Over the past couple of months, I have enjoyed reading Dennis Okholm's book Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants. Okholm is an evangelical who shares his experience of coming to appreciate and apply aspects of the Rule of St. Benedict in his own Christian journey. In addition, he attempts to make the spiritual values of Benedict of Nursia (480-547)--an Italian monk and innovative monastic abbot--accessible to modern Protestants. As a student of early Christianity, I have spent a number of years studying and reflecting on the spirituality and ministries of a number of monks, including Antony, Pachomius, Martin of Tours, Basil of Caesarea, Augustine, Evagrius, John Cassian, Columba, and Columban. I've particularly enjoyed those who labored as monk-pastors or monk-missionaries--those who effectively combined the contemplative (prayer, Scripture reading) and active (preaching, teaching, writing) aspects of the Christian life. So, this interaction with Benedict and his Rule (RB)--contextualized for modern evangelical Protestants--was quite welcomed. Though I will not attempt a complete review of the book here, I would like to make a series of posts discussing short devotional nuggets from the book.
In chapter 8, Ockholm discusses Benedict's value of spiritual reading (lectio divina). In RB 48, Benedict prescribes a balanced day that included 6 hours of work, 3 hours in spiritual reading (the Scriptures), and 4 hours for prayer. The prayer times (liturgy of the hours) were spread throughout the day (morning, noon, evening, night)--kind of like spiritual "meal times"--so, don't worry, it wasn't 4 hours of straight prayer.
What got my attention most in this chapter was the approach to reading Scripture. Ockholm writes, "[spiritual reading] prepares one for community prayer. It is slow meditative reading. For example, one might begin reading a New Testament epistle until she comes to a particular verse or phrase that captures her attention; she stops, reflects on the passage until her mind begins to wander, and then moves on in the passage until she comes to rest at another phrase." He continues, "[spiritual reading] is not the same as reading the Bible through in one year. . . [spiritual reading] is not 'reading by the pound' . . . it demands that the reader approach the Bible as a pray-er, rather than as a consumer" (Ockholm, 107).
Having just committed to reading the Bible through this year with my church and small group (I'm following this reading plan), I wonder, is it possible to read through that much Scripture (3-4 chapters a day) in a contemplative way? I think so, and here are some principles and strategies that I'm following:
1. Set aside enough time everyday (at least 30 minutes) to read in an unhurried manner.
2. I like starting with the Psalms (my reading plan contains Psalms, Pentateuch, historical books, NT), which helps me begin to read prayerfully.
3. Maintain the discipline of reading everyday. It really gets discouraging when we get behind. The pressure to catch up often short circuits contemplate reading.
4. That said, let prayerful meditation be the priority over finishing the passages and "checking the box" (literally). I would rather stop at the first verse of my reading, pray and meditate over it, and have application for my day than walk away with 4 chapters read and nothing to take into the day.
5. If the schedule is rushed, consider reading Scripture the way the Benedictines pray: read a chapter in the morning, another at lunch time, another on an afternoon break, and a final one at bedtime.
6. If we get behind and don't read for a week, don't quit. Pick back up with today's schedule.
7. Encourage and be encouraged by others who are reading daily. More than simply asking, did you do your reading today? Ask instead, how did God speak to you in the Word today? How is it transforming you in your home, family, relationships, and work?
8. Don't just read Scripture silently. Read it aloud (as much of it was meant to be anyway) or consider listening to it read aloud.
9. Here's a wild one that cuts against our individualism. Pick a day and read Scripture with a friend or small group and then pray together.