Lectio Divina (pronounced lex-ee-o dih-vee-nah) is an ancient way of deepening friendship with God by listening for the voice of the Spirit addressed to us in Scripture and responding to our Creator in prayer.
This ancient art, kept alive through the centuries by Benedictine monks has historically been among the most widely used approaches to Scripture. Its title derives from the Latin words meaning divine reading.
Lectio is not the goal or end product oriented, and it’s not about acquiring more knowledge of Scripture although that may happen. It’s about nurturing our fellowship with God, resting in the presence of our Father. For the sake of practicing the rhythm of Lectio, we’ve arranged its structure into 5 movements.
From hurry to s-t-i-l-l-n-e-s-s! Shh! The process begins by slowing down. This can be as simple as sitting motionless for several minutes, and taking some deep breaths. Some find a form of “centering prayer” like “palms up–palms down” helpful. The point is to begin in a place of physical stillness and quiet.
From stillness to listening (lectio = reading) I hesitated to even use the word ”reading” because of all our modern notions of what that means. This part of Lectio Divina is more akin to listening to the voice of a friend or lover than reading words from a printed page. The words are the medium but the goal is relation-ship and loving dialog. View the passage more as the words of a recently received love letter than a textbook. Lectio means reading with the “ears of our heart” (St. Benedict). As we read, we’re looking for that word or phrase that leaps off the page or stands out from the other words. We look for the word that “shimmers” or shines...a word or phrase that draws us in with the promise that it has more to say to us. One writer calls lectio “reverential listening.” We wait for a word that is addressed to us personally...not loudly...but intimately...not forcefully but as a still small voice whispering to us.
From listening to rumination (meditatio) Meditatio takes that word or phrase and internalizes it until it becomes a part of us. Meditatio involves gently repeating the word or phrase and letting it interact with our thoughts, feelings, experiences, our hurts, and our hopes. This part is repetitious and is reminiscent of a cow chewing its cud. “The image of the ruminate animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the Christian pondering the word of God.” (Fr. Luke Dysinger) During this time, we don’t ask questions of the text - we let it question us. This is not a time for study, referencing resource material, or looking up key words. Again our goal is not to dissect the text but to nurture our relationship with God, to foster intimacy.
From rumination to response (oratio = prayer) Oratio is the loving prayerful dialogue where we respond to God’s invitation to be near Him, to be yoked to Him as apprentices in Life.
From response to rest (contemplatio) Contemplatio returns us to where we began: silence. This is a time when words become less important and there’s a period of restful silence in God’s presence.
Here’s how it might look: Lectio Divina with John 14.5-14
• Preparation - you sit down in a comfortable spot, Bible in hand. You center yourself by closing your eyes. You take several deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling deliberately, slowly. As you inhale you softly repeat ‘Lord, I receive all that you want to give me.’ (palms up) As you exhale, ‘Lord I release all the tensions and frustrations of yesterday.’ (palms down)
• Reading/Listening (Lectio) - After a couple minutes of preparation, you begin reading the passage out loud but softly, murmuring it. You end up reading the same passage several times through. Each time you feel drawn to the one particular phrase like: “He will give you another Counselor.”
• Meditation - As you repeat this phrase several times you recognize that God is speaking to you about who you turn to for advice and help. You have a growing sense that you’ve been overly focused and dependent on human friendships and not relying on your Divine Counselor.
• Prayer - You respond to these promptings with confession and a fresh commitment. You might write something like this in a prayer journal: “Father, thank you for giving me the Holy Spirit to be a constant companion and counselor. Forgive me for not seeking His advice. Please help me today to repeatedly turn to you at least as much or more than to my other friends.” At this point you can return to the text if time allows or move into...
• Contemplation - The time is ended with a brief period of silent reflection and resting in the knowledge that God deeply loves you and receives your prayers.
Summary and Review
As we approach Scripture desiring to deepen our friendship with God we:
• Read the passage (lectio) asking, “What does the text say about our Father?”
• Meditate on a word or short phrase (meditatio) asking “What is God saying to me through this text?”
• Pray our response to God (oratio) out loud or in writing.
• Rest silently in God’s loving presence (contemplatio)
Practicing Lectio Divina As A Group
1. Leader and Text
Begin by identifying an individual to lead the process. This person will lead the process by reading the selected text three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence, after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God.
2. First Reading
During the first reading, read the text aloud twice. Read through slowly. The purpose of the first reading is for each person to hear the text and to listen for a word, phrase, or idea that captures their attention. As group members recognize a word, phrase, or idea, they are to focus their attention on that word, repeating it to themselves silently.
3. Second Reading
Read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus their attention on how the word, phrase, or idea speaks to their life that day. They should ask: What does it mean for me today? How is Christ, the Word, speaking to me about my life through this word, phrase, or idea? What is Christ, the Word, speaking to me about my life through this word, phrase, or idea? After the reading, allow a brief period of silence and then invite group members to share briefly what they have heard.
4. Third Reading
Read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus on what God is calling them to do or become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something—during this final reading, what is God calling you to do or to be as a result of this experience? After the third reading, allow a period of silence, then invite group members to share what they are being called to do or to be. Finish the exercise by having each one pray for the person on his or her right.
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