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On Lectio Divina

Aaron Tham

(reproduced with permission) 

 

Introduction:-

In today’s world and society, life is rushing from here to there and rushing from one thing to another. It is as though one must be seen rushing or busy with something to look important or doing something or just being able to feel wanted and needed. I like what Dr Alex Tang wrote in his book[1] that he has observed whether in Oxford Street London UK; Orchard Road in Singapore or Jalan Wong Ah Fook in Johore Bahru Malaysia, he said;

“They all have that same look – a hurried expression on their faces as if they must rush because of great urgency. They have the same stance – body leaning forward, taking rapid long steps. They do not look each other in the eye (and what I like best is what he descript the people’s experiences as…) ‘they are lonely souls in a sea of souls!’”

When reflecting on the thoughts of how busy we have all become I cannot help but take a trip back in time, when in the beginning of the of creations, when God created man and woman –Adam[2] and Eve[3]; God came down during the cool of the evening to take a walk in the Garden of Eden (which He has created for man to live in, for all provision would be available but man has to work and take care of the land). It was to be a place of joy and fellowship between God and His creation – man, God was relating to man and the woman[4].

We once thought only the Japanese and the Singaporean rushes about daily in their lives, but the same ‘disease of RUSHIES[5]’ seems to have infected the people on Earth and of all walks of life especially life in the Cities (maybe with exceptions are the Australians – who are well known for their lay-back lifestyles or maybe not, now with the influx of Asians – the Chinese; the Indians; the Japanese, the Singaporeans they might just catch the ‘RUSHIES disease’ too).

Really, it is getting hard to find that time to be quiet, what with the multi-devices that we are connected to everyone in the Globe and receiving instant messages and without a thought, we reply just as fast if not faster. We instead of having convenient gadgets at home to help us with our chores to make life simpler, it seems this is not the case. We even multi-tasks (like me, reading, doing work and facebooking at the same time); we need to pause and rethink life and seek the time to be with our Creator and God.

What Henri Nouwen calls, “creating space for God in our life.”[6] I believe man has that special longing to spend time with God and to have that relationship with Him. That evening walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day is in our DNA (the make-up for human race with our Creator, we seems to have that ‘space’ in each of our heart which can only be filled by God Himself and a relationship with Him), we have that need to take time out to be with Him, however it will need discipline, sacrifices and commitment on our part – the results we hope would be gaining the relationship and friendship with God.

We cannot have that physical experience that Adam and Eve had, but we can in our spirit – have that connectivity with the Holy Spirit and bring about that bond and relationship, well, on the other hand we do have an advantage – that God is ‘walking’ with us all at the same time, wherever we maybe now.

There are ways - with structures and forms (which we will see later as we look into the ancient practice of spending time with God by reading of the scriptures and to meditate on His word calls Lectio Divina) it comes with wisdom and discipline, that those who seek that time with God must create the special time in our lives (there is no short cuts), where we can encounter with Him and to have Him take our lives and form them to what He has planned for us, as we draw closer to God and to understand and to love Him even more.

As Henri Nouwen continued to say, that our goal to have that spiritual relationship would be a challenge to us to live our spiritual life from our hearts, it can only be achieved by having discipline, a practice and also accountability to others around us to make sure we keep on doing them. We have no choice but to slow down, take stock of our time, our desires and as the author says, to counter our impulsiveness, hurried lives, selfishness and all that which we are preoccupied with. We need to begin to fine tune (as though) our wavelengths to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as we learn to sit still, be quiet and in silence listen out to that voice of God speaking to us.

In our daily experiences, as a Christian we have been taught to spend time with God by reading of the scriptures, praying, meditating and to give thoughts to the word read for the day. There are many materials and ways or methods to help us in our daily ‘chores’ (yes, to some of us, they have become liken to duties and roles that we must do and not doing them out of wanting to know more about God, to know Him more so that we love Him even more or to pray to converse with Him and not send out a want lists or shopping lists to ask God for answers to them).

This reading and spending with God should not be an exercise to want to understand the word with deep exegetical explanations of the scripture or to want to be able to handle the texts, to explain them well, but really, we should learn to allow the texts to lead us into what God is saying to us.

There are reading guides and methods that we can use – like Daily Notes by Scripture Union, Daily Bread by Radio Bible Corporation, Inductive Bible Studies methods, Reading the Bible through in a year or two and many others but many are merely brief readings. However, for this paper we shall look into the ancient practice by the Western Monastic Communities around the time of AD 220 when it was first introduced for the silence meditation for the monks and since then it has became one of the key methods and form of Lectio Divina – a contemplative Bible reading that draws a person to spend time with the scriptures and to relate to God.

A)    The Process of Lectio Divina:

From the Monastic approach, Lectio Divina is an ancient art form that requires the person to slow down, take stock of his life; to contemplate his reading of the scriptures and to be praying over the reading to enable the Word of God to unite the person to the heart of God – a state of union with Him. For many years the monastery tradition has been to use such an approach to their Bibles reading and studies.

Lectio Divina is pronounced as ‘lex-ee-oh’ ‘di-vee-nuh[7] - in Latin and it means ‘divine reading,’ ‘spiritual reading,’ ‘holy reading’ or ‘sacred reading.’ It provides a form or methods of prayer and scriptural reading with an intention to help enhance the relationship and communion with God. Through the form, it provides also a special insight to the written word of God. The History of the development of lectio divina goes back to the 3rd century and was practiced by the monks and nuns who dedicated their lives to serve in the monasteries, especially the Catholics.

It seems that in the early Centuries, Origen[8] an early Church fathers who lived about AD185-254 who was an apologist for Christianity in his time. Even though his writings were influenced by Platonic and Gnostic teachings and some of his writings gave rise to Arian heresy but in his understanding he considered the focus must be on Christ as the key to interpreting the Scriptures[9] because he sees Scriptures as a sacrament. In a letter which he wrote to Gregory of Neocaesarea, eh said, “When you devote yourself to the divine readings…seek the meaning of divine words which is hidden from most people His thoughts became the ‘root’ of Scriptural reflection and interpretation.”[10]

For his time and age, Origen was truly advance in his expression to say that he believed the Word (the Logos word) was incarnate in the Scripture and therefore the Word can touch the lives of and to teach those who hears or read them. By reading them with the focus on Christ Himself, one can move beyond the basic thinking and to see or discovers the wisdom and understanding which is not reveled to most in the “Word of God,” Christ became the ‘interpretive-key’ he said.

His thoughts and writings were then picked up by the other Church fathers like St. Ambrose who taught them to St. Augustine about the end of the 4th Century and he introduced the form of studying the Word of God to the Monastic traditions of the Western Churches but it was not until in the later years in the 6th Century when St. Benedict the XVI who was the Pope then, he introduced three elements of: liturgical prayer, manual labour and Lectio Divina or Lectio Sacra (reading of the scripture).

These three elements became the new model that substituted the older practices in the Eastern Church which emphasized on ‘constant prayer’ and the monks often only gathers to listen to the scriptures being read to them, they would memorize them and would recite them in the privacy and in the quietness of their cells, only later did St Benedict introduced and included the form of meditation of the word.[11]

It was not until another 600 years later in the 12th Century that Lectio Divina became established with a 4 logical form process (as James C.Wilhoit and Evan B. Howard says, they are not Steps but are logical forms that may happened in any order or even together)[12] which is the work of the Carthusian monk – Guigo II but about the same time in history, there was another form of prayer by the Franciscan Order called the Clare of Assisi to provide a form or guide to help a person to be in prayer and contemplation of the scripture. Clare may not have had the exposure to Guigo II’s writings before she came out with her own.

The two methods or forms are as shown by the table below as compared to today’s method:-

Guigo II Methods

Clare of Assisi Methods

Bible Reading Methods

Read (Lectio)

Gaze on the Cross (Intueri)

Pray

Meditation (Meditatio)

Consider (Considerare)

Read

Pray (Oratio)

Contemplate (Contemplari)

Think

Contemplation (Contemplatio)

Imitate (Imitare)

Respond

There are of course many forms and styles used for Bible reading but Lectio Divina stands out with the practice of meditation and contemplation on the Scripture, there is another St Teresa of Avila’s method that applies ‘recollection’ techniques to help the person to focus on the text from the Scripture to ponder over the word. The contemporary way is simplified by suggestion of Praying to seek God to reveal His message to the reader, Reading with careful listening to what God has to say, the Thinking on the passage read out and to see what is the main message that God is saying and finally responding to what God is saying and taking action.

B)    The Process of Contemplative Bible Reading or the Method developed by Guigo II:

The process of the Lectio Divina as developed by Guigo II the stages as said earlier are not fixed nor are they rigid in the process, the procedures can overlap or can even superseded one or the other in the approach.  The simple guide is that from reading of the scripture into meditation of the word read out a few times, the person ponder over the message that God is highlighting to the person or individual. Each process, the person moves to less and less talking and more and more listening to the voice of God speaking to him. By which time the word of God should be ‘enveloping’ (which means the person is totally emerged or soaked in the Scripture) and gradually the truth should be revealed by the Holy Spirit to him. That has been the process used by the Western Monastery for their monks and nuns in the meditation of the word.

In today’s approach the methods as developed and in used for more than 1500 years ago, which is now gaining popularity takes on the process of “Contemplative Bible Reading!” more and more people are beginning to find that in their busyness of life, they want a ‘form’ or ‘an approach’ which could help them spend time with reading of the word and to be able to encounter God.

As Richard Peace says in his Study Guide on “Contemplative Bible Reading” book, for many years now the Protestant Church have concentrated on the studying of the word and as a result they know a lot about the word but they lack application of the Bible and not to mention about hearing God’s voice speaking to them[13] through the Bible. It is in hope that using Lectio Divina approach the person moves to a new insight and depth of studies and opening to God through the reading and meditations of the Scripture.

The early monks using Guigo II methods of Lectio Divina would spend time reading the word, praying and reflecting in their quiet cell or corners. They would repeat the reading aloud – they would read passages from Psalms or the Gospels. They would continue to read the word aloud until a word or a phase spoke to them. Then he would stop and spend time pondering over the word or phrase, with the understanding that God is bringing it to his attention for a purpose.

At this stage it is actually a form of meditation of the word which would naturally involves the monk praying over the revelation and offering the word back to God what he has received from Him. He would then move deeper into his prayer until he approaches a place where he can find peace or rest in the presence of God. This is a form of contemplation that most people would seek to have and to reach.

Let us take a look at the stages or forms that this Lectio Divina uses:

·         Read – Lectio;

·         Meditation – Meditatio

·         Pray – Oratio and

·         Contemplation – Contemplatio

Approaching  Lactio Divina:

Before we begin, we must set aside time for Lectio Divina, find a place where we have some privacy and quietness, where we can do this various forms and each stage.

·         Read – Lectio:[14]

As St Paul of the New Testament wrote to the Church in Corinth says,

“However it is written: No eye has seen, No ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches

all things, even the deep things of God…

(1 Corinthians 2:v9-10)

That it would be only by His Spirit that we would have the revelation of God’s message, so therefore in approaching the reading of the Scripture, it would be well recommended that one must prepare for Lectio Divina, so that one can achieve that state of mind of peace and calmness and tranquil state of mind.  Reading the Bible passage gently and slowly over several times, reading should be out loud – therefore the person becomes a proclaimer and a hearer or the Word of God. As we read we need to listen out to the word or a phrase that might speak out to us. Which would be what the Lord is drawing our thoughts and attention to?

The passage may not be as important as the ability to enjoy the words read out and listening out to the prompting by the Spirit.  The role of the Holy Spirit is important in the revelation of the Word of God. In its original Benedictine approach the suggested reading is over four times and each reading has a different emphasize as we read them.

As what father Luke Dysinger wrote in his writings on Lectio Divina[15]  that the art is to cultivate the ability to listen deeply, hearing with the ‘ears’ of our hearts and we should imitate Prophet Elijah we must allow ourselves to become men and women who hears His still small voice (1Kings 19:12) that small voice speaking to touch our hearts, this is an ‘atunement’ to the presence of God, which would gives us that experience that Adam had in the garden of Eden.

·         Meditation – Meditatio:

On meditation is to spend time pondering over the texts or Scripture that has been read out. It may emphasize on the reading but not as much as we should be listening to the depth of the word that the Holy Spirit is bringing to our attention. It should not be to seek for information or motivation but seeking for that communion with God. The text should not be for studying but rather the importance focus is the ‘Living Word.’ On mediation and pondering over the Scripture it is not try to find the exegetical meaning behind the passage but rather the illumination of the purpose of that reading brought out by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore we should learn to Savor the passage read; repeating it (ruminate on it – liken to an animal like the cow, chewing over the grass or cud and slowing extracting its every nourishment at some point we may even need to regurgitate it out to re-chew, in the modern perspective would be to subject the passage to memory and to at anytime repeat it and to ponder over the words ), thinking about it and digesting the word so that it can be internalized, personalized and the meaning becomes nourishment to our spiritual being[16] with that we can make connection between the word and to our life.

For example of a passage for consideration, which many writers on the topic of Lectio Davina use is, the passage that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” (John 14:27) the normal approach would have been to see in context the words written in and find the Theological explanations to the passage that Christ at the Last Supper with His disciples, is preparing Himself to be betrayed by Judas Iscariot and would soon to be the Sacrificial Lamb but the Lectio Davina purpose would be to dissect the word ‘peace’ and it would be the aim to enter into that ‘given peace’ offered by our Lord Jesus in order to share in that wonderful ‘Shalom-peace’ and achieving it by having a closer relationship with God. After all, it is Christ own invitation to His disciples and to all of us to enter it (His peace).

·         Pray – Oratio:

Even through the ancient monastery practices, prayer has been the main focus for anyone who wish to seek the presence of God and to have that relationship with Him, I am sure many have even ‘heard’ the voice of God speaking to them. It was a loving gesture on our part as believers to enter into prayer, with the accompaniment of reading the Scripture, in the words of St Ambrose that “when we read His word – we hear Him speak and when we pray, we speak to Him.” And Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that, prayer on Scripture is important and as well as using Lectio Divina because God will direct us with His Word-which is the guiding light and a source stating His word to us – “It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path”, he said.

In prayer - we would be leaving our own thoughts and thinking aside and turning our ears and hearts to listen out for His voice. I also see the touch of a loving God connecting with us His children, setting us apart to enjoy that relationship with Him. So in Lectio Divina – when we read out the word and spend time meditating and pondering on the word, we can offer a prayer with those words back to Him, a prayer of thanking Him too even if the experience may not be pleasant, we could ask for His forgiveness. Then we might say that in our moment of prayer – we can hold up our most difficulties to Him and we can use His Word from the Scripture to utter healing over them, those that He has given to us to ponder and to meditate upon. When we do that then we began to allow ourselves to be healed and delivered from our pain by using His Own Word!

·         Contemplation – Contemplatio:

As we move from prayer stage into the contemplation – we need to move into quietness and being still in His presence. At that moment we need to be at rest in God and to find that peace. We must stay open minded and with our ears tuned to His voice when He speaks. We should not enter into His presence with our own ‘shopping list’ of prayer and requests but – we leave our own plans, programs and even our meditations (which are not from God) outside during our time of Lectio Divina. At this stage, we continue to be in silence, continue to discern and to be tuned to Him. At this time, words are not necessary but just enjoy Him and in His Holy Presence.

As for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they defines contemplative prayer as the “the hearing the Word of God” in an attentive mode[17] it states that, “Contemplative prayer is silence, the ‘symbol of the world to come’ or ‘silent love.’ Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In silence, unbearable to the ‘outer’ man, the father speaks to us His incarnate Word, Who suffered, died and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus.” It is to contemplate in silence and to listen to God. But in the 14th Century Richard Rolle said that, contemplation is the path that leads the soul to union with God in love, and considered the Holy Spirit as the Center of contemplation[18].

Richard Peace said, “As you remember again the love of God, you rest in that love.” With those words, he then suggests that we sit silently before God, not passive silence but alert silence – always ready, always hearing and always looking out for Him….at this moment and at this stage of the Lectio, it is really completely up to God what is to take place.[19]

I would add that the last stage would have that wonderful effect on a person who can reach the fourth stage and experience transformation in his life daily. We must take this Word of God into our daily living. That is the reason why in this day and age with such busyness, many are seeking to experience the Lectio Divina practice to develop that deeper relationship with God and to enjoy that love God has for each of us. As Paul said, ‘that we are letter of Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts!’ (2 Corinthians 3:v3) When we carry out the Word into our daily living, represent God Who loves us and is with us.

C)    Practicing Lectio Divina:

We need to look into the History to learn more about how Lectio Divina came about and for what purpose it would serve us to bring us closer in relationship to God. For many years, the practice has been lost and gave way to other forms and methods of quiet time and silence moment with God. We need to look into the depth of our very being – spiritual, physical and our emotions – to realize that the Spirit of God is constantly wanting to transform us to a better person in Christ Jesus and therefore able to enjoy the rich and deeper relationship with Father God.

Entering into the depth of Lectio Divina we can learn to release our personal desires and to allow God to fashion us to His plan and purpose. Once we enter into God’s presence we can ‘be’ what God wants us to be and to totally be dependence on His guidance. Only then can we enjoy the refreshing moment in His very presence. This is s gift from God and not really a chore or plan or a structure that we force ourselves to take on to accomplish that ultimate encounter with Him. We are then in the very embrace of Him, Who loves us.

Lectio Divina has no other goal but the simple purpose of spending time with God, through reading, meditation, praying and contemplating on His Word. We should be able to savor God and be delighted in His Court to see Him in all His wonderful Glory.

·         Entering into Lectio Divina:

        i.            Select a passage for reading – maybe one that we are familiar with the text or contexts are familiar to us.

      ii.            Slow down when reading of the text, as we prepare to wait on God and be before Him.

    iii.            Posture, to sit at a comfortable place and position, kneeling, sitting if need be, whichever we find to be comfortable to us.

    iv.            Centering all our every being – mind, body and spirit to focus on the reading and the word. In deep and calm breathing, with palms facing up to offer ourselves to God and with openness to receive from Him. We are encouraged to sing a song, recite creed or word to focus on Him.

      v.            Prayer to tell God that we are waiting upon Him and that we desire to seek enters into His presence.

    vi.            Turning to the passage reading it out loud several times listening out for the special word or phrase that speaks into our spirit being. Looking into the inner and hidden meaning of God’s word with tender and care to bring out the message God is speaking to us.

  vii.            The reading is to be done slowly and softly – paying attention to every punctuation, slowing down in our reading, ‘tasting’ every word, hearing the Grace of God through His word and to see the content of the passage being read out.

viii.            Read them again and gently dwelling on each word being read.

    ix.            Any distraction should be redirected to later time.

      x.            We should wait with much patience to hear from God and remain humble before Him.

    xi.            Interject with praises, prayer, petition, confession, and whatever that may be in our heart.

  xii.            In time of quietness and barrenness, is still time in His presence.

xiii.            Focusing on what the Spirit has revealed to us and asking God for the purpose and meaning.

xiv.            At the end of the meditation, is to write the reflection and revelation down in a journal, sharing with a person whom we are accountable to, maybe the person can help us make sense of the word given to us.

Special note: there may be moments that in Lectio Divina – we return to the same passage over several occasions, but each time be on the lookout for a word, a phrase to ponder over. Seeking God for His message and intention for our lives. Therefore in Lectio Divina – there is no specific goal or aim but just wanting to be in His presence, through prayer and reading of His word.

 

·         Lectio Divina as a Group:

In the transitional practice, Lectio Divina is mostly used in an individual surrounding – mostly in solitude.  In recent years, there seems to be a need for group Lectio Divina exercises. However, these group activities and quiet and silence time to seek God should not replace our individual and person time with Him.

It is recommended that the group be either 3 or 4 people and should not be more than that, for maximum accountability and responses. The practices maybe slightly different from a personal approach for example:-

          i.            Form a group with 3 or 4 people.

        ii.            Select a passage for reading, reading it twice or three times, to hear or pick up a word or a phrase. Once the word or phrase is picked out, each person can quietly take in the word, gently recite it and ponder over it. After the silence, each person taking turn to share the word or phrases that touched their heart.

      iii.            Read another time – now seeking out Christ in the passage, after the silence again, each person takes turn to share their responses.

      iv.            Third reading to see how we can experience Christ and what He may be calling us into or to be doing. Then conclude the exercise in prayer for each other.

D)    Conclusion:

As ancient as more than 1500 years ago, Lectio Divina seems to be making a comeback these days. It is definitely a form or method that allows the reading of the Scripture to be what God wanted them to be to us – that is to unite His people to Himself. In Lectio Divina it helps us to see how much God loves us and that even today God’s intention is to bring us closer to Himself, by revealing His word specially to each of us privately or individually in a group. By practicing Lectio Divina we can discover ourselves – our strength and our weaknesses. Once enter into the very depth of our relationship with God, there would not be a place in our life that cannot be open to Him. Then we learn to be who we ought to be in Him and in His plan for each of us. As Royal Priesthood we have been set apart for God, therefore we must take the step to consecrate our mind, our hope, and our dreams to Christ alone.

 


 

[1] Dr Alex Tang, 2009, ‘Spiritual Formation on the Run – Meditations to Grow the Busy Life’. Pg 59, ARMOUR Publishing Pte Ltd.

[2] The Bible, Genesis 1:v26 and 27 “The God said, “let us” make man in our image...” (The New International Version (NIV) 1995 edition).

[3] The Bible, Genesis 2:v18 “The LORD God said, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” – Eve was formed.

[4] The Bible, Genesis 3:8 “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…”

[5] RUSHIES – implying a person or persons always in need to be in a hurry and to rush about busy in their daily lives, in order to gain recognitions, importance and at least seems to be having something at hand to be doing.

[6] Henri J.M. Nouwen, with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2006, ‘Spiritual Direction, Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith’ pg xv, Harper One Publisher.

[7] Richard Peace, 1998, “Contemplative Bible Reading, Experiencing God Through Scripture.” NavPress.

[9] www.ovrlin.com/Universalism/Origen.html. “Origen, Unorthodox Church Father” Source from Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (ISBN 0-8010-2151-0)

[10] Reference made by Wikipedia to the writings by Raymond Studzinzki, 2010, ‘Reading to Live: the evolving practice of Lectio Divina.’ Pg 26-35, (ISBN 0-87907-231-8).

[11] Reference from: Lawrence S.Cunningham, Keith J.  Egan, 1996 “Christian Spirituality: themes from the tradition” pg 88-94, (ISBN 978-0-8091-3660-5) and Christopher D.L.Johnson, 2010, “Globalization of Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer: Contesting Contemplation.” Pg 31-38, (ISBN 978-1-4411-2547-7).

[12] James C. Wilhoit and Evan B. Howard, 2012, “Discovering Lectio Divina: Bringing Scripture into ordinary Life” Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press.

[13] Richard Peace, 1998, “Contemplative Bible Reading, Experiencing God Through Scripture.” Pg 11, NavPress.

[14] Extracted from the ‘Four Movements of Lectio Divina’ from Wikipedia.org/wiki/Lectio_Divina.

[15] www.valyermo.can/ld-art.html by Fr Luke Dysinger, OSB

[16] James C. Wilhoit and Evan B. Howard, 2012, “Discovering Lectio Divina: Bringing Scripture into ordinary Life” Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press.

[17] Vatican website Catechism items 2716-2717.

[18] Jordan Aumann, 1985, ‘Christian spirituality in the Catholic tradition.’ Pg157 Ignatius Press, (ISBN 0-89870-068-X)

[19] Richard Peace, 1998, “Contemplative Bible Reading, Experiencing God Through Scripture.” Pg 14, NavPress.

 

               

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