Beyond (Before) Theological Hermeneutics IV

I admit it.  I lied.  I said this would be a three post series, but I wanted to add a another form of communal spiritual reading that I have enjoyed on many occasions in the past five years. It is called–at least as I know it–“Dwelling in the Word.”  There are several good resources available on the net for this practice of spiritual reading (e.g., here).

The roots of this practice are probably Lectio Divina but it has a little different twist to it that I find helpful and encouraging. What follows is my own suggestions for this method but they are not original with me. I have learned them through participation with others in various contexts. When I was on staff at the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ we regularly practiced this method in the last couple of years of my time there. I have practiced it with others as well.  Sometimes it is as extensive as offered below, and sometimes it is a shortened version of this.  It all depends on the setting, time constraints and the desire of the group itself.  Below is an adaptable model.

Silence – It is important to settle our hearts so that we are open to listening to God.  We must clear our minds of all our past regrets and future plans. We seek to “be” in the present with God through the text. I use the “Jesus prayer” to focus my mind and heart; to settle my emotions and feelings in the present. The silence is a prayer that I am willing to listen and hear what God has to say to me through the text.

Reading the Text – The text is audibly read; it is read slowly and deliberately.  There is no hurry or rush. Our silence has prepared us to hear and we want to hear every word.

Silent Meditation – The group reflects on the text. What significant ideas, words, phrases or sentence gained your attention. Repeat the words over and over again with the heart and mind.  What is it about those words that resonates?

Reading the Text  – The text is audibly read; it is read slowly and deliberately. This time listen to the text through the lens of the words that gained our attention in the previous reading.  Where do those words come in the reading?

Silent Meditation – The group reflects on the text.  How did hearing the text again through the lens of those words illuminate the words further? Why does this text meaning something to me? What is happening in my life that connects with this reading? What does this text call me to do?

Reading the Text – The text is read aubily; it is read slowly and deliberately.  Listen for the big picture in the text through the lens of the words that have occupied our focus.

Sharing With Another – In smaller groups of two or three (breaking larger groups into such sizes), people share their insight with other members of the group.  They share the words that caught their attention, why it was significant to them, and what they feel called to do in light of the text.  Each member of the smaller group shares.  However, we listen; we do not comment on what others have shared.  We only speak for ourselves and about ourselves.  This is not a time to judge another’s intake but to assimilate the word into our own hearts.  Perhaps what others share will be meaningful to us, give us a new perspective on the text or even the words upon which we focused, and we may feel called in the direction others share as well.  But we do not comment, correct or elaborate on the comment of others.   We simply listen.  In this moment we learn to share and we learn to listen–and we do both without judgment, correction or condemnation of the other. Each shares and no one adds anything else. Silence as we listen to others is a discipline we all need to learn.

Reading the Text – The text is read aubily; it is read slowly and deliberately.  Now we hear the text in through the spectrum of what the group has shared. Perhaps now we see something we did not see before; perhaps we are further enlightened about our own focus against the backdrop of what others have shared. We listen again to the word of God.

Silent Meditation — We meditate on what each member of the group has shared in the light of our own focus on the text. How does this help us understand our own focus? How does this encourage me to do what I have heard God call me to do in the text?

Sharing with the Group — If the total group involves more than two or three people, then in larger groups or with the whole we share what we have heard others say.  This is not an interpretation of what others have said with our comment, approval, or judgment.  Rather, it is reporting what others have said. This serves the function of sharing with the whole group so that the rest might benefit from the insight, but it is also serves the function of yielding to the other in our own thinking.  By simply reporting what they have said, we demonstrate to ourselves that we have listened.  When we listen, we hear something from others about what God is saying to them.  We listen to the word of God through the lenses of others who are also seeking God.  We learn to listen and we learn to share what others have shared without the egocentricity of making sure we get our opinion into the mix.

Reading the Text — The text is read audbily; it is read slowly and deliberately. We hear in light of what others have shared about the text.

Group Discussion — This is optional.  Sometimes is good to simply listen to each other without comment.  Groups sometimes have the tendency of “correcting” each other’s meditations or applications.  So, sometimes I prefer to simply listen, but there are occasions for interactive discussion of the text that deepens our understanding.  Even in this moment, however, I don’t think this is a time for “critique” or judgment about another’s points.  Rather, it is a time to probe more deeply into each other’s meditation–seek clarification, explanation and application. If the group has some kind of built-in accountability commitment, it is a time to ask how and when participants will act on what they have learned from this text.

Silent Meditation – Think about what your have heard from others in the light of the text and what you have heard from the text for yourself.  This is adjust in any way the way you have heard the text and what you hear God calling for you to do? What has God taught you through listening to others?

Reading the Text – The text is read audibly; it is read slowly and deliberately. We hear the text again but this time in the context of the total communal insight; we hear it in conjunction with a communal hearing.  Indeed, we hear it communally with shared insight, discipleship and commitment to do what God has called us to do.

Group Prayer – We pray that God will give us the strength and power to obey what he has called us to do through the hearing of this text.

Many missional churches and groups have used this method to read, meditate on and discuss Luke 10:1-12. I have done that often, but I also find it a wonderful method to meditate on a Psalm in a group. In the conclusion of such a meditation, parying through the Psalm as a group is a enlightening and transformative experience.
There are many things I like about this method even though there are some dangers inherent in it as with all methods of reading.

  1. It is communal.
  2. It is focused on reading the text over and over.
  3. It involves personal meditation.
  4. It involves sharing with another person my meditation.
  5. It involves sharing with the group (with the option of discussion as well).
  6. It ends in group prayer.

I commend to you the practice of “Dwelling in the Word.”  On more occasions than not I have found it a rewarding experience with God in community.


2 Responses to “Beyond (Before) Theological Hermeneutics IV”

  1.   Gardner Says:

    These are excellent thoughts. You had many similar ideas in “Kingdom Come.” My challenge will be to slow down enough in my personal life to put them into practice. Working with a group may also be a challenge. It seems these methods would work especially well with Psalms and other meditative texts.

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Gardner. I appreciate your interest. Meditative type texts are the easiest to slide into, but this method works with many texts. I have used in Luke, Acts, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Psalms, etc.

    Groups are a challenge; one needs willing participants, but it is quite rewarding as we engage the text communally. I believe such a group practice (of some kind) is an important communal practice.

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