What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio is Latin for Reading; Divina is Latin for Divine. So we can say it is Divine Reading or perhaps Sacred Reading.
Lectio Divina is a dynamic way of reading the Scriptures that has been around since 300 AD. The roots of the practice stem from the Desert Mothers and Fathers. It became more formalised by St. Benedict in the sixth century. It is mentioned often in the Rule of Benedict and he encourages his monks to practise this daily.
Whilst a Benedictine practice for centuries, the awareness of Lectio Divina only broadened into the lay community after it was praised at the Vatican II Council. (The Vatican II Council opened on 11 October 1962 in St. Peter’s Basilica, after over three years of preparations). Since then Lectio Divina has grown in popularity with the laity but may still feel somewhat hidden or unknown.
It follows a four-step approach of:
- Reading (lectio)
- Meditation (meditatio)
- Prayer (oratio)
- Contemplation (contemplatio)
These 4 steps were ‘assembled’ by a monk called Guigo II, around 1180.
Lectio Divina gives us a space to respond to what we feel God is saying to us personally and helps us to encounter God in everyday life with all its joys, challenges and also the boring, uninteresting bits.
It invites us to savour and mull over God’s word quietly, slowly and intently. It has been referred to, by some religious leaders, as like a cow chewing cud – not very pretty perhaps but effective, to get all the goodness out of it.
Important – it is not bible study. So, in some ways being a great theologian can be a disadvantage. We are not looking for what the theological meaning of the text, you’ll be pleased to know, but simply what God is saying to each of us, now, in our daily life.
So, as I said there are 4 steps. These are not necessarily linear. Although we start with Lectio (reading) the other steps can come in any order and can interweave. The practice naturally flows from one part to the next, so you could simply move on when you’re ready or you could use a gentle timer allowing a few minutes for each.
How to do it
We can practise this alone or in a group. Whichever we do, the practice is almost identical. We begin with a piece of scripture.
Alone we could begin with one of the gospels and we work through from beginning to end, if necessary going over some parts more than once. There is no rush to get to the end. In a group we may well choose to use the gospel of the coming Sunday. What is important is that we do not manipulate the readings to fit into a particular system.
To begin, we would pray to God. Perhaps we would ask the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Lectio: So keeping to the cow chewing cud analogy the first part is Biting (reading).
We select a short passage from Scripture and read the passage through many times. We read it once aloud (even alone), slowly, very slowly. Imagine, perhaps, that it is Jesus reading. We want to hear His voice, the voice of the Father, the voice of the Holy Spirit. Then we spend a few minutes reading it silently, slowly, pausing between each line or phrase. As we continue to read the text, listen for a word or phrase that stands out: What draws me in? What resonates with me? What makes me uncomfortable? What leaves me with questions?
(We may wish to read the passage aloud again at this stage)
Meditatio: Now onto chewing (meditating)
Now it’s time to spend a few minutes to focus on the word or phrase that stood out. We bring the word or phrase to mind and meditate on it; repeat it in our mind slowly, noticing what comes up for us. If we haven’t yet found a word or phrase we don’t worry, we just keep searching.
As feelings emerge, we let them sink in. From our mind to our heart.
(We may wish to read the passage aloud again at this stage)
Oratio: Now we move to savouring (praying)
As we move from meditation into prayer, we spend a few minutes communicating with God about the word or phrase that stood out to us. We talk to God, listen to God. Share with God any feelings that came up for us during our meditation. As we share these things in prayer, we take note of anything that has been awakened in us.
How does this relate to what is happening in our life right now – maybe in our family, our studies, our work, our church life, our friends, our neighbours, ourselves. Again if we have so far found nothing don’t worry. Tell God. Ask for God’s inspiration. We will hear God speak if not today, tomorrow, next week, next month etc. Just trust.
Contemplatio: then we move to digesting (contemplating).
As our time in prayer comes to a close, we spend a few minutes in God’s presence contemplating what has happened within us throughout the time of reading, meditation, and prayer. We thank God for what we have experienced. We rest in God’s presence, content.
Finally: Perhaps our final step should be Action. What is God asking me or telling me to do as a result of this reading?
If, in a group, we have time we may wish to share what God has said to us but we don’t have to do so. If we do share we always use I, me – not us, not we – because what I hear is God talking to me. It will be different from what God says to you.
I can say I must forgive (someone), not we must forgive ; not even Jesus says we must forgive. I can say I must feed the poor, not we must feed the poor; not even God says we must feed the poor. It’s ok to say I believe Jesus/God is telling me to do something but it’s not ok to say Jesus/God is telling us to do something.
It is up to the priest to teach us as a community which he does at mass. When we read scripture in Lectio Divina it is a personal encounter with God. God is just speaking to me. That’s all I need to worry about.
I will not agree with what you said. I will not disagree with what you said. You will not agree with me. You will not disagree with me. We do not know what God has said to each of us.
Confidentiality: whatever is shared in a group must remain confidential. We cannot reveal this to our family, friends, workmates, classmates, church congregation, religious leaders etc. We cannot even discuss with other members of the group. We should treat anything revealed to be as confidential as we expect a priest to treat our confession.
Further Reading: There are two good books on the subject of Lectio Divina. One is Reading with God by David Foster, OSB. A second is Sacred Reading by Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk.
In order to try and make this a bit clearer I want to share some thoughts on this passage – John 1:29-34 (You may have other, differing thoughts).
John recognises the Lamb of God, the Messiah. What can I learn about Jesus from John’s description of Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’?
Who is Jesus for me? (Who do you say I am? – Matthew 16:15)
Do I recognise Jesus in others? Do others recognise Jesus in me? If so, how?
John was preparing for Jesus. Do I need to prepare for him? If so, how?
If the presence of the Holy Spirit was essential for Jesus’ ministry, what does this tell me about my need for the Holy Spirit’s presence? What is my experience of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life?
John came as a witness to Jesus. Am I a witness? If so, how?
Jesus was the Chosen one. Am I chosen? If so, for what?
…. Because God chose you…..(2 Thess 2:13-14)