SP2527 Spiritual Life and Leadership

Class Of 07

Participants, Lectio, 2007

Fall, 2007
San Francisco Theological Seminary
Elizabeth Liebert
Topic: Biblically-based Prayer (Lectio Divina)


This class will introduce an ancient form of Biblical prayer, Lectio Divina, and its theological foundations. We will deepen the practice over the first part of the semester in a small group setting, and then introduce several variations to the basic practice: visual texts (icons and religious art), nature, and daily life. All participants will lead the process one time during the semester. They will also employ the spiritual discipline called spiritual reading for the required reading, and write two brief reflection papers employing and reflecting on the lectio dynamic. Learning strategies: Reading, lecture, small group practice, reflection papers. Preference given to SFTS ministry students. SFTS spirituality concentration requirement.

Place:  Geneva 100, San Anselmo
Time:  Wednesday, 8:30-10:10 a.m.
Staff:  Elizabeth Ford (G 317), Taeck Dong Lim (G 115), Elizabeth Liebert (G 100)

Required Reading
Cassian, John. Conferences. New York, Paulist Press, 1985, Conference Ten. (posted on Blackboard)

Magrassi, Mariano. Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998.

Lesniak, Valerie, “The Courage to Gaze: Engaging and Receiving a Religious Work of Art,” Seattle Theology and Ministry Review 1, no.1 (2001): 68-72. (posted on Blackboard)

Peterson, Eugene, Eat This Book: A Conversation on the Art of Spiritual Reading. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2006, Chapters 6 and 7. (posted on Blackboard)

Schneiders, Sandra. “Biblical Spirituality,” Interpretation 56 (2) (2004): 133-142. (posted on Blackboard)

Vest, Norvene. Gathered in the Word: Praying the Scripture in Small Groups. Nashville: Upper Room, 1996.

Recommended Reading
Casey, Michael. Sacred Reading:  The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina. Liguori Missouri: Ligouri/Triumph Books, 1996.

Student Expectations

1. Attend regularly; participate in small group process as participant and leader (one time).
2. Maintain confidentiality of contents of small group sharing.
3. Read assigned reading according to the practice called “spiritual reading.” Prepare a one paragraph response to the reading and/or a question it raises for you and record it in your journal for use in constructing your papers.
4. Write a 2-3 pp (double-space) reflection paper drawing on your reading of Cassian, Schneiders, Peterson, Vest and Magrassi (up to the point assigned). This paper is to be written in the style of lectio divina. See the Assignment for October 10 for specific suggestions. Due on October 17 in duplicate. Please follow SFTS policies for inclusive language.
5. Write a 4-6 pp. (double space) reflection paper summarizing the learnings from the class, including:  the required reading, the practice of lectio divina in its various forms, and comments on how you experienced the relationship between praying the Scriptures and exegeting/studying them and how you dealt with any tensions that might have arisen for you between these two approaches. See directions on Nov. 24 for further specifications. Due on November 28, in duplicate. Please follow SFTS policies for inclusive language.

Learning Objectives
1. Students actively participate in their personal spiritual formation

Brian Reporting 07
  • Students participate regularly and actively in their small group.
  • Students monitor their participation in plenary and small group and can talk about their level of participation when asked.
  • Students can describe how this practice affects their personal spiritual formation.

Demonstrated through the weekly participation and practice in small groups and the second reflection paper.

2. Students gain skill in the practice of Lectio Divina

  • Students can share appropriately in various forms of group lectio.
  • Students can lead Lectio effectively in their small group.
  • Students can describe the practice to others.

Demonstrated through regular practice, offering formal leadership and through the second reflection paper.

3. Students can discuss the general contours of the history and theology of Lectio Divina

  • Students can locate this form of interpretation historically.
  • Students can articulate a rationale for this form of interpretation in conjunction with the forms of interpretation taught in Biblical Studies courses.
  • Students can offer a simple theological rationale for this form of Christian prayer.

Demonstrated through the first and second reflection papers.

4. Students can demonstrate an awareness of the communal nature of spiritual formation

  • Students can compare Lectio as a group process with Lectio as a form of personal prayer.
  • Students can articulate group settings in which Lectio is an appropriate form of prayer.

Demonstrated through small-group debriefing, the scenario-constructing exercise and second reflection paper.

5. Students can imagine other appropriate applications of Lectio Divina

  • Students can describe appropriate contexts in which Lectio can be used.
  • Students can construct scenarios where Lectio Divina would be an appropriate spiritual practice.
  • Students can adapt the practice to fit the participants of various scenarios.

Demonstrated through completing brainstorming and scenario-constructing exercises.

6. Students can use Lectio Divina effectively along with other forms of biblical interpretation

  • Students can offer a theologically sound rationale for interpreting the Bible through Lectio Divina.
  • Students can articulate the limits of this form of interpretation.
  • Students can interpret Lectio Divina adequately to other publics.

Demonstrated by: using Lectio Divina as part of sermon preparation, second reflection paper.


Pass/fail only. Timely and regular presence is essential. To receive credit, participants are expected to be on time for class, and no more than two excused (and no unexcused absences) may be incurred. These requirements exist for two reasons: skills cannot be learned without practice—the content is the process—and groups cannot reach their necessary depth without stable membership. If it is necessary to seek an excused absence, please contact either Beth Liebert or your small group leader before the session that you will have to miss.

Process for Reflective (Spiritual) Reading

Worship Space

Spiritual Reading naturally “bleeds into” Lectio Divina, as it did in the patristic and monastic periods when Lectio Divina was developing. Using a process such as that suggested below not only allows you to practice the spiritual practice of Spiritual Reading while you are doing your assigned reading, it makes a uniquely integrated and harmonious setting for Lectio to develop. Note that it is much easier to do spiritual reading with some kinds of texts than others.

Allot about ½ hour per session, if possible at a time and place in which you will not be disturbed. You might choose a place that you associate with prayer, rather than with study. Begin each session by consciously centering yourself and letting go of the events of the day. Notice that the reading that you are about to do will engage different aspects of your person than the way you usually read assignments.

Pick up and read slowly, ruminating as you go. When you reach a place that captures your attention, stop and explore it. Write down significant movements, insights, struggles. Proceed slowly and thoughtfully, spending the allotted time reading, pondering, writing. Do not take more than one chapter at each sitting. You may not finish a chapter in a single sitting; if this be the case, simply begin where you left off at your next sitting. At the conclusion of the allotted time, write down any noticings and questions about the content or the process that you would like answered. (These can inform your reflection papers, if you like).

Probable Content Outline
(Assignments due on the day in which they appear on the outline.)

September 5:  Introduction of participants. Overview of Spirituality Concentration and to this semester’s topic. How to read the books for this course (spiritual reading and journaling); reporting on the reading; lectio divina as a personal prayer form.

September 12:  Reading Scripture devotionally; small group introductions and covenanting; discuss readings in the small group.
Assignment: Vest, Ch. 6, Appendix, pp 121-124, Schneiders, “Biblical Spirituality,” and Peterson, Chapters 6 and 7.

September 19:  Lectio divina with a biblical text (done in plenary session with debrief). Small group: discuss readings, select leaders for the next several weeks
            Assignment: Cassian, “Conference 10,” especially pp. 132-136. Note that Ps 69:2 is Ps 70:1 in NRSV, Vest, Introduction, Chapter 1-2.

September 26:  Lectio divina with a biblical text (in small group)
            Assignment:  Vest Ch 3, and review Vest Ch 6

October 3:  Lectio divina with a biblical text (in small group)
            Assignment:  Magrassi here, Ch. 1-2

October 10:  Lectio with a biblical text (in small group)
            Assignment:  Magrassi Ch. 3 pp. 21-35)
Write: the 2-3 pp paper described in the syllabus, #4. We suggest the following process parallel to lectio divina: 

  • read all journal entries summarizing the readings and/or review the readings (lectio)
  • pause and remember your experiences so far this semester, including your experiences of working with Biblical texts in a scholarly fashion for classes and/or preaching.
  • mull all this experience (meditatio/contemplatio)
  • pray over it (oratio)
  • express it in written form.  (2-3 pages, in duplicate)

October 17:  Lectio with visual text (icon-gazing prayer) in plenary session; first paper due in duplicate.
            Assignment: Vest, Ch. 4 Magrassi, Ch 3, pp. 35-55

October 24:  Fall Reading Week (no class)

October 31:  Lectio with a visual text (in small group)
            Leader:  _______________________
            Assignment:  Magrassi, Ch 4, pp. 57-78

November 7:  Lectio with art as text           
Leader:  ______________________
            Assignment:  Magrassi, Ch. 4 pp. 78-101; Lesniak, “The Courage to Gaze”

November 14:  Lectio with nature as sacred text
            Assignment:  Magrassi, Ch. 5

November 21:  Lectio on life as described in Vest, Ch. 5, pp. 97-98.           
            Assignment:  Read: Vest Ch. 5 and Magrassi Ch. 6
Write second reflection paper: We suggest the following process parallel to the lectio divina:  pause and remember your experiences of the semester, including your experiences of working with Biblical texts in a scholarly fashion for classes and/or preaching. Reflect on the additional questions posed in the syllabus, #5.

  • read all journal entries, focusing on the times of lectio, their variety, your responses (lectio)
  • mull all this experience (meditatio/contemplatio)
  • pray over it (oratio)
  • express it in written form (4-6 pages, two copies)

November 28:  Semester record keeping (plenary) Lectio on life (newspaper—in small groups); Hand in second reflection paper.

December 5:  Semester evaluation.  Applications to ministry settings. Large and small group closure.