By Jan Johnson. InterVarsity Press, 2016. 256 pages. $17/paperback; $16.99/eBook.
We Quakers have a rather complicated relationship with the Bible. Some Friends want nothing to do with it, feeling it is a misogynistic, antique collection of man (primarily)-made writings. Others consider it the Word of God, infallible and inerrant and “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Most of us, I think, are somewhere in between. I know I am.
Certainly the early Friends took the Bible seriously. It’s hard to read George Fox, Margaret Fell, and others without snippets of scripture popping up, even if slightly reworded. That’s one reason I wrestle with the Bible—so much of early Quaker faith and practice was formed by the prominence of scripture in those Friends’ lives. How can I not, at the very least, examine for myself what it says? Not what I think it says, but what the words really say.
As someone who grew up an Evangelical Friend, I learned an early appreciation (even if not complete understanding) of the Bible. That appreciation continues to this day as I consider that, while it’s no longer the source of easy spiritual answers that some of my Sunday school teachers taught, it is a useful tool “for training in righteousness.” Which is why I am happy to have read Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina.
Don’t let the title (especially the subtitle) scare you off. Jan Johnson’s book invites us to go deeper into the Bible in a way that many Friends will find helpful. Her book is no polemic about why one should do Bible study or defense of scripture or anything else of that ilk. Rather it’s an invitation to get to know Christ our Inner Teacher better through the texts so highly valued throughout Quaker history. In her brief but important introduction, Johnson introduces the reader to a new type of lectio divina (Latin for “sacred reading”). She takes the four traditional pieces—lectio (read), meditatio (meditate), oratio (pray), contemplatio (contemplate)—and adds two more: silencio (relax and refocus) and incarnatio (trying it on).
Both of these should appeal to Friends since they tie into our belief that faith must be mirrored in our daily life and vice versa, but silencio will especially resonate, I think. Here’s why. In addition to the helpful introduction (and the two new steps), the majority of the book consists of 40 guided meditations that help the reader go deeper into their spiritual lives and, with the addition of silencio and incarnatio, presents the Bible almost as a series of queries and advices. The process of lectio divina that she uses is Quaker-friendly in that it invites the reader to explore the Bible and answer “What canst thou say?”
The 40 meditations cover a wide range of topics from knowing God as love to life in the Spirit to openness to the Spirit to the good and peaceable kingdom to finding courage in life’s storms and many more. Each meditation begins with silence and centering, the full text of scriptural passages (including explanations of unusual or important words and their meanings in the original Hebrew or Greek), questions to help the reader enter the text, questions about what in the passage touches a deep part in the reader, important cultural or historical information about the passage, and exercises about implementing the main ideas of the passage as fits the reader’s experience and life.
This is powerful stuff, especially the silences and spaces she creates in each topic for reflection and application. Meeting God in Scripture is a helpful book for individual and group use. It would be perfect for an adult (including high school and young adult) First-day school class or retreat or evening study group. To be certain, Johnson uses lots of Christian language, but her book is invitational in ways that all Friends can appreciate and find helpful, if they are willing to “listen in tongues” and translate some of her language into that which fits their theological/philosophical framework. Friends should find agreement with her understanding that “A truly interactive life with God [Spirit, Light, Christ, the Divine, Mystery] will be one in which God speaks to you … and you respond to God about what you think you have heard.”
Hmmm, I wonder if she might be a closet Quaker? Regardless, this is one book that is staying in my library.