When we get together we frequently share stories and theories about worship in our different faith traditions. During this recent sharing, we observed that, for Protestants, worship seems to be all about the sermon, since many of our traditions only occasionally celebrate the sacraments. We also observed that, for Roman Catholics, worship seems to be all about the Eucharist, with the homily often secondary. Both of us lamented that worship in both of our traditions seems to have grown stagnant, static, not able to meet our spiritual hunger.
Both clergy and laity have found “Lectio Divina,” a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading,” to be a significant spiritual discipline in our personal faith journeys. Allowing the scriptural text to speak to us in a word or phrase or image that is heard or read, and staying with that image for a period of disciplined meditation and prayer, takes us to a deeper, internal, spiritual place in what Jonathan Linman calls “holy conversation.” This practice has been in the church since at least the fourth century and has been revived in recent years. It is a welcome revival.
Most, if not all, worship leaders are eager to find effective ways of making worship a deeper, more profound and authentic spiritual experience. Liturgy, “the work of the people,” is often in need of enrichment so that the bored participant is invited to more actively participate in the “work.” Linman rightly identifies the challenge: “using lectio divina liturgically invites us to slow down, create open spaces to let the Word soak in, and holds the promise of renewal of worship life and thus a renewal for mission.” Perhaps you can imagine my delight when presented with Linman’s book, “Holy Conversation: Spirituality for Worship.” To deliberately link spirituality and worship in some very practical ways is an exciting concept for me. Specifically using lectio divina in corporate worship, not just for personal piety, may be one way to enrich holy conversation.
Part One of the book is a presentation of the philosophy and theology of liturgy, especially from the perspective of holy conversation and lectio divina. Linman’s rationale for using a historical spiritual discipline that has been employed primarily for personal devotion is described in terms of congregational usage. I can imagine clergy support groups, worship committees and individuals reading Part One and agreeing that experimenting with this form has the potential for renewing worship.
Part Two, called “Meditations on the Mass,” is an incredibly full step-by-step description of how to proceed. Those of us who do not call our worship “the Mass” should not be put off by the title of this section. Its content translates easily into my Presbyterian way of viewing the design of worship. Six facets of worship are then described from a “lectio” standpoint: Preparation, Reading (scripture), Meditation, Prayer, Contemplation, Sending. These correspond to lectio patterning.
I’m eager to experiment and believe the approach Linman spells out in this book will ground our worship more deeply in the living Word of God.
Margee Iddings is interim pastor of Oaklands Presbyterian Church, Laurel, Md.