What does it mean to read?
This is how Duncan Robertson, professor emeritus in French at Augusta State University, begins his latest book, Lectio Divina: The Medieval Experience of Reading.
“In a way, reading has become something we take for granted,” he said. “It’s very fast and inattentive.”
His new 280-page tome, released by Cistercian Publications, explores the monastic practice of meditative reading and prayer.
“With lectio divina, you slow down. How much you read doesn’t matter. You might only read two lines, but you get into it,” he said. “That’s what it means to really read.
“You experience the presence of the word of God. You experience the presence of the living God.”
It’s a little curious that he’d be the one to write this book, said Robertson, who taught at Augusta State for 20 years before retiring last January.
He is not a member of any religious group or congregation today, and he grew up with agnostic parents. But, for all of his scholarly background and education, Robertson said he couldn’t help but become fascinated with religious modes of reading, preferring it over a strictly academic approach.
Robertson began writing about the literary tradition five years ago. He sought to combine medievalist research with modern reflection for a book that would be able to bridge scholarship and spirituality.
“I’m trying to span the church and the university,” he said. “The book is an attempt to bridge these two cultures.”
Robertson is looking for opportunities to speak about the book, and he plans presentations about the practice of lectio divina in the area.
The centuries-old practice was used during the Middle Ages to “savor” passages of Scripture, Robertson explained. Passages weren’t quickly read and forgotten, but memorized, meditated on and recited.
“Lectio divina, thatphrase, designates a kind of technique,” Robertson said. “It’s prayer, really. It focuses on very short phrases of the Bible. You read and put the Bible down and you respond in prayer.
“You read your Bible as though it is really you it was written for. They are not dead letters on a page. They’re spoken words.
“With lectio divina, you participate in the text.”