Sacred Reading at Youth Group
By Luke Johnson | September 24, 2019
This fall we have started into some “sacred reading” practices at youth group. For centuries and millennia the prayer and reading of the Church has been nurtured by encountering scripture in ways that are intentionally slow and prayerful. This is especially helpful in our day, living in the “age of distraction” as we do.
These practices predate the Reformation and the Enlightenment, and help us to take on a more imaginative mindset as we experience the words of scripture in our present moment.
In CS Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, Aslan reveals himself to Shasta on the mountain road into Narnia. Shasta’s experience of Aslan is helpful to consider as we think about the nature and purpose of sacred reading:
The mist was turning from black to grey and from grey to white. This must have begun to happen some time ago, but while he had been talking to the Thing he had not been noticing anything else.
Now, the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Somewhere ahead he could hear birds singing. He knew the night was over at last.
He could see the mane and ears and head of his horse quite easily now. A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun.
He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the Lion that the light came. No-one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful. Luckily Shasta had lived all his life too far south in Calormen to have heard the tales that were whispered in Tashbaan about a dreadful Narnian demon that appeared in the form of a lion. And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia.
But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped towards him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all round him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met.
Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared.
He was alone with the horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
Here is the One who sang Shasta into being, this King of all kings who makes his own eternal eyes available for Shasta’s to meet. That moment of locking eyes with Aslan — and the sudden disappearance in a glory-filled flash — is everything. The Almighty God who meets us intimately in a private moment, because he wants to encounter us just as much as he wants us to encounter him.
Sacred reading is about being fully awake in the moment. Text in hand, pausing over every phrase and word, folding together reason and emotion and imagination, you and a friend and a living text.
It is intentionally conversational. Of course you can conduct things like Lectio Divina or Florilegia on your own. But since sacred reading is about exploration, it is more fun and more fruitful to explore with a friend — to get to bounce your reflections and impressions off of each other. On our first night of Lectio Divina, I was in a little group of 3: myself in my mid-30s, a youth leader in her early 20s, and a junior girl at 11. It was fascinating and exciting to wonder together about our text, and to be amazed and edified by the wise-beyond-her-years reflections of an 11 year old!
This year we will make use of a series of sacred reading practices (such as Lectio Divina, Florilegia, Marginalia, and even some rabbinical practices if we get extra adventurous!), and I will be posting resources for each one as we make our way through it.
We have started with Lectio Divina:
If you give sacred reading a try, I hope you enjoy the experience, and I’d love to hear about it!