Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness
by Christine Valters Paintner and Lucy Wynkoop, OSB
Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008
Reviewed by Monique Keffer, MA
Spiritual directors open their hearts in order to listen deeply. So it is with those who practice the art of lectio divina, a contemplative form of prayer. As Christine Valters Paintner writes in her preface to the text, lectio divina "is especially valuable" to spiritual directors in their work "as a way of being with another person and listening for the movements of the Spirit" (6). Spiritual directors can go through training programs and yet the Spirit can seem elusive. Lectio divina is an ancient yet timeless way of praying with a text that allows people to practice awareness of the Spirit’s presence.
In order to feel the Spirit, the authors warn, those who commit tolectio divina as a practice and a way of life must also commit to a counter cultural process. Wynkoop and Paintner write, "modern culture surrounds us with noise from the Internet, television, radio, video games, mental chatter and constant conversation" (13). In contrast, this discipline requires stillness, silence, and openness that contemporary society would call unsafe vulnerability. As the authors point out, though, if one wishes to discern God’s "quiet voice" then he or she "must learn to love the silence" (13). Indeed, one must crave that silence.
What makes this particular exploration of the way of praying known aslectio divina unique is the successful melding of careful instruction and contemporary examples with a poetic voice. A text that seeks to describe any prayer process in a how-to fashion runs the risk of being dry. Instructional manuals are not scintillating as a rule. Wynkoop and Paintner’s work is an exception. Their book methodically teaches the reader exactly how to pray in this ancient way, provides contemporary examples of what this form of prayer looks like in practice, and offers an evocative experience that mirrors the content. Words like shimmersand ripe along with immersion and savor fold the reader into the text, allowing him or her to feel just what the author’s purport as the gift oflectio divina: a sensual experience of text.
Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness meets the reader more than halfway, offering alternative methods and texts for the practice of lectio divina. In addition to scripture, less conventional forms are offered such as art, music, and poetry. By offering all of these options, the authors display that although lectio divina is an old form of prayer, it is anything but stolid. In fact this work celebrates the diversity of humans and their experiences of God. One concludes reading Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness with a feeling of the limitless possibilities of this prayer form. Isn’t that exactly how someone should feel as he or she eagerly anticipates hearing the voice of infinity?
Monique Keffer, MA, is a spiritual director trained at Sacred Ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.