We’ve been practicing together for two weeks now. Have you noticed a pattern?
I’ve structured the sharing of each practice intentionally throughout the Lent 40 Days to Pray series, allowing a slow unfolding, and, I hope, a fitting finish when Holy Week and Easter roll around. (More to come!)
We began with Welcoming Prayer on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, welcoming all that we bring with us into this season and preparing our souls to dwell in the presence of God. Last week we shifted to Centering Prayer, a contemplative prayer practice in the style of meditation and one that invites us to experience the truth behind those words found in Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Now that we’ve cleared the space with Welcoming Prayer and settled into God’s presence with Centering Prayer, it’s time to dig deep with Lectio Divina—an ancient prayer practice that reminds us that God’s Word is living, speaking to us even today, especially when it comes to our own personal journeys.
ABOUT LECTIO DIVINA
Lectio Divina, Latin for “Divine Reading,” is a contemplative prayer practice focused on the reading and meditation of Scripture. Its pronunciation varies, some practitioners saying lek-tee-oh, following the rules of traditional Latin, with others saying lek-tsee-oh, following the rules of Ecclesiastical Latin (the official language once used by the Church). Luckily, Lectio Divina isn’t as much focused on the words, but instead what is behind them and the personal wisdom and insight they offer to each and every one of us.
The roots of the practice of Lectio Divina, like many of the contemplative practices, stem from the Desert Mothers and Fathers. Origen, in particular, considered Scripture to be a sacrament, believing that God could be encountered through the “Living Word.” Because the printing press was yet to be invented, there were few copies of the Bible available at the time, so most Scripture was read aloud or recited in the absence of the text. With the Desert Mothers’ and Fathers’ emphasis on silence, stillness, and solitude, it’s no surprise that when Scripture was shared it was engaged not with analysis, but with contemplation. It is from this perspective that the practice of Lectio Divina began to take shape.
The practice became more formalized by St. Benedict in the sixth century, who included it in his Rule of Life and made the practice one of the pillars of his order, along with liturgical prayer and manual labor. The communal practice of Lectio Divina in the Benedictine monastery gave way to the natural structure or progression of the practice—read (lectio), meditate (meditatio), pray (oratio), and contemplate (contemplatio). Considered “feasting on the word,” the process of Lectio Divina is often described as biting (reading), chewing (meditating), savoring (praying), and digesting (contemplating).
While a Benedictine practice for centuries, the awareness of Lectio Divina broadened after it was praised at the Vatican II Council. Since then, its unique method of prayerfully engaging Scripture, allowing it to come alive in practitioners’ lives today, has grown in popularity amongst religious institutions and lay people across traditions, becoming an ancient practice for our postmodern times.
HOW TO PRACTICE LECTIO DIVINA
Return to that quiet spot you’ve been savoring throughout our shared practice these last two weeks (here’s mine) and decide how you’d like to move through the four stages of Lectio Divina. The practice naturally flows from one part to the next, so you could simply move on to the next prompt when you’re ready or you could use a gentle timer (my favorite) allowing five minutes for each.
1. lectio | read
Select a short passage from Scripture that you would like to explore and read the passage through many times. Read it aloud, read it silently, read it slowly, pausing between each line or phrase.
As you continue to read the text, listen for a word or phrase that stands out to you: What draws you in? What resonates with you? What makes you uncomfortable? What leaves you with questions? You will take this word or phrase with you into step 2, meditation.
2. meditatio | meditate
Now it’s time to focus in on the word or phrase that stood out to you. Bring the word or phrase to mind and meditate on it; repeat it in your mind slowly, noticing what comes up for you. As feelings emerge, let them sink in without distracting you from your meditation—the word or phrase might still have more to give.
3. oratio | pray
As you transition from meditation into prayer, begin communicating with God about the word or phrase that stood out to you. Explore what made it capture your attention initially and share any feelings that came up for you during your meditation. As you share these things in prayer, take note of any new insight you are given in regards to the text and/or what has been awakened in you through your word or phrase.
4. contemplatio | contemplate
As your time in prayer comes to a close, spend a few minutes in God’s presence contemplating what has happened within you throughout the time of reading, meditation, and prayer. Bring to mind any new insights you’ve received during this time, whether personal or in relation to the text, and let them sink in, coloring your way of being. You might be surprised how much such a simple and quiet process can alter your perspective and give you new direction.
Note: While Lectio Divina is traditionally practiced with Scripture, it can also be practiced using poetry or song, or, as in the practice of Visio Divina, with a work of art or even a scene outside your door.
Contemplative Outreach on Lectio Divina
Lenten Lectio through the gospel of John (subscribe here for access)
Lectio Divina―The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer by Christine Valters Paintner
Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina by Jan Johnson
Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer by David G. Benner