Do you ever feel like scripture reading is bland, blank, or boring? Do you struggle to slow down enough with the Bible to engage deeply? What about hearing with both your head and heart – do you find that hard? I do sometimes.
I am on a continuous journey of learning how to incorporate Scripture into the counselling process with clients. We are often used to hearing and reading Scripture in the context of a church service, group teaching or individual bible study, but what about within the introspective and emotional work of the therapy process? How does that work? For some people, the study of Scripture within therapy feels like putting a square peg into a round hole – it just doesn’t fit well.
I think there are many reasons why therapists or clients may feel reluctant to engage with Scripture within therapy. Perhaps it is the perceived gulf between psychology and faith, or concerns about an unwarranted influence by the therapist on a deeply personal journey of spiritual formation. Or perhaps a third reason has to do with some of our “default” ways of engaging with Scripture as Western Christians in the 21st century.
Growing up in the church, I had ample opportunity to interact with Scripture. Through bible studies, youth groups, Sunday sermons and post-secondary education, I learned to engage with scripture in a fairly specific way. Using my Western ways of “knowing”, I grew comfortable using an objective lens of biblical hermeneutics to analyze, interpret and exegete the Bible.
Having spent four years studying theology, I feel at ease grabbing hold of these familiar skills as a way to interact with Scripture. They are helpful tools to support our cognitive parts to engage with and understand Scripture. However, within the context of therapy, my task is often to give clients permission to move out of their more analytical ways of being in the world, and to listen to their emotions and responses in a softer, more nuanced way.
It has taken me some time and practice to learn how to slow down the experience of Scripture with clients. And on a personal level, adding these new skills to some of my own “go-to” ways of engaging with the Word, has helped deepen my own reflective process.
The beautiful thing is that Scripture can meet us just as well in the therapy room as it can in the Church pew or Biblical Studies department at a seminary. As Christians, we believe the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb 4:12). It is not a dead or stagnant ancient text, it has the ability to speak to our own life and experience today. Knowing this, we can feel free to use both objective and subjective ways of reading the Word. I can study, analyze, understand and interpret; and likewise, there is permission to rest, reflect and listen.
The spiritual practice of Lectio Divina, (Latin for “Divine Reading”), is one of the helpful tools I have found for engaging with Scripture. This practice of engaging through prayer that has been used by the church for centuries. Rather than coming to Scripture with the intent to analyze and interpret it – Lectio Divina works the other way around. We allow Scripture to come to us, and in a way, interpret our circumstances. We come to this exercise trusting and praying that the Holy Spirit will illuminate both the text and our personal journey, and speak to us in a way that bridges the two together.
So, what does this look like practically? There are various ways that Christians use Lectio Divina, and the example below is just one of them. Choose a short passage of scripture, (2-4 verses). This exercise will take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, so ensure you have a quiet and restful place available. Through the exercise, you will read the same passage four times, each time with a different focus: Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest.
Are you ready to begin? Quiet your heart, mind, and body – then pray and invite God to speak to you through this exercise, trusting that the Holy Spirit is moving, the Father is loving, and Jesus, our living Word, will speak to you through the Scripture. If you are unsure of where to begin, Psalm 91:1-4 may be a helpful place to start.
1st Reading: “Lectio” – Read
Read your selected verses out loud, and as you do, listen for a word, phrase, or image that stands out to you. Pay attention to your internal responses as you read: cognitive, emotional and physical. What do you experience? Perhaps a sigh or drop of the shoulders, a feeling of connection, or even a resistance in your chest. You may notice a response in yourself to a particular word or phrase. Perhaps it draws you in and ignites curiosity, or provokes discomfort. At this point, it is not necessary to “unpack” what God might be saying to you through the particular words; rather, allow yourself to simply “be” with what He has highlighted for you in this passage. In a way, this is the act of allowing Scripture to come to you. Receive it.
2nd Reading: “Mediatio” – Reflect
Again, read the verses out loud. As you do, reflect on where this passage speaks to you or resonates with a present circumstance or emotion. Again, this is not a time for you to apply your lens to the text – but rather, allow the text to come to your experience, life or relationships and allow the Word to speak directly to that. In this reading we move past the first step of allowing the Word to come to us, and we create space for the Word to touch or speak to us in a specific area in our life.
3rd Reading: “Oratio” – Respond
Read the passage out loud for a third time. In this reading, notice how you might want to respond. What do you want to say back to God in response to the way He has highlighted the text (Lectio) and how He has connected it to your personal experience (Mediatio)? Do you sense an invitation to view a circumstance in a different light? To change your position on a present difficulty? Perhaps He is inviting you to give a burden to Him, or to allow His peace to more fully infuse your daily life. Perhaps God is reminding you to lean more fully on a certain characteristic of His that is highlighted in the passage. We have allowed the Word to come to us, then we have allowed the Word to speak to a specific place in our heart, and for this third step, we have responded to God based on what we heard Him speak to us.
4th Reading: “Contemplatio” – Rest
Read the passage out loud for a fourth time. In this reading, you are encouraged to sit with the passage, reflect on your dialogue with God throughout this process, and listen if there is anything further that the Holy Spirit might want to say to you. Often when reading Scripture, we move quickly to application and behaviour change. While that will hopefully be a result of this process, we should not rush to action directly. First, we rest. This final reading reminds me of the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). While Martha was eager to act and work for Jesus; Mary sat at His feet, resting in His teaching. In this story, Jesus was clear: “Mary has chosen what is better” (10:42).
There are countless ways that Scripture can be meaningfully incorporated into your healing journey through therapy; and all of us at Mercy Seat consider it an honour to help you bridge faith and growth together. When we are able to slow down our engagement with the living Word, it creates space to engage not only our intellect, but also our emotions and personal story as well.
Andrea is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with natural intuition and powerful skills to assist in each counselling journey. Her passions are to make space for God in her sessions, to help individuals reconnect with hope, and to facilitate discovery of wholeness in self and fullness in Christ.