers-Briggs). I love the life of the mind. I love to dissect and debate
ideas. I am also an NT (New Testament) exegete by training. My M.A. and Th.M.
degrees were completed at two seminaries that excelled at training its students
in the science of hermeneutics and exegesis. I am well-versed in the techniques
of biblical criticism (both conservative and liberal varieties) and can leverage
those methodologies as I wrestle with the biblical text to “master” it. I am
skilled at mining out the spiritual principles in the Bible and in the
communication methodologies to present those ideas to God’s people. I am and
was all this and in the end I my soul was dwarfed, my spirit astray and my
heart empty. I had defaulted to being a biblical rationalist and a Christian
behaviorist. It was not enough. I needed more. I was meant for more. Eventually
I would find more.”In the days ahead, you will be a mystic,
i.e. one who has experienced God, or nothing at all. If Christianity is merely
an ethic, a moral code, or a philosophy of life, it will not (stand)…”
Lectio divina. Sacred reading. A way of reading the
Scriptures and being shaped by the Scriptures that has its origins 1500 years
in the past. Its earliest form was introduced by Benedict (480-550 AD), an
Italian monk who founded the Benedictines and used it in that monastic order.
In the 12th century, Guigo II, a French Cauthusian monk developed
the four stage process which is widely practiced today. M. Robert Mulholland,
Jr. refined it into a spiritual formation process comprised of silencio, lectio, meditatio, oratio,
contemplatio and incarnatio. The
James 1:21,22 passage is a window that can help us see into the heart of lectio
divina and the way we as individuals and a community may be shaped by the Word.
get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept
the word planted in you…
At its deepest level, reading the Word and being
shaped by the Word is a spiritual and moral process. It cannot be approached
(solely or primarily) as an academic exercise requiring intellectual prowess.
Spiritual enlightenment and discernment are disrupted by the presence of sin.
The human heart is hard and cold, resistant and even evil. Enlightenment and
discernment are fostered by the quality of humility. A responsive and trusting
posture prepares the way for the mind and heart to be moved by the Spirit of
God speaking through the Word of God. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would have
the gift of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that the eyes of their heart
would be enlightened.
Lectio divina begins with a vulnerable and repentant heart; one that is humble
and awake, longing for the presence of God and the voice of God. Macrina
Wiederkehr says, “Read with a vulnerable heart. Expect to be blessed in the
reading. Read as one awake, one waiting for the beloved. Read with reverence.” 
accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
The promise of
transformation draws us to the Word. The seed/Word planted in us by the
Gardener God has the latent potential of transformation. The Word itself is
living and active. When implanted by the Spirit,
it has the power to revive the soul, give joy to the heart and light to the
eyes. It convicts and challenges, rebukes and corrects, teaches and trains the
one who receives it humbly. William
Johnston says, “In the sacred books,
the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with
them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it remains
the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children,
the food of the soul, the pure and perennial source of spiritual life.”
read and reflect on the Word so we may be shaped (saved) by that Word. Learning
ideas, even spiritual ones, is not sufficient and may in fact be misleading.
Settling for obtaining new information about God and the Christian life may
result in spiritual inoculation against depth transformation. J.I. Packer says
North American evangelicalism is 3000 miles wide and ½ inch deep. For
a movement that prides itself on teaching the “meat” of the Word, this
diagnosis is at least disconcerting.
merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Don’t fool yourself into
thinking you are a listener when you are anything but . . .
I believe Eugene Peterson’s translation captures
the essence of what James is saying. At a first reading, the passage seems to
be against “listening.” Peterson believes it is not that listening is bad…but
the wrong kind of listening is perilous. The wrong kind of listening is any
hearing of God’s Word that does not culminate in the listener becoming a
practitioner of the Word.
We are enjoined to attentive listening elsewhere in the Bible.
Shema O Israel… (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
This is my Son, listen to him. Luke 9:35
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (See Ezekiel 12:1,2; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35)
Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that
sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen
like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not
been rebellious; I have not drawn back. (Isaiah 50:4,5)
James is a severe caution against listening that is
merely the learning of rote biblical facts. He is against listening that is
sterile and barren, against listening that does little more than educate the
listener. Instead, our listening should be meditative, reflective and a type of
spiritual processing. There are two Hebrew words for meditation. One is haga
which means to utter, groan, meditate and ponder. The other is sihah
which means to muse, rehearse in the mind and contemplate. Listening involves a
deep attentiveness and pondering/rehearsing of the word that is heard.
At the heart of lectio divina is a listening.
Listening to the promptings and whisperings of the Spirit of God as we reflect
on the Word that is being implanted within. Silence is most conducive to this
listening. “Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word … But
everyone knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned in
these days when talkativeness prevails. Real silence, real stillness, really
holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual
leaders, teachers, pastors (and most other Christian professions) it is all too
possible to be “busy” with one’s repertoire of exegetical and critical tools,
enthralled with dissections of Scripture passages, and distracted by the
urgency to find a word/idea/principle that will teach and preach, so that true
listening never takes place.
In the Western world, most of us have an atrophied
contemplative ability. We are skilled in the field of critical assessment,
analytical reasoning, linear thought and logical processing. When it comes to
reflection, meditation (the biblical kind, not the eastern varieties),
intuitive listening, and prayerful discerning, we are on unfamiliar ground. For
our life context - distractions, busyness, restlessness are our norm. We are
preoccupied with our headaches and heartaches, our responsibilities and tasks,
our goals and desires…with the immediate urgency of the now. We are immersed in
the qualities of pragmatism and narcissism. The religious life as we experience
it is not exempt from this quality of life. The values of the surrounding
culture have been deeply imprinted on to our spiritual communities. God is
present with us but we are oblivious to that presence. Lectio is one way we
In listening we become attentive. Attentive to the
voice of Christ that still speaks to us through His Word and attentive to His
presence since He is always at work to this very day in our experiences.
Lectio divina (sacred reading) is
above all centered on the Scriptural text but the lectio process may and should
be used on many texts. Spiritual classics, devotionals, prayer books, hymns and
choruses, sermons (oral or written) are rich venues for lectio. Our
“con-text” is also ripe for lectio. A central part of that context are the
conversations with spiritual friends and the stories shared between them. These
conversations and stories deserve a sacred reading. (What is Jesus saying to me
through the story of my friend?) We may authentically view the entire
“con-text” of our life experiences as the realm of lectio.
your days in the fast lane of life impairs the quality of your seeing. If you
want to see to the depths, you will need to slow down. You live in a world of
theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes
all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every
crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only
if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to
harvest its treasures.
Lectio is one way we may “stay with” our “con-text”
long enough to see, hear and read the theophanies and harvest its treasures.
Do what it says. (Act on what you hear.)
Listening gives way to attentiveness, and
attentiveness to reflection. Reflection leads to discernment. Discernment is
the beginning of wisdom and obedience it’s confirmation. There are two vital
responses that arise out of our lectio.
First is our response of prayer. Prayer as oratio and prayer as contemplatio. Prayer as the emotive
response of the heart to God and prayer as the even deeper, wordless, intuitive
response of the heart to God.
The second response is our obedience. It is the obedience of depth integration
and authentic congruence of inner and external worlds. It is the response of
ruthless trust and absolute surrender. It is our saying yes to the divine
will/Word that has been imprinted on our awakened consciousness. It is the
yielding of Mary to divine fiat, “May it be to me as you have said.” It is the
surrender of Jesus to costly obedience, “not my will but yours be done.” It is
the daily prayer of the disciple of Christ, “Our Father in heaven…Thy kingdom
come, Thy will be done.”
Authentic, heart born obedience is our highest and holiest response of worship
and love. It is the terminus destination of lectio. It is the seal that affirms
we have been shaped by the Word.
It is the first Tuesday evening of the month. A
group of 18 church leaders have gathered together for their monthly meeting.
The meeting begins with prayer. After our invitation/invocation for
Jesus to grace our leadership team meeting with His presence, we turn out
thoughts to the evening’s lectio. The group is slowly working its way through
the Ignatian Exercises. We spend some time in quiet, personal reflection on a
text of Scripture. Each leader has the same focus – to hear the voice of God’s
Spirit resonating through the Scripture text. It’s hard. We fall short. For
many it is easy to be satisfied when a principle is grasped, a new insight
perceived, an old belief freshly reinforced. I want more for them. I want them
to be mystics, touched by the Spirit of the living Christ. We press on. We
spend more time in groups of two or three, sharing the results of our
attentiveness. These moments are sacred. At their best, they are the sharing of
journey and story. Sometimes, by default, it is sharing excitement over an
idea. Both are welcome, the first is our greater goal and is celebrated when it
occurs. Finally, there is the opportunity for anyone to share where they see
God at work and what they hear God saying. We listen as a community of leaders.
Is there a common thread? Is there a more encompassing Word the Spirit is
speaking to us? There are times of group discernment where we together sense
the leading of the Spirit. Joy and gratitude flow strongly at those times. More
often we do not hear the still small voice with clarity and confidence. We
press on. For the next 30 days, each leader will work their way through a
series of Scriptural texts, listening, reflecting, being attentive. Growing in
our capacity to listen, reflect, discern, surrender, worship and obey. We are a
slowly becoming a leadership community shaped by the Word. It is no coincidence
that this reality goes hand in hand with my own inner shaping by the Word.
Speed of the leader – speed of the team.
It has been four years since I sat on that
Northwest flight to Minneapolis, dwarfed, astray and empty. As I look back it
strikes me - what a long, strange trip it’s been. I am an
evangelical on the Ignatian Road. It is the road that stretches from the heart
of God to the heart of the sojourner and back again. It is a journey that is
messy, mysterious and at times magnificent. I think I am slowly becoming a
mystic. My eyes are opening to see burning bushes all around me. My capacity
for sacred readings of text and “con-text” is deepening. The gardener God is
landscaping my life with His Word. In a world of soul shaping and heart making,
lectio has helped me find my way once again.
 Parker Palmer, Leading
From Within: Reflections on Spirituality and Leadership. This entire essay
is a thoughtful and inspiring treatment. For some of us, it is easier to spend a
life manipulating the world of ideas then to deal with our own soul. I borrow the title for
these thoughts from M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.’s book, Shaped By the Word:
The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation.
 Soul Keeping: Ancient Paths of Spiritual Direction by
 Hagberg and Guelich set forth a paradigm that
describes the various stages of faith on the journey. I had spent 15 or more
years in the Productive Life phase
and was moving into The Journey Inward
season of spirituality. I am indebted to John Ackerman who facilitated my
beginning steps in this new season of journey. See his book Listening
to God: Spiritual Formation in Congregations.
 Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great
Traditions of Christian Faith by Richard Foster.
 This language of wrestling and mastering was
consistently used by two of my New Testament professors. They were the ones who
would help us wrestle and master the meaning of the text.
 Quoted in Ruthless Trust by
Brennan Manning. Note: I have the highest regard for Scripture. My issue is not
with the Scripture but rather how we approach the Scriptures. In this sense, I
think some of the worst features of modernity have guided our approach to the
Word. It is seen primarily as a textbook about God and life with God. A
textbook to be studied, analyzed, categorized, and criticized. The
pastor/teacher functions as a technician, engineer, scientist of the religious
life. What, as Kierkegaard suggests, if the Bible is more a love letter from
the Beloved to us, then a textbook? How would we approach it differently? What
if the Bible is as much a book of Questions as it a book of Answers. And we are
the ones to whom the great existential questions of life are posed (as per
 Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual
Formation by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
 This is an extremely brief treatment of lectio
divina. For a depth explanation, see Too Deep For Words:
Rediscovering Lectio Divina by Thelma Hall and Lectio
Divina: Renewing the Ancient Practice of Praying the Scriptures by M.
 Ephesians 1:17,18.
 A Tree Full of Angels by Macrina
 Romans 8:14-16, 26,27; John
16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 2:9-14.
 Psalm 19:7-11; 2 Timothy
3:16,17; Hebrews 4:12,13.
 Christian Mysticism Today by
 A Quest for Godliness: The
Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer.
 Luke 6:46-49; John 8:31,32.
 Satisfy Your Soul by Bruce
 Life Together by Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. Also see Isaiah 30:15; Psalm 46:10.
 Ronald Rolheiser is the source of this assessment of
our Western culture. See his two books, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a
Felt Presence of God and The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian
 John 5:17; 10:1-18.
 For example, almost every quote included in this
paper has been a fruitful text that I have used for lectio. I believe the
Scriptures have a place of pre-eminence as the Word of God, but God’s Word
comes to us in a wide array of venues.
 A Tree Full of Angels, by
 There is a deep tradition of contemplative prayer,
that while distinct from lectio and capable of being practiced apart from it,
is also naturally incorporated into lectio as part of that spiritual formation
process. Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s
True Home is an accessible and evangelical-friendly introduction to that
prayer tradition. For additional resources see Centering
Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form by M. Basil
Pennington; Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry
and The Diversity of Centering Prayer, both ed. by
Gustave Reininger; and Intimacy With God by Thomas
 Luke 1:38; Luke 28:42;
 Over the entrance to Carl Jung’s house in Switzerland
there is a Latin inscription – vocatus atave
non vocatus, Deus aderit. Invoked or not invoked, God is present. Lectio
helps us wake up to God’s presence.