If you have kids, here are ideas for ways you can help your kids develop lifelong habits of devotional reading of Scripture like lectio divina and contemplative reading. All you need is a children’s Bible.
When you next read a Bible story to your child, introduce him to one of the ancient methods of scriptural learning described below that combine prayer and meditation with Bible reading. (And try it out yourself too!)
Lectio Divina (or “Holy Reading”)
This ancient approach to Scripture traditionally has five parts:
1) silencio (quietness and preparation)
2) lectio (slowly reading a Bible passage)
3) meditato (reflection and meditation)
4) oratio (prayer about the passage)
5) contemplation (quiet waiting and prayer).
Your child isn’t likely to connect with these Latin terms, so bring this method down to your child’s level and do it together in a simple way.
1) Say something like “Let’s quiet our hearts and minds before we read this story.” Allow about 5 to 10 seconds of quietness.
2) Read the story aloud with emphasis and emotion, perhaps even doing different voices for the various speakers.
3) Reflect on the passage aloud together by asking, “What do you think this means?” or “What stands out to you about this story? Why?”
4) Say, “Let’s ask God to help us understand more about what this passage means.” Then briefly pray aloud, naming your child’s ideas he shared in step 3 and asking God for further understanding.
5) Say, “Let’s keep praying but without words now as we listen to God.” Allow about 30 seconds (or more if your child is very focused on prayer), then say “Amen.”
In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola outlined a process of contemplative reading. In basic terms, Ignatius encouraged Christians to imagine themselves into Gospel stories. Children are experts at this! In fact, they could teach us logic-bound grown-ups a thing or two!
Read a story to your child from one of the four Gospels. Next say, “Let’s pray and ask God to help us imagine what it was like for the people in this story.” After a short prayer, invite your child to close his eyes and do the same yourself. Then use prompts like these to bring the account to life in your mind: “What do you think the sounds were? the smells? What might the weather have been like? Imagine the other people nearby—what do they look like? What were they saying or doing?”
Now say something like, “Let’s imagine each event in this story.” Re-tell the story, stopping every so often to ask things like, “How do you think Jesus said this? What do you think he sounded like? How do you think the people reacted when they heard him say this?” Your child may answer your prompts aloud or he may simply imagine things quietly; either approach is fine.
Wrap up with prayer, inviting your child to talk to Jesus as a friend.
(This experience is a sample of the type of content you’ll find in my book Faith-Filled Moments.)