But then that something would be subject to the greater understanding or witness of the body of Christ around me in a small group. That's also part of the process. For example, if I come up with something that says, "Based on this Scripture, I think I should go divorce my husband," that would be a red flag for the group as a whole.
So, using lectio divina in a small group can be a way of setting up appropriate boundaries around your interpretation?
Right. It definitely can be.
Based on your experiences, what are some of the challenges of using contemplative prayer and lectio divina in a small group?
One of the main challenges is fear—fear that I won't hear anything or fear that I'm only hearing my own thoughts. How do I know that I'm hearing from God and not just my overactive imagination?
We're also used to being given a nugget of truth from a preacher or a teacher, so there is a fear that lectio and contemplation are lesser ways of hearing—that maybe I won't hear something quite as stunning. And if I don't hear anything, have I just wasted my time? We may feel like: I gave an hour, and we sat here and we did lectio and we were quiet, and I didn't get anything. And that's a perfect waste of my time. I should have gone to a lecture.
And so, as a leader practicing lectio and contemplation, you're working against the model that the way people learn is through information rather than being in silence and having to face the times that God is silent. I have to believe that there may actually be a learning for me in this that goes beyond what a teacher could give me—if I will receive it.
Is there a way to know that you're hearing from God instead of an overactive imagination?
Jesus says the sheep know my voice, they recognize my voice. And I do think that recognizing God's voice is part of the spiritual journey in my life. We haven't helped people learn how to discern the Spirit's voice. People are used to hearing the pastor's voice or a teacher's voice or an author's voice. And because it's got new information, they assume they've heard God's voice when they may or may not have actually done so.
So, I think there's a big learning curve here. Lectio asks, "What is the invitation that you're being drawn into? What do you hear God saying to you? Attend to that this week and come back and tell us what it meant in your life." But when a pastor comes and gives an application, he gives it to everybody in the congregation. Obviously, I'm not saying that's bad, but it's different than hearing in my heart a word that is just for me.
I want to be part of the movement that helps people attend to that still, small voice that makes you, like Elijah, cover your face. Or like Moses, who covered his face. There's this sense that, having heard from God, I don't run out and blab, "Oh, I've heard from God!" It's more a sense of awe and quietness and taking it all in.