When we face times of pain and sorrow and chaos, we want an answer to this question. Our heads are spinning, and our hearts are broken by current events or with the inevitable losses or suffering we experience in our own lives. My own story includes the loss of my parents and other loved ones, coping with cancer, and having a child who walks through the world with multiple disabilities. A friend who has also experienced deep grief is author, journalist, and former RCB seminarian intern, Jeff Chu. He published a prayer a few days ago “for Gaza, Israel, and all the aching broken world” that revolved around this question and the yearning for God to draw near. Jesus called out from the cross and asked “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When we feel helpless, anxious or broken, what can we do?

Those are the very times we most need to connect with God. And we have one of the most obvious of resources to help us do that right at our disposal. The Bible. Reading the Bible as a prayer practice can dramatically impact the way we read and receive God’s Word. One particularly prayerful way of reading the Bible is known as “lectio divina” [pronounced “LEC-tsee-o” or “LEC-tee-o” “di-VEE-na”]. It’s an ancient practice and means “sacred reading”. As author Sharon Garlough Brown describes, “We are looking to encounter the living God. Lectio divina invites the Holy Spirit to bring the word to life in a way that grips us and speaks to us right in the midst of our daily lives. We let the word descend from our minds to our hearts where it can penetrate and transform us.” We are reading with the intention of relationship and transformation.

When we read the Bible in this way, we are not looking for historical context or theological insights. It’s meant to be a more reflective or prayerful approach where we notice how God might be speaking to us as we listen for words, phrases or images that resonate or “shimmer”. For example, I recently met with a church member who is going through a particularly anxious season, and we read a passage from the book of Philippians that started out with the word “Rejoice”. That was one of the words that spoke to him. When he heard it, he imagined confetti and felt God reminding him to rejoice and celebrate God in his life. It was a comfort, and brought the word to life in that moment.

There are many ways to practice this simple, meditative way of reading sacred text such as the Bible, and it can be done in your own personal devotional time, with a friend or loved one, or in a small group setting. And while there’s so much more to say, here is a very basic description known as “The 4 R’s” of Lectio Divina:

READ your selected passage two to three times, at least once aloud, and allow silence between each reading. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you insight into this reading.

REFLECT on what the scripture is saying to you in your heart. Ponder a word, phrase or image from the text that captures your attention.

RESPOND to the words you’ve read with prayer—expressing your feelings to God and considering how God might be calling you to respond in your life.

REST in stillness with your feelings and your communication with God.

It seems so obvious that we should read the Bible, right? Or maybe to some, the Bible is this mysterious, enormous book that doesn’t feel relevant or helpful. I encourage you to give this a try. You may already have some favorite verses or Psalms, but some of us don’t know where to start. Below are some passages that lend themselves well to this kind of prayerful Bible reading:

· Philippians 4:4-9

· John 17: 20-26

· Psalm 23

· 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

· Mark 10:48-52

· Luke 8:4-8

· John 1:1-15

So pick up your Bible! You may need to dust it off, or if you don’t own one, it’s time. Or to get started right away, download one of the many phone apps that allow you to carry the Bible in your pocket, so to speak. I find Bible Gateway is a user-friendly, free app and is also a good online tool for searching for a passage (Biblegateway.com). And not to get into the weeds, but if you use this kind of virtual way of accessing the Bible, you’ll want to select a translation that you feel comfortable with, like NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) which is what we have in our church pews. Other popular translations are NIV (New International Version) or The Message.

I would love to hear from you! Is this something you might try? Do you have your own favorite verses for reflection and prayer? Do you have questions about lectio divina or how you might incorporate it as a spiritual practice in your life?