Join us at the Rochester L’Abri Conference

Rochester Conference 2018This year’s Rochester, MN L’Abri Conference, For Glory and for Beauty: Creativity and the Christian will be held February 9 & 10 at the Mayo Civic Center.  Plenary speakers include Bill Edgar, John Hodges, Jerram Barrs, Luci Shaw and Robb Ludwick, with workshops by many other L’Abri speakers including Ben Keyes, Anna Friedrich, and myself.  Musical guest, Ordinary Time will offer a concert Friday night, in addition to a workshop on the craft of songwriting.

To pique your interest for the conference and to offer a window into the preparation we are doing for our workshops, Anna and I are happy to recommend to you the following list of books we are reading–or at least consulting.  Anna will be teaching on “Everyday Artistry: Prayer, Bible-reading, and other Disciplines as Opportunities for Creativity” and “A Creative Spin on the Questions of Jesus” and I am offering, “Creative Work is Work: De-mythologizing Artistic Inspiration and the Creative Process” and “Reflecting on the Incarnation with the Help of Poets.”  We hope many of you will be able to join us in Rochester (one benefit of a February conference in Minnesota is cheap airline tickets!), but if not, we hope the following resources will prove helpful.

-Sarah Chestnut

Crowding Anna’s desk:

The Cultivated Life by Susan Philips

The Rule of St. Benedict

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Fasting by Scott McKnight

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Encounters with Jesus by Tim Keller

Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther

Crowding Sarah’s desk:

Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura

Joy: 100 Poems ed. Christian Wiman

Thumbprint in the Clay by Luci Shaw (this is Shaw’s most recent book of prose, from which she will be speaking at the conference)

The Demon and the Angel by Edward Hirsch

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Adventures of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (yes, really)




How do you read the Bible? Prayerfully, with other people.

Here at L’Abri I have found that along with, “How do you read the Bible?”, one of the most common questions people ask is, “How do I pray?”  I have found the movements of lectio divina (“holy” or “divine reading”) offer these answers: Read the Bible by praying; pray by reading the Bible.  In other words, reading the Bible and praying go hand-in-hand.  

Lectio divina has been around for a long time (at least since the 6th century in Benedictine monasteries) and aims to listen to the Scriptures with the “ear of the heart.” I first began to learn the prayerful movements of this way of reading the Bible in 2009, after graduating from Regent College with a master’s degree in theological studies. Most Wednesday mornings, as my Vancouver neighborhood was waking up, I walked half a block to my church’s urban retreat center–a converted basement apartment that was said to have once been a prohibition era speakeasy–to gather with a handful of other people from my congregation to read aloud and pray with a short passage of Scripture.  Then we ate a simple breakfast together and went on our way.

While lectio divina (among other spiritual practices) has gained in popularity in Protestant circles in recent years to the point of seeming “liturgi-cool” (as Joshua jokingly calls it), this way of approaching the Bible helped span the gap years of church upbringing and academic study had put between “the ear of my heart” and God’s primary means of communication.  Not that church upbringing or academic study of the Bible are necessarily problems in themselves–both have given me their own sets tools for reading the Bible–but as Dick noted here, if you’re going to spend your life with the Bible, flexibility is important.  After grad school, I needed a reading approach that helped me bring my whole self to Scripture again–unfortunately true to some of my professor’s warnings, reading the Bible had become an academic burden requiring more than I could give on a day-in and day-out basis. Moreover, I can see now that what I needed was a way to let the words of Scripture become strange to me again; I thought I knew what the Bible said and so I wasn’t actually hearing it.  Put differently, I needed to learn how to slow down and pray with Scripture as I read it.

So how do you “do” lectio divina There are five movements (or moments–I think it is fair to say the relationship between these components is dynamic more than it is linear): silence, hearing, meditating, praying, contemplating (or resting). In silence, you begin by acknowledging Christ’s presence in the person of the Holy Spirit, ready to speak in the words of Scripture to your heart.  The short passage of Scripture (a psalm or a piece of one of the Gospels are great places to begin) is then read three times, aloud, slowly.  It has helped me to think of these readings in terms of the process of eating: first, you taste the word, then you chew on it, then you swallow it.  Finally, what you have eaten begins to metabolize, and by the grace of God you become what you eat.

To break this down a little more, in the first reading, you are meant to turn “the ear of the heart” to the Scripture passage, and notice if there is a word or phrase in the passage that stands out–this is tasting the word.  And what stands out can stand out for any reason: it is troubling; it is arresting; it is confusing; it is surprising; it is beautiful; etc.  In the second reading, you meditate on the passage–especially the particular word or phrase that stands out–turning it over, asking, “How does this connect with my own life?  How am I responding to this word?  Why am I responding in this way?”  This is chewing on the word.  These questions are all asked as prayers, as things to mull over with Christ’s help.  In the third reading, you pray in response to the words God has spoken in the Scripture, and in thought and prayer while reading.  This is swallowing the word.  Finally, in contemplating or resting in the words God has given, you trust God to make his words part of you.  And you go on into your day, fed and nourished.

A concluding note: this way of reading can be done in solitude, but I also recommend doing this with another person or a small group if possible, giving a brief time of sharing thoughts and insights between the three readings.  There are several benefits to corporate lectio divina: simply hearing the passage read aloud by others helps you hear things you wouldn’t if you were reading to yourself; hearing what stands out to other people in a passage of Scripture will help you hear it more fully, too; it is harder to skip over troubling moments in the Bible when you are reading in a group (it is good to be bothered by moments like “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (Ps. 7:12-13); it is good to wrestle with different meanings of the same word and to be enriched–and at times corrected–by one another’s knowledge.

During term here in Southborough, all are welcome to read the Bible and pray together in the tradition of lectio divina on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings before breakfast.  Starting in January, we will be “eating” our way through Psalm 119.  You are welcome to join us in the tiled room–or from afar.

-Sarah Chestnut

If you are interested in further resources for leading lectio divina for a group, email Sarah at This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading  -     By: Eugene H. Peterson

For further reading on lectio divina and reading the Bible prayerfully, see Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book.





How do you read the Bible? Quickly, in large swaths.

Last week we began a series of posts addressing the question, “How do you read the Bible?”  See a few of Dick’s thoughts on the question here.  This week, Ben answers: read large, continuous portions of scripture quickly.

Thankfully there is no one correct way to read the Bible. It is always fruitful to slow down and study a small passage of scripture in depth. In my own experience, many texts have come to life for the first time as I began to understand the historical context. But if this was the only way to approach the Bible many of us would get discouraged and even shy away from reading it at all. We say: “if that kind of in-depth study is what it takes to understand the Bible, I don’t have the time or the energy.” To make matters worse, many Christians vaguely fear that the Bible is incoherent. We view it (from a distance) as a large body of disconnected and disconcerting texts, each telling a separate story. We ‘dip in’ to the Bible on Sunday morning but all too often we experience passages out of context, and may not hear them again for several years. With this as our standard way of interacting with the Bible, there is little hope of understanding how each part fits into the whole.

In light of these two problems, it is helpful (every so often) to read large portions of scripture quickly with the goal of getting a ‘sense’ of the overarching story. I found this to be true during my first semester of grad school when my classmates and I read the whole Old Testament in a few weeks–something I had never done before. This approach required us to temporarily ‘shelve’ questions that we had along the way in the interest of covering the ground quickly.

At first glance this sounds like a defense for reading superficially, which is true in a way. To read the Bible quickly does not allow for depth of study or serious contemplation of any one text. In another sense however, it allows for a different kind of depth. Reading large continuous swaths of scripture is a way of stepping back and contemplating the whole story of scripture that transcends but includes every individual text.

The first result (very significant for me) was the realization that the scriptures, while written by many different people, in different places, in different genres and over many hundreds of years, really is ONE STORY. The troubling texts that I had ‘cherry-picked’ from the bible for most of my life, were no longer free standing ‘problems’. They could be read as twists and turns in the one story: a story of God pursuing His rebellious people throughout a range of fallen circumstances. Secondly, the consistency of God’s character showed forth. Reading disconnected texts without a sense of the whole is one of the reasons God sometimes appears to be vengeful and capricious. I was able to see that His wrath, while real, was always in the context of his holiness and love. The overarching picture of God was one of incredible patience and forbearance. He is a Holy God who is continually staying his hand from judgment on a people who provoke Him every day. Thirdly, I saw a connection between the Old and New Testaments, which bolstered my faith.  By reading the Old Testament quickly, I could sense a rising tension that could only be resolved in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These are a few reasons why reading the Bible quickly–in addition to more focused study or devotional reading–is a good idea. If all else fails (or even just because!), read the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, which does an excellent job of telling the one story of scripture.


– Ben Keyes

How do you read the Bible? By being flexible.

During a recent Worker’s meeting and discussion lunch, we discussed a question we often hear from students here at Southborough L’Abri.  Indeed, it is a question we keep asking ourselves as well: How do you read the Bible?  This is the first in a multi-post series giving you “snippets” of that conversation from each of the Workers.

How do you read the Bible? The short answer is, “By being flexible.” Having virtually never read the Bible, I stumbled into L’Abri in Switzerland in 1964 and was amazed at how central the Bible was to the life of the community and to the thinking of Francis Schaeffer which was challenging my life. Into what had seemed a closed universe, the Bible claimed to be a word from outside, a window of light from beyond human ignorance, ideologies and speculations. I knew I had better read it. So I went back to France and read it in three days. (Not recommended.) But I did know a little more afterward than before – importantly, I had a long list of things that I could not believe, which I had to look at more carefully later.

Having believed in Christ since then, I have read it in many different ways. For several years I used a scheme which read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year. Then with this plan of four chapters per day I felt I was skimming too lightly. I slowed down to two chapters or to one or less than one chapter a day, sometimes going slowly through a good commentary on a Biblical book, sometimes meditating on certain passages, sometimes reading the same passage on two consecutive days.

If reading the Bible is difficult, we need to ask ourselves, “Why?”  Does it stimulate boredom? Anger? Fear? Bad memories? Confusion?  We are likely to need a different strategy for each of these responses. It is good to find someone with a lot of experience to help us to be flexible. For those of us who can read English we have more resources to help us read the Bible than Christians have ever had.

– Dick Keyes




A Thanksgiving Reflection

Recently while reading the gospel of Luke, I was struck by two passages that I had heard many times separately without realizing that they belong together:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” 

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

What is striking about both of these passages is the lack of congratulations that God gives people for simply doing what is right. In the first passage (Luke 17:7-10) Jesus assumes his listeners understand that a master would not thank his servant for doing what, after all, is required of him. In the second passage (17:11-19), Jesus does not commend the healed Samaritan for returning. Instead he asks him why none of the others have returned to thank him. The thankful ex-leper is not considered to be especially pious or thoughtful. He is simply doing the obvious and clearly appropriate thing. Jesus seems to view the others as having failed morally by not displaying their gratitude, which is the bare minimum of piety for any Israelite.

One could get the impression that God receives our thanksgiving somewhat coldly, as if to say: “about time.” But I don’t think that this is what Luke wants us to conclude. When read side by side, these two texts raise an interesting question about the nature of thanksgiving: is it offered freely, or are we under obligation? Is it something we offer with joy, or with a sense of duty? The answer to all of these questions is, yes. God expects our gratitude but does not compel it. We are free to offer him thanks, or to withhold it. However, it is clear that if we understand the nature of our relationship with God and have any memory at all, to give thanks is the obvious thing to do. We are simply recipients of every good thing we have ever experienced. God is the giver of all good things. To thank God is to give Him His due.

But this does not have to be an act of joyless duty! The healed Samaritan returns to Jesus ‘praising God’. His act of giving thanks is clearly overflowing from his genuine gratitude of heart. And Jesus is not cold in receiving his thanks (despite offering no congratulations). Jesus receives the man’s thanks as a sign of his faith; a faith that has made him ‘well’ in more ways than one.

This Thanksgiving let’s strive to offer our gratitude to God both with a sense of the obligation we have to him AND with the genuine joy of the Samaritan who returned to Jesus. Why wouldn’t we give thanks to God?

-Ben Keyes

Ben has given several lectures on the themes of thankfulness and gratitude, most recently, “What is Thankfulness Without God?”  Listen to this lecture and others from Southborough L’Abri here.  

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Southborough L’Abri!






Back in the Virtual Saddle

Hello from Southborough, Massachusetts!  

While things may have been quiet on this blog for the past year, life at 49 Lynbrook Rd. has been humming along.  At present, we are on a working break for the remainder of the year (which means we are closed for students at present), but we are welcoming inquiries and bookings for the Winter 2018 term (Jan. 11-Mar.29).  See the Reservations page on our website for more information on planning a stay with us.

During these quiet weeks, the Workers have been meeting for prayer and a lunch discussion.  While lunch discussions comprise a core component of student life at L’Abri, it is rare for the whole team of Workers to have a full hour to explore a question together.  This week we asked each other, “How do you read the Bible?”  We find this to be one of the most common questions asked at L’Abri, and it is a very good one.  In the coming weeks, we will be sharing “snippets” from our discussion of this question with you here.

Additionally, you can look forward to:

  • Lecture recommendations
  • Glimpses of life at L’Abri over the holidays
  • Perhaps a poem, or recipe, or … ?

For those of you in metro Boston, mark your calendars for Dec. 1 & 2!  We are one of two houses hosting the Southborough Holiday Art and Craft Sale, Friday, 7 – 9 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Stop by for tea, cookies and beautiful, handmade gifts including photography, prints and cards, chocolates, jewelry, knitted wearables, journals and more.


-Sarah Chestnut




Poems for Advent (IV)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

A note of the form of this poem: For reasons unclear to me, WordPress does not respect the line-breaks and indentations of poems.  The intended shape of this poem is very different from what you see here.  Ah well.  If you are a serious reader of poems and would like a copy of the original, email me and I can send you an attachment:

In this final week of Advent, may the light and life of Christ be yours.  A joyous Christmas to all of you from all of us at L’Abri…


Light of Life

“In him was life…” (John 1:4)


Carry the Word in your hands, drop it

on a bench like a stone, set a wedge

to one rough edge, let the hammer fall,

watch it split like a geode, see a symphony



sun, river, shimmering motes, ring-tailed Lemurs,

metallic beetles by the thousands, jellyfish

like clouds, cattails, rat tails,

dance of the fire telling tall tales—

canter, slide and slink,

hummingbird, humdinger, twist, dance

and the rest of it—

Orca, orchid and orbits,

saw-wing swallow streaking like hail—

Kudzu of life fireworking all that is

to every far reach of this gratuitous universe—


because He is and his being is light

and light is a thing with a voice

and wings.  Light is that geode, planted

like a seed, his body a seed buried in stone.


And he is the word and the wedge and the hammer

dropping on the tomb, life splitting walls of darkness

like an infant pressed from the womb.