“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).
By Davina Winn, Assistant Pastor, Hanover, VA
Ok, cue the music. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” That is unless you happen to live on my street where Christmas hits our neighborhood around the first week in September. Our neighbor, two houses over, is a regular on the local “Christmas Tacky Lights Tour,” and each year his elaborate winter wonderland decorations seem to start earlier and appear to edge closer into the neighboring yards with more lights, more games, and at least one more large plastic blow mold. Naturally, any good Christmas décor would be incomplete without a giant countdown clock heralding how many more days until Christmas. You would think with this daily reminder I would be a little more prepared for the holiday season, but alas my mental Christmas list remains unchecked. I still have travel plans to finalize, gifts to buy, Christmas cards to send, cookies to bake, a house to clean (and possibly decorate), a secret Santa exchange to organize, an ugly Christmas sweater to locate, and when, oh, when was that office Christmas party again? Don’t get me wrong, I love this season. It just always seems like my already busy life gets even busier during Christmas.
Obviously, staying busy is not a sin, but it can be a distraction that causes us to lose sight of the true meaning of this sacred season. For Christians, it is about intentionally taking the time to celebrate and share the joy of Jesus Christ, God with us in the flesh. Yet, on some level, it seems that even non-believers pause to spend time with family and friends and at least acknowledge the “Christmas Spirit” of giving and goodwill towards men. So how can we, as Christians, slow down and connect with God on a more profound and intimate level?
I would like to introduce you to the spiritual practice of “Lectio Divina” which translates as “divine or sacred reading.” Lectio Divina is an ancient approach to reading the scriptures while intentionally listening for the voice of God. While most of us are used to reading scripture for information, Lectio Divina invites us to encounter Jesus in the text for the purpose of relational transformation. The Bible says that the “Word of God is alive and active,” a clear reference to Jesus as the living Word of God, and Lectio Divina assumes that God is inviting us into interaction and conversation as we read the written words of God.
There are four different movements associated with this practice:
- Lectio (reading/listening) Slowly read the text aloud.
- Meditatio (meditation/reflection) Meditate on the word or phrase that captures your attention.
- Oratio (prayer/response) Open your heart to God and pray.
- Contemplatio (contemplation/rest) Quietly sit in the presence of the Father and rest in his arms.
Lectio Divina can be done alone or in a group. For the purpose of this exercise, you will be guided through an actual Lectio Divina exercise as if you are by yourself.
Before you start, make sure you are sitting comfortably. Begin to breathe slowly in and out. With your eyes closed, let your body relax and allow yourself to become consciously aware of God’s presence with you. Quietly let go of any distractions and ask God to speak to you through the passage that you are about to read.
Lectio Divina exercise
Step One: Read
Read Luke 1:26-38 slowly, out loud if possible. Read the passage a couple of times. Notice any words or phrases that seem to jump out at you. Don’t analyze the text, just let it sink in. Are you drawn to any images or characters in the story? Don’t feel rushed, linger in the story, and be open to any gentle nudges. Quietly listen for the still, small voice of God. What word or phrase is your attention being drawn to?
Step Two: Reflect
As you read the passage again, allow God’s word to become his personal word for you. The Gospel of Luke mentions Mary’s humble response, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Consider how your response to God might intersect with your life right now. Here are a few reflection questions:
- What is God showing you about yourself?
- How does this relate to something in your life today?
- What is God saying to you?
- Are there any distractions that God is highlighting for you today?
- What is the “one thing” that Jesus says is needed?
Step Three: Respond
Take a few minutes to respond to God in prayer. Prayer is simply a conversation with the God who loves you and likes you, no matter what. What do you want to say to God about this experience reading scripture? Talk to God about what bubbled up for you and how you sense he might be inviting you to act or respond to the word you have heard. You are free to allow your real, authentic self to be touched and changed by the word of God. Some find it beneficial to journal their response during this process.
Step Four: Rest
The last step offers space to rest and wait in the presence of the Lord. This is not about doing, this is abiding. Simply rest in the presence of God. Lay down all the insights, words, and images you’ve encountered and simply dwell in the presence of God. This is a time to absorb God’s gentle grace and allow God to do the life-changing work in you. Sense God’s love flowing effortlessly through you. You may close with a prayer thanking God for his willingness to open up the scripture for you, enabling you to better understand your life in Christ.
Participating in Lectio Divina during this sometimes busy and chaotic season of Christmas in which we celebrate the fulfilled promise of a Savior born among us, followed by the feast of Epiphany where we rejoice in the proclamation and revelation of who Jesus really is, gives us time to pause and commune with God. This is vital when you find yourself “distracted by all the preparations that have to be made.”
At the heart of Lectio Divina is a dynamic relationship between God and you, his beloved. The Father, Son, and Spirit invite you to participate in their dance and discover this deep spiritual practice within the daily rhythms of your life.
May God bless you with real rest as you make space to commune with him through scripture and come to know God more fully and more intimately.
Following are some suggested Lectio Divina passages for Christmas and Epiphany:
- John 1:1-14 (The incarnation)
- Luke 1:26-30 (Gabriel visits Mary)
- Luke 1:30-45 (Mary visits Elizabeth)
- Luke 1:46-55 (Mary’s song – The Magnificat)
- Matthew 1”10-23 (Joseph’s reaction and dream)
- Luke 2:1-14 (A Savior is born for us)
- Luke 2:15-20 (Shepherds rejoice)
- Luke 2:22-38 (Simeon and Anna respond to Jesus)
- Matthew 2:1-12 (The Magi from the East)
- Matthew 2:13-23 (To Egypt and back)
- Luke 2:41-52 (Young Jesus at the temple)
- Matthew 3:13-17 (The baptism of Jesus)
Benner, David G. Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer. IVP, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2021.
Hall, Thelma. Too Deep for Words Rediscovering Lectio Divina; with 500 Scripture Texts for Prayer. Paulist Pr, 1988.
Johnson, Jan. Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-on Guide to Lectio Divina. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Johnson, Jan. When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer. NavPress, 2017.