The Bible is not a textbook. Nor is it a manual to be studied, mastered, and mechanically applied. Instead, pastor and author Eugene Peterson believes we should listen to the Word of God and reflect upon it like poetry till it infiltrates the soul. Peterson is best known for The Message, his paraphrase of the Bible. But in Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eerdmans, 2006), he draws upon the ancient practice of lectio divina as a way for leaders to humbly listen to Scripture and experience transformation. Leadership's managing editor, Skye Jethani, spoke with Eugene Peterson about spiritual reading, and how the practice allows busy pastors to slow down and listen once again to God.
When were you first introduced to lectio divina?
To tell you the truth, I can't remember. But I was doing lectio divina long before I ever heard the term. In high school I was very much involved in poetry. You cannot read a poem quickly. There's too much going on there. There are rhythms and alliterations. You have to read poetry slow, slow, slow to absorb it all. That's how I began reading and praying psalms as a student, because I realized they were poems.
So reading poetry taught you how to read Scripture?
Right. The first time you read a poem, you usually don't understand it. You've got to read it ten times or more. You've got to listen to it. That's just like the four steps of lectio divina (see sidebar). The four steps are not sequential. They're more like a spiral staircase. You keep going around and around, coming back to this step and over to that one. It's fluid.
How did this more fluid relationship to Scripture affect your church ministry?
We formed small groups in my congregation. People called them "Bible study ...