Last Sunday I decided to introduce the practice of lectio divina into our youth Bible study activity. Lectio Divina, or "sacred reading," is an ancient Christian practice of reading a scripture text deeply, allowing it to speak God's word to us intimately.
As part of our observance of The Children's Sabbath, we focused the study on the story of Jesus and the children (Luke 18:15-17). I invited the youth to explore this text using the version of lectio divina provided by the Youth Ministry and Spirituality project. We read through the text three times. The first time we simply listened and attended to the overall text. The second time we tried to tune in to a word or phrase that seemed to speak directly to us in some way. The third time we sought to discern what God might be saying to each of us through the text. This process is not rushed -- silence is as important as the reading of the text.
I share all of this because of a funny thing that happened when I tried this with our middle school youth. As soon as I sat a pile of Bibles in the middle of the circle, one of the girls, Kelly, announced, "Oh no! Not Bibles! I'm not reading the Bible." (Note: It's not that Kelly was afraid of the Bible the way a demon might fear holy water. It's just that she would rather have been playing "Duck Duck Goose" or talking with her friends).
Despite Kelly's protestations, I went ahead with the meditation. These young teens tolerated the repetitive readings, the long pauses, the silence, but when I asked them to share their reflections on the text, they were (surprise! surprise!) uncharacteristically mute! Nobody wanted to share. I allowed more silence, knowing that someone usually speaks up to fill the dead air. Guess who spoke up first? Yep, it was Kelly, the one who wanted to run from the Bible like a vampire from garlic! Kelly shared that the phrase which vibrated most for her was the part about parents bringing their children to Jesus. She remarked that she wondered if those kids even wanted to be there, being pushed through the crowd and put up in front of everybody, having this strange guy blessing them. Wow, I thought -- that detail of the story had never occurred to me. I'd never thought of it from the children's point of view (and perhaps Kelly was thinking about how she herself, and other teens, might feel if forced into a similar situation).
I then asked the youth to share which character in the story they most related to at this point in their life: Jesus, the children, the crowd, or the disciples. Again, dead silence. Then Kelly spoke up again: "I guess I would be most like Jesus. My mom is going into the hospital this week for surgery, and she wants me to be there with her because she said it will make her feel better. So my being at her bedside will sort of be healing to her. Like Jesus is when he touches the children." Hmmm. And Kelly was the one who didn't want to read the Bible.
Lesson learned: 1) never underestimate your youth and 2) never underestimate the power of contemplative spiritual practices like Lectio Divina to open hearts and minds to the truths of our faith.