Slow Reading and the Bible (Lectio Divina Series – “Lectio”)

Efficiency is a wonderful thing. It allows us to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. Meetings that are efficient allow a lot of work to get done. Schedules that are efficient allow us to cover a lot of ground. As best I can, I try to be as efficient as I can in most areas of my life. But the Bible asks something else of us: prayerful, slow reading.

Efficiency Is Not Always Helpful

I realize that there are a few areas in my life where efficiency is not a good thing. In fact, it is extremely detrimental. And the problem is that these areas are usually the most important areas in my life: relationships, enjoyment, leisure and faith. You may have heard the story of the wife who asked her husband why he never told her that he loved her. He replied, “I told you when we were married that I loved you. If it ever changes, I will let you know.” Extremely efficient! But it doesn’t grow a relationship.

Think of a gourmet meal: you can either savour it or you can get through it quickly, but you can’t do both. Savouring flavours and textures takes time and a sense of expectation. In a similar way, you can hike slowly through the woods, taking in the myriad of sights, smells and sounds, or you can cover the same distance in minutes by car. You can’t do both. Many of our basic human problems come from confusing which areas of our lives require efficiency and which areas are destroyed by efficiency. It requires wisdom and discernment to understand which is which.

God is not Efficient

Faith is one of those areas you can’t rush. Why? Because it is a relationship with God. To use garden imagery, it must be nurtured and cultivated. It takes time and patience for growth. We also need to know that there are seasons in the life of faith. Sometimes, we can experience rich times of abundance. Other times can be marked by dryness. Like the fruits and vegetables of the garden, Growing in faith requires savouring our relationship with God. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34: 8) Take time, and have an abiding sense of expectation that God will meet you in the deep places of your heart.

Slow Reading and the Bible

I write all of this because, when it comes to reading the Scriptures in the spirit of Lectio Divina, you need to be extremely inefficient. A great example of this comes from Jewish Synagogues, where they still read from a handwritten scroll. Rabbi Edward Feinstein reflects on why:

A Torah scroll

We read Torah from a scroll. And we will read from a scroll long after CD ROMs are replaced in the next revolution. We do so not just out of stubborn adherence to ancient tradition, and not just as a symbol of the authenticity of ancient truths, but precisely because the scroll is so inefficient, so slow, so linear. Only by reading in that format does each word remain real and important. Written slowly and carefully. Read slowly and carefully.

Illustration from the Book of Kells

Now, like me, you probably don’t read from a handwritten Bible. But I think we can appreciate the spirit of the quotation. Deep, slow reading takes time, and it follows that you can’t read a lot when you read in this way. That is actually the point. Sometimes it is good to read to cover a lot of ground, but sometimes it is good to read less and go deep. The way of reading that Lectio Divina teaches is about depth.

Looking Ahead

At the end of this series, I will include an example of how I pray through Psalm 131 and how the Lectio Divina process helped me come to terms with a big question I had. For now, just note when you read in this style, just remember: short passage, slow reading.

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