By Sharon Gartland

Sacred Reading

The advent story has become so familiar to most of us that it feels like a Charlie Brown television special. It soothes us with the characters that pop up each year: the young couple gazing at their newborn baby in the charming manger, the fragrance-free animals looking worshipfully at the tableau before them. It is easy to forget that this is God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, full of good news for all of humanity and for each one of us in particular.

Let me encourage each of you to join me in coming fresh to the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as you prepare to celebrate Christmas. I would like to invite you to let God speak to you through the ancient practice of Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina, Latin for “divine reading” or “sacred reading,” has been practiced by the Christian church for centuries and, according to author Ruth Haley Barton, is a way of approaching Scripture which allows the individual to “listen for the word of God spoken in the present moment.” The practice expands our repertoire of methods for studying and soaking in God’s word, allowing Scripture to speak into our hearts in fresh ways.

To guide you in your study this advent, I have suggested passages to use in the advent season, and summarized below the practice of Lectio Divina as adapted from Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms .

Advent Readings

Week one: Luke 1: 26-38
Week two: Luke 1: 39-56
Week three: Luke 2: 1-7
Week four: Luke 2:8-20

Preparation (Silencio)

This is a challenge during the holiday season and all its chaos, but is vital to readying yourself to hear from God. I typically need to write down a list of things on my mind and give it to God, so there is some room in my head. Taking a few moments to breathe and pray short invitations to God such as “Come, Lord Jesus,” or “Speak to me, Lord,” is a good way to begin this time.

Read (Lectio)

Read the selected passage slowly, pausing after each phrase and sentence. It can be helpful to read it aloud. Listen for the word or phrase that catches your attention. In a recent time of Lectio Divina, the phrase “He has called me blessed” jumped out at me. Don’t question or analyze why it resonates with you, just receive it. You may want to read the Scripture passage a second time.

Reflect (Meditatio)

Once you have identified a word or passage that is meant for you, read the Scripture passage again. Ask, “What is it in my life right now that needs to hear this word?” Sit in silence for a time, attending to thoughts, images, and impressions that begin to come to you. Barton recommends asking yourself where you are in the scene, or how the dynamics of this story connect with your own life experience. As I meditated on the phrase “He has called me blessed,” I began to weep, realizing that I didn’t always feel blessed as a woman by the Christian church. I let the phrase become personal to me, as I felt God speaking it to me.

Respond (Oratio)

Read the passage one more time and then pray your honest response to it. Pay particular attention to any ways in which you sense God is inviting you to act or respond to the word he has spoken to you. In my example, the response was to forgive the church for being broken, for not fully valuing its women. I also felt God prompting me to soak in the truth of being blessed rather than cursed.

Resolve (Incarnatio)

This is where we live out the word of God given to us. As we return to our daily duties and life with others, continue to listen for further insights. Expect God to flesh out the reality of his Word in your own particular context. Put yourself in a posture of submission and response to him. I responded to my experience by praying for specific people, forgiving them and asking God to bless them. I was also led down a months-long fascinating study of Eve, Mary, and the concepts of cursing and blessing which hasn’t ended yet.

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

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