The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Habakkuk (1)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016
Selah – Habakkuk (1)
We begin at the end with Habakkuk. With the three occurrences of the word “Selah” in 3:3,9,13. This word occurs often in the Psalms (71x)[1] but here alone in the Book of the Twelve (or the rest of the Old Testament for that matter). We don’t know exactly what it means except that it likely denotes a stop of some kind, musical or otherwise.

          My approach to Selah wherever it occurs is to take it as “Stop. Look. Listen.” Do not read on. Re-read carefully and prayerfully. Strain to hear God’s speaking.  

          And even though it occurs only here in the Book of the Twelve, its character as one book casts Selah as a way of reading that applies to the whole collection. And that way of reading sounds remarkably similar to the practice of Bible reading known as Lectio Divina. This way of reading positions us to hear scripture address and question us rather than our usual position of questioning it. Lectio Divina is about listening for God’s word to us in the Bible.

          The description of Lectio Divina below is pretty standard. It can be used by individuals as well as groups. It is a time-tested way God has spoken through scripture to his people. My suggestion is that Selah in the Bible, whatever else it might mean, is a call for some such practice.

"Lectio Divina", a Latin term, means "divine reading" and describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described the stages which he saw as essential to the practice of Lectio Divina. There are various ways of practicing Lectio Divina either individually or in groups but Guigo's description remains fundamental.

He said that the first stage is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer but the passage should not be too long.

The second stage is meditatio (reflection) where we think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us.

The third stage is oratio (response) where we leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.

The final stage of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (rest) where we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Obviously this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer. We must take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives.

These stages of Lectio Divina are not fixed rules of procedure but simply guidelines as to how the prayer normally develops. Its natural movement is towards greater simplicity, with less and less talking and more listening. Gradually the words of Scripture begin to dissolve and the Word is revealed before the eyes of our heart. How much time should be given to each stage depends very much on whether it is used individually or in a group. If Lectio Divina is used for group prayer, obviously more structure is needed than for individual use. In group prayer, much will depend on the type of group. Lectio Divina may involve discussing the implications of the Word of God for daily life but it cannot be reduced to this. The movement of the prayer is towards silence. If the group is comfortable with silence, more time could be spent resting in the Word.

The practice of Lectio Divina as a way of praying the Scriptures has been a fruitful source of growing in relationship with Christ for many centuries and in our own day is being rediscovered by many individuals and groups. The Word of God is alive and active and will transform each of us if we open ourselves to receive what God wants to give us. (

          Might be well for us to take up this practice. What do you think?

[1] In fact, three times as often as “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”


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