The Second Way of Service
(17) ‘This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17.3)
True knowledge is knowledge of God. Tertiaries therefore give priority to devotional study of scripture as one of the chief means of attaining that knowledge of God that leads to eternal life.Under the rubric of study, priority should be given to Scripture because it is through Scripture that we can most reliably hear God. God may speak to us in many other ways. But God has promised that he will speak to us through the words of these texts.
But what is meant by ‘devotional study’ of Scripture? It is certainly not a matter of applying our intellectual skills in order to tease out the original meaning intended by the human author(s). All texts of any complexity say more than their authors intended to say. And in the case of the Bible, we also have to reckon with a divine author working in, with and under the human authors.
However, devotional study is study in the sense that it should be disciplined and systematic. Over the centuries, Christians have devised many different approaches to the disciplined reading of the Bible but one of the longest lasting (and arguably one of the most helpful) is the approach known as lectio divina (‘divine reading’), which traditionally consists of four phases:
- Lectio: This is slow, attentive reading of the chosen passage, which is usually fairly short. Generally speaking the same passage will be read over several times (four times in traditional Benedictine practice), each time with a different emphasis.
- Meditatio: This is the leisurely pondering of the passage (or perhaps just a sentence, phrase, or even word from the passage). The emphasis is not on attempting to analyse the passage but rather to receive it as a love letter from God.
- Oratio: Our prayerful response to what has gone through our mind (and heart) during meditatio.
- Contemplatio: The final phase is silent resting and listening in the loving presence of God.
On second thoughts, contemplatio is not really the final phase. The true final phase is when we go out from where we have been reading and praying and apply what we have learned in our daily lives.