Introduction: What is Lectio Divina?
The term lectio divina is Latin for divine reading. It is an ancient method of prayer that helps us to encounter our Lord in Scripture. It is not simply a way to meditate on what God has already revealed to us in a text that we Christians hold as divinely inspired, but it is a real encounter with Jesus, who is the living Word made flesh, and who continues to speak to us today.
In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph 2:18; 2 Pet 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col 1;15, 1 Tim 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to us as friends (see Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15) and lives among us (see Bar 3:38), so that He may invite and take us into fellowship with Himself. … By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. (See Mt 11:27; Jn 1:14 and 17; 14:6; 17:1-3; 2 Cor 3:16 and 4, 6; Eph 1, 3-14.)
Through one of the Church’s most authoritative teachings – the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation – we are assured that God has revealed to us his desire to be with us. We even read that he wants us to share in his divine nature! Perhaps because we have heard it said over and over again that “God loves us,” we make the common mistake of letting it fall on deaf ears. Perhaps we do not see the relevance of Jesus’ suffering and death in our life today. Or perhaps we don’t stop to consider the reality of oft-quoted scriptures such as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world….” If we make a habit of encountering Jesus through Scripture, we will be less likely to make these mistakes. We will see not only how Jesus loves us (and showed us this love through his suffering and death), we will also see that he LIKES US! He calls us FRIENDS (Jn 15:15)! Yes, it is proper and good for us Christians to see Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, as Teacher, and as our Lord, for truly he is. But when we also see Jesus as Friend, we see a fuller picture of how we are loved by God.
Lectio divina offers a forum for building a stronger relationship with our Lord. It offers a prayer experience that is more like a dialogue, rather than a monologue in which we primarily express our own desires. It makes us more aware of the ways in which Scripture continues to speak to us today. We know that “the word of God is living and effective” (Heb 4:12), and when we come to know the word through prayer, we can expect to encounter the word in the midst of ordinary life experiences. We begin to see Jesus in our relationship with others, and in our daily activities.
Lectio divina has its roots deep in the oldest traditions handed down by the People of God who believe that the Word of God always has something to say to us at present. At its origins, this spiritual exercise was not so much a method as a typical way of hearing and receiving the Word of God. In Old Testament times, for example, Israel listened to the Word of God proclaimed, was instructed in it, and prayed with it in order to draw closer to God (see Neh 8; Dt 30:14). This practice remained central in the earliest Christian communities; it took on even greater weight with the revelation of Jesus Christ and his proclamation of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (Jn 14,26: 16,13). In fact, the New Testament itself could only have been written through the early Christians’ deep relationship with and meditation upon the Hebrew Scriptures, in light of their immediate experiences.
The early Church Fathers practiced lectio divina and encouraged other Christians to do likewise in their homes, considering it as a means of salvation, a holy “tabernacle” in which the faithful could encounter the beloved. The centrality of Scripture was likened to a fount that alone could provide the sustenance needed in the life of faith and insight into divine things.
With the establishment of the earliest monastic communities, lectio divina took on an organizing role in the monk’s very way of life, whether in the desert or in the monastery. By the time of 6th-century St. Benedict, for example, the ongoing meditation upon Scripture had become a regular practice, the goal of which was to transform the monk himself into a word of God for others.
As scholastic interests grew in the middle ages, Scriptural reading witnessed an accompanying shift in which lectio divina too took on theological purposes. Practitioners of lectio began to use it to distil Scriptural principles that could respond to philosophical problems. This development influenced a distinction between “monastic” and “scholastic” approaches. It was also around this time (ca. 1150) that Carthusian monk Guigo II identified four stages he saw as essential to lectio divina: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), contemplatio (contemplation) and oratio (prayer). It is these four steps that generally characterize the practice of lectio today.
In modern times, the Church has encouraged lectio divina as a source of strength, stability and nourishment for the inner life of both individuals and communities. Rooted in ancient practices, newer forms of lectio divina have developed, such as praying the Scriptures in common. By participating in a tradition that extends back to the origins of the Bible itself, the People of God can enter into a conversation with God that has been taking place for thousands of years.
There are many ways to practice this prayer style, but this video offers one way that’s specifically suitable for the average busy lay-person.
- READ OUT LOUD
After choosing a scripture reading, perhaps the Gospel of the day, read it out loud. Once you finish it, start again. (This step is traditionally called lectio)
Repeatedly read the whole passage until one word or phrase begins to stand out. Then focus on that part alone, and repeat it out loud until it’s committed to memory. It is important to avoid questioning or judging why it sticks out, simply accept it as the Word that is being spoken to you. (This step is traditionally called meditatio)
After a while, all other thoughts begin to go away and your left with the Word alone: your recitation becomes a mantra-prayer, and you receive the words as our Lord speaking to you. (This step is traditionally called oratio)
- BE STILL
When you feel it to be appropriate, simply sit with our Lord in silence. When you sense that the prayer is coming to an end, simply thank the Lord, and move on with your day, holding his Word in your heart. (This step is traditionally called contemplatio)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558-2758, “Prayer in the Christian Life”
- Specific resources on the discipline of lectio divina suggested by the order that has made the reading of Sacred Scripture central to its very existence
- Reading material that can fruitfully be used in the practice of lectio divina, compiled by the OSB
A wonderful list of books on lectio divina from authors as renown as Thomas Keating and Thomas Merton
A springboard to a number of articles and books published by one of our collaborators
An online shop offering a range of resources for purchase, suitable for various audiences from youth and adults, and which features certain editions in Spanish
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