One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in an upscale restaurant, Daniel’s Bistro, in New York City. My entrée was called the DB Burger, the signature dish of the menu. The description read, “Sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffles served on a Parmesan bun with pommes soufflées.” That’s quite a hamburger, and it cost $29!
The most incredible taste of that night wasn’t burger, however. Compliments of the house (because our table wasn’t ready when we arrived), my brothers and I were given an appetizer of tuna tartare: raw, ground tuna. I realize that sounds gross to most people, and I was a little hesitant to try it. Each of us was given a small spoon with a little tuna on it. That was it. Merely a taste, but what a taste! The flavor exploded in my mouth. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted. If I close my eyes, I can almost taste it now.
That’s what lectio divina’s first step, reading, is like. It’s that slow, that savory, and that explosive.
There’s no secret formula to the first step of lectio divina, but it’s a bit like savoring that one bite of food. Just read the passage slowly and repeatedly. Let it sink in. Read it out loud, and read it silently. Become familiar with the rhythms of the text, its ebbs and flows. Read it over and over again.
Your mind may wander to the matters of the day. Just return to your reading. Don’t beat yourself up for having wandering thoughts, it happens to everyone. Try not to be abrupt during your move back into reading. Be gentle and gradual. Let the words of the text be your response to any distractions, repelling the distraction before it sidetracks you completely.
You won’t find a rule anywhere about how many times you should read the passage. Maybe five times, maybe fifteen–it depends on how many times seems right to you. Focus only on the words, phrases, and sentences. Don’t try to figure out what they mean. Don’t try to imagine the context in which they were written. And when you’re experienced at lectio divina, be sure to not move into meditation prematurely.
Remember, this reading is meant to be neither informative nor entertaining. It’s meant to be transformational. And also remember that lectio divina is a four-part process. You’re not meant to get it all in the first stage. This step is meant to familiarize you with the text, to let it seep into your soul. So, read in as neutral a way as possible, not trying to “get it,” but trying simply to hear it.
Let your reading be restful and unhurried. God’s Word is a gift to you. It’s a blessing–so let it bless you. Experience it; don’t intellectualize it. Let the experience of reading God’s Word be just that for you–an experience of reading God’s Word.
If you want to read more, I invite you to check out Divine Intervention: Encountering God through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina.