Dilatato Corde 1:2
July – December, 2011
Turvey Abbey
Turvey Abbey



A day to investigate the similarities and differences between Lectio Divina and Scriptural Reasoning came about as the fruit of a long period of collaboration between the Cambridge Interfaith Project and Turvey Abbey. In November 2010, when I was still coordinator of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Commission of Britain and Ireland, I contacted Professor David Ford of the Cambridge Interfaith Project to ask if we might try to develop a form of dialogue among the “People of the Book” that would combine Scriptural Reasoning, which the Cambridge Interfaith Project had initiated some 15 years previously, with the practice of Lectio Divina.


Professor Ford was immediately eager to pursue the idea. He had met Abbot Emeritus Timothy Wright of Ampleforth Abbey several times and heard him express this idea at conferences on interreligious dialogue in Rome and in Dohar. The time seemed to be right. He proposed that we bring together a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims, to see if people familiar with Scriptural Reasoning might find Lectio Divina helpful and if somehow the two processes could be united. After experiencing both we would ask ourselves: What next? Can we take this further?


Before continuing with the report, it might be good to say a brief word about these two practices.


Lectio Divina is the ancient Christian spiritual practice of reading the Word of God (the Bible) reflectively and prayerfully, a practice especially central to monastic spirituality. Over time a method for such reading of the Scriptures developed, namely reading, reflecting, praying, contemplating (lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio). One of many on-line descriptions of this method can be found on the website of Valyermo Abbey in California.


Scriptural Reasoning is the communal practice of reading sacred scriptures, in small groups, together. Normally the passages of scripture chosen are Jewish, Christian and Muslim and are linked together by a particular issue, theme, story or image. More information on this practice can be found on the Scriptural Reasoning website.


Before the actual day the participants received the texts that had been chosen for Lectio Divina and Scriptural Reasoning. The Lectio Divina text was Psalm 139:1-12 as given in the New Revised Standard Version. The Jewish and Muslim texts chosen for Scriptural Reasoning were Psalm 139:1-6 (version of the Jewish Publication Society  ) and Surah Al’An’am (The Cattle) 6:59-64 (using the translation of Abdel Haleem).


On September 27, 2011, a group of seven Christians (including the two Superiors of the Turvey Abbey communities, M Prioress Zoe and Br John), five Jews and four Muslims came together in Turvey. Sister Mary John (Benedictine from Malling Abbey) and I led the groups in Lectio Divina; Professor Ford and Dr Daniel Weiss of the Cambridge Interfaith Project led the Scriptural Reasoning groups.


After a brief welcome and introductions, I explained the process of Lectio Divina and Dr Daniel Weiss that of Scriptural Reasoning. This was followed by brief background introductions to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts for Scriptural Reasoning by Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz, Dr Lynne Scholefield and Khola Hassan respectively.


We then divided into two groups: Group 1: Lectio Divina, and Group 2: Scriptural Reasoning. I led Group 1 through the process of Lectio-Meditatio-Oratio-Contemplatio, explaining these stages as Receiving the Word, Reflecting on and Internalising the Word, Responding to the Word in Prayer, and Resting in the Word. After each part of the process there was the opportunity to share briefly. The group very quickly entered into the pattern of the process and shared a profound silence. They seemed to take to it naturally, possibly helped by the presence of three people familiar with it. The verbal sharing was brief and very moving. At the end of the period the group spend ten minutes appraising the experience. All were extremely positive, some very enthusiastic. Although some had previously expressed apprehension about praying in silence, they found that it had not been difficult. The group was composed of three Christians, two Muslims and three Jews.


Group 2 (four Christians, two Muslims and two Jews) practised Scriptural Reasoning with Professor David Ford. Sister Mary John describes her first experience of Scriptural Reasoning: “The group was ably led by Professor Ford, and many of the participants knew one another and were familiar with the procedures, so it took off with a flying start and the pace continued throughout. It was immensely stimulating to examine the three complementary texts, each first read in its original language, and to hear resonances among the three and elsewhere in those Scriptures that each participant was most familiar with.”


Following midday prayers (monastic and Muslim) and lunch, the afternoon session began with Group 1 practising Scriptural Reasoning under the leadership of Dr Daniel Weiss, and Group 2 Lectio Divina with Sister Mary John, who comments on the experience: “I was well acquainted with Lectio Divina as my form of personal prayer, but I had never tried it in a group setting. I opened the session by saying that in contrast to Scriptural Reasoning, Lectio Divina is more of a pathway to prayer, to a deeper awareness of the relationship that we are invited to appropriate. It is primarily an intent listening for which silence is a necessary expedient. I invited three different voices to read the psalm slowly twice over, with considerable pauses between each reading and opportunity for each to say what had been heard. There seemed to be initial discomfort with the process, which may have melted as the 90 minutes progressed. At the end we held a brief review of how it had been felt, when the responses were generally positive.”


Personally, I found my first experience of Scriptural Reasoning to be fascinating and stimulating. Group 1 had already arrived at quite a strong degree of trust as result of the experience of Lectio Divina in the morning. We immediately found it easy to share and to question. As a beginner I found that the wise leadership of Dr Daniel Weiss was immensely helpful and enlightening. I learned there was a particular WAY of asking for clarification that was special to Scriptural Reasoning. Every person in the group approached the sacred texts from a position of openness and equality, without the need to “defer” to the people whose Sacred Text it was.


The day ended with a plenary gathering chaired by Professor David Ford. He began by asking everyone to give one word that summed up their experience of Lectio Divina. Then he asked us to do the same for Scriptural Reasoning. After some general reflection on the words suggested, Professor Ford asked us for points of similarity and difference between Scriptural Reasoning and Lectio Divina. It was also noted that not only the systems but the groups made a difference when practising these two communal spiritual activities. Some sensed that Scriptural Reasoning sometimes “merged” into Lectio Divina when the members of the group knew each other well and were familiar with the process.


There was some discussion of whether Scriptural Reasoning could somehow be ‘inserted’ into Lectio Divina as (for example) part of the “meditatio” process. Some expressed the concern that doing so might interfere with the silence that is a crucial part of the listening process in Lectio Divina. But there were also those who felt that Scriptural Reasoning could be an excellent preparation for the silent listening of Lectio Divina, especially for groups that are not very familiar with the Scriptures.


At the conclusion of this session the group had not reached a consensus about whether Scriptural Reasoning and Lectio Divina could be integrated. As Professor Ford said: “It is no surprise that we are left with questions”.





Dr Michael Barns, SJ

Professor David Ford (CIP)

Sister Lucy Brydon, (MID-GBI)

Atif Amithaf (CIP)

Khola Hassan

Sr Mary John, (MID-GBI)

Rachel Montagu

Miriam Lorie (CIP)

Shyma Murtaza

Murtaza Rizwan

Sarah Snyder

Dr Lynne Scholefield

Dr Daniel Weiss (CIP)

Lindsay Taylor-Guthartz

M Prioress Zoe

Brother John


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