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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Lectio Divina" (Enzo Bianchi)

TITLE: Lectio Divina: From God's Word to Our Lives (Voices from the Monastery)
AUTHOR: Enzo Bianchi
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (128 pages).

We have many books on theology and Christian living. What about how to read the Bible devotionally? According to the Enzo Bianchi, a Catholic layperson who founded a monastic community in Italy, he believes that reading the Bible well is the central part of discipleship. The author is founder of the Bose Community, an ecumenical monastic community of 80 brothers and sisters in Magnano, Italy.

We need to be caught up in Bible reading. We need to be absorbed by the Word. We need to commune with God in the Word. Writing from his experience with a group of believers to surround their whole lives around the Word of God, Bianchi's overriding passion is to encounter Christ as he reads the Word of God. This is the method of lectio divina which helps us avoid some of the pitfalls of humanistic reading. Pitfalls such as:
  • Reading for simple emotional experience
  • Rigid fundamentalism that keeps the letter but ignores the spirit of the letter
  • Ignoring the traditions and histories of the Word
  • Using the Word of God as a polemic or literary weapon against one another
Set in two parts, Part One of the book is "Bible and Spirit" which is about entering the rooms in the Bible with the Holy Spirit holding the keys to usher us in. The third century Church father, Origen explains it as "Scriptura sui ipsius interpres" (Scripture is its own interpreter).This means that the Bible is a unity that does not contract itself. It also means the Spirit teaches us. The Bible is not merely an objective document to analyze and study. It is a subjective living Word that puts us as the object as willing servants and God as the Person revealed to us. We read in faith, desiring the truth instead of impatiently demanding answers to our needs. The Bible calls us to be personally involved in the Word instead of an impersonal stance to see things from a distance. We need to be open to what the Bible is saying and be open to what the Bible is not saying. It needs to be read, studied, and understood in the Spirit. Bianchi is also aware of how the Bible can be read in an "overly spiritualized, allegorical, literal, or fundamentalist" manner. The way to avoid that is to keep the Bible central in liturgy, preaching, theology, and Christian living, not just Bible study time. He advocates "spiritual exegesis" which is an approach to the Bible that believes God is found in the Word. It goes beyond methods or mere applications. It engages the whole person that the reading of the Word results in a transforming of one's life. Spiritual reading means reading the Bible as a single book on Christ. I like what Hans Urs von Balthasar's comment about the four senses of Scripture:
The four senses of scripture are celebrating a hidden resurrection in today’s theology. The literal sense appears to be analogous to the historical-critical approach, the spiritual sense to the kerygmatic, the tropological to the existential, and the anagogical to the eschatological.
The first sense is the literal sense which is how we exegete the Word, do word studies, and practice sound interpretation. The second sense is the spiritual in which we move to the tune of the Holy Spirit helping us to interpret and understand the meaning and significance of the Word for us today. The third sense is the tropological which is the moral interpretation of the story. Some would use the word allegorical to describe it. The fourth sense is anagogical which is to read Scripture with the view of the future coming Kingdom of God. Thus, reading the Bible transcends time as it embraces all the past, the present, and the future. Read the Bible over and over again until we are connected to God in love and adoration. We understand the Bible according to how we live it. Reading it involves two more elements: life of the Church and what it means to be human. The trouble with people is that they hardly read the Word and then complain about the lack of God's presence when we are in trouble. He connects the Bible as sacramental with the Eucharist as Christ's presence. In all, there is a stress on unity and the community of God.

Reading the Bible involves listening as well for the Bible is dialogical and relational. We listen to God and sense God listening to us. Obedience is listening in faith. Listening in faith means learning to move from letter to spirit, to let the Spirit guide our understanding of the ancient texts to the practice of modern living. Soon, Bianchi launches into the four levels of lectio divina.
  1. Historical-Literary level (lectio)
  2. Glimpsing Christ (meditatio)
  3. Dialogue that engages and interacts (oratio)
  4. Seeing God face to face (contemplatio)
Part Two of the Book deals with Lectio Divina in the Church. It is an interpretive trip down historical lane. We note how the Old Testament books interpret each other. We learn about the Jewish midrashic as well as the Church Fathers' use of allegorical methods. Different eras tend to focus on different senses of Scripture at any one time. Some good tips are as follows:
"Lectio divina, whether by ourselves or in community, requires a context of faith and prayer. We start in silence, confessing our faith that the Lord is speaking to us today through the biblical page. We invoke the Holy Spirit and open ourselves in humility to his action, because insight into the text is a Spirit-led event, not an intellectual pursuit." (90)
One chapter is dedicated to the foundations and practices of lectio divina and two chapters on the challenges of doing lectio divina. We learn about setting aside time and space intentionally, to enter into a place of solitude and silence. We cultivate our listening skills and discernment. We go through the exercises of lectio, oratio, meditatio, and contemplatio. Though brief, it offers readers a quick glimpse into what the exercises entail. Sometimes, brevity is golden as we can be quick to jump into the Word rather than to plow through pages and pages of instructions that can easily numb our enthusiasm.  Other practical tips include:
  • Daily reading of the Word
  • Planting God's Word in the hearts of people
  • Avoid the temptations of extremes
So What?

In some societies, reading is fast becoming a lost discipline. This is particularly so for an increasingly digital generation where people skim web pages instead of reading; browsing instead of meditating; and clicking various apps and links instead of beholding the Word before us. The medium we use is important and can affect the way we do lectio divina. We need to learn the four senses of Scripture simply because the Word of God cannot be hemmed into any one dimension. Just as we know that the Bible has many genres, so too we need to be sensitive to the Word in their original contexts. At the same time, the Spirit of God can lead us to discern what it means then and for us now. 

When I started to read this book, I thought it was a book that is about the practice of lectio divina. Instead, it is a book that lays the foundations of what Scripture is about first. It then shows us reading the Bible has to be done God's way, not human methods. Sometimes, an overly sola scriptura mindset risks reading the Word in humanistic ways. We need to go back to the sources, and be willing to be led by the Spirit to teach us as we participate humbly as a community of God.

If the book can have more examples and illustrations on various passages of Scripture, it would be wonderful.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Paraclete Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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