Lectio divina, (holy reading) is the beginning stage of reflection upon Scripture, ancient christian texts and liturgical texts. In lectio we reflect on the texts and savour the meanings and associations of the words and images. Monks have practised lectio divina from the earliest times.
Lectio leads to meditation (meditatio)
Meditatio leads to prayer (oratio)
Oratio leads to contemplation (contemplatio) and the prayer of the heart.
Some 1800 years ago men and women retreated to lonely places to escape persecution and the worries of daily life. These early monastics developed Lectio Divina or ‘Sacred Reading’, a way of meditating that many have found helpful ever since. Traditionally it involved a ‘slow reading’ of a chosen text from the Bible and allowing the words to speak in new ways.
Structure of lectio
There are four parts to a Lectio Divina exercise. Before starting lectio it is important to prepare. Go somewhere where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Take time to slow down: slow down your body and your mind. Either sit or kneel; you want to be comfortable.
Holy reading (lectio)
Slowly begin reading a passage from bible or liturgy as if it were a long awaited letter addressed to you. Approach it reverently and expectantly, in a way that savors each word and phrase. Read the passage until you hear a word or phrase that touches you, resonates, attracts or even disturbs you.
Ponder this word or phrase for a few minutes. Listen for what the word or phrase is saying to you at this moment in your life, what it may be offering to you, what it may be demanding of you.
If you are a praying person, when you are ready, openly and honestly express to God the prayers that arise spontaneously within you from your experience of this word or phrase. These may be prayers of thanksgiving, petition, intercession, lament, or praise. You could write down the thoughts that have come your way.
Allow yourself to simply rest silently for a time in stillness while remaining open to God’s love and peace. This is like the silence of communion between the mother holding her sleeping infant child or between friends whose communication with each other passes beyond words.
These four movements of Lectio Divina may not always follow a linear progression. Allow yourself freedom. The aim is to move into the depths of silence and stillness where we can hear the Word spoken to us in love and respond to this Word with our love and our life. This is a gentle invitation into a movement from silence into the Word and back into silence, dwelling there in the presence of God.
The scope of the materials used in lectio includes the prayers of the church, visual arts and music. Today we describe it as a ‘patient and attentive regard’ – allowing what is listened to or looked at to speak to your life in a fresh way. Fr Vincent Cooper tells us, “be grounded, be open hearted, listen to all” (21 September 2014).