Martin Thornton on Lectio Divina

Martin Thornton taught that ordinary devout Christians need, perhaps more than anything, to learn how to meditate upon holy Scripture. To do so is to learn the ancient practice of lectio divina, or “sacred reading” for formation of our lives. Here is his description of the principles involved with meditatively reading the Bible:

1. Bible reading, meditation, can only be attempted from within the fellowship of the living Church, which includes its theological tradition, its liturgical worship and its pastoral guidance.

2. Thus, all prayer begins with Baptismal incorporation into the Sacred Humanity of the Risen and Glorified Lord. The Bible can feed, inspire, and articulate this experience: look for its life rather than its message.

3. Do not try to construct intellectual theories, or Ignatian ’resolutions’, or strict moral rules: leave all that to the biblical scholars. Rather allow the heart and mind of Christ to seep into the shared life within the Sacred Humanity: penetrate its mystery.

4. Nevertheless, go to the Bible armed with the theological essentials, as guidelines. Prayer for the guidance of the Spirit is a good start, but so, I suggest, is a prayerful recitation of the Quicunque Vult. But such theological basis need not be one’s own learning, it can be sought in personal guidance from within the fellowship of the Church.

5. Accept the challenge and adventure of the Bible’s subtlety, difficulty and mystery. Do not try to make it prove anything, rather let it inspire, poetically and contemplatively. In other words, see the essential connection between scholarship and prayer, but do not confuse the two.

(from “Spirituality in the Modern World : II. Meditation and Modern Biblical Studies”, by Martin Thornton, in The Expository Times 1978 89: 164)

Let us see this as no exotic practice but in fact modeled by liturgy. Liturgy itself, within Anglican patrimony, is meditating upon Scripture. Certainly through the appointed Lectionary readings — but also through the liturgy itself. The Prayer Book is usefully seen as “scripture arranged for liturgy,” because Anglican liturgical language either summarizes, consolidates, or even directly quotes the Bible. Liturgy, itself, is an “imaginative-entering-into,” just like Thornton taught for biblical meditation. Thus to read the Bible meditatively is not only formative, but teaches us to carry the liturgy into our home, into our reading room, into our favorite chair for reading: so as to invite our lives to be liturgical and caught up in the redemptive stream of the Incarnation of Christ.