An excerpt from a reflection issued by the Regional Biblical Commission in conjunction with Bible Sunday (13 July)
Lectio divina, that is ‘spiritual reading’, is a way of praying the scriptures so that the Word of God may penetrate our hearts and we may grow in intimate relationship with the Lord. Through the practice of lectio divina as individuals and as community we give space for God’s Word to challenge us so that we may begin to look upon our world as it were with the eyes of God and to love what we see with the heart of God. Its natural movement is towards greater simplicity, with less and less talking and more and more listening. Gradually the words of scripture begin to dissolve within us and the Word is revealed before the eyes of our heart. The movement in lectio divina prayer is towards silence. This augurs well for both individuals and small communities.
Lectio divina is a slow, contemplative prayer of the scriptures. Time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationship to the Father and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. To be effective we have to set aside quality time to experience the Word in our hearts and lives.
There are various ways we can get going in lectio divina. Those who are regular in reading the Bible would be able to ‘dive’ into it without much difficulty. The usual way would be seen in four steps.
‘Lectio’ – Read
Read the passage slowly and attentively. Take your time with each word, each phrase, pausing when you feel like it, repeating words or phrases to yourself, savouring and enjoying every word, focusing on things that may stand out. Don’t rush through it.
‘Meditatio’ – Listen & Meditate
Take the word or phrase to yourself, slowly repeat it to yourself – ‘chew’ on it. Let it interact with your concerns, memories and ideas as you try to work out its meaning and make it personally relevant. Don’t worry about being distracted – if memories, thoughts or images come up, just bring them up to the Lord as part of your prayer. Be aware of your feelings and emotions.
This is not ‘navel gazing’, but an honest accounting of our lives and always directed outward to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
‘Oratio’ – Prayer
Speak to God about the thoughts and feelings that have come to your consciousness. Perhaps there is something that you may tackle in some area in your life or maybe you have become aware of God’s action in some other aspect – whatever it is, pour out your heart to God about what has just come up. Even if nothing has come up, just speak to him about what you are feeling. Know that he is truly present and is listening to you. Let it be an abandonment to the will of God, like Mary, “Thy will be done!”
‘Contemplatio’ – Contemplation and Response
Finally, just be quiet and just rest in God’s presence – ‘waste time’ with God. Words may not be necessary at this point. Sometimes, you may as a result of God’s grace be raised to experience something new and mysterious. At other times, we may simply be calm and comfortable with God. It is nothing more than a close sharing between friends. It is a surrender to the loving will of the Father in an even deeper union with his beloved Son. It is child-like. It is a surrender to the loving will of the Father. his gaze purifies our hearts, illumines our eyes to see with the eyes of Jesus and teaches us compassion for our neighbour.
Lectio Divina for beginners
For those who are not very familiar with the Bible or rather who are not used to the reading of the Bible as a daily/weekly act of piety, the following step is proposed. This method wouldn’t pressurise you, you could go at the pace you or your group desires. The end (product) is the same, it is just the way you reach the goal – to get to know God who loves and helps us to believe in a loving God. To both the initiated and uninitiated the Word is a gift given by God to each of us whenever we turn to the scriptures.
Choose a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray. Many Christians use in their daily lectio divina one of the readings from the Eucharistic liturgy of the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of ‘covering’ a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.
Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved ‘prayer word’ or ‘prayer phrase’ they gently recite. For some, the practice known as ‘centering prayer’ makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savour each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In lectio divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.
Take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorise it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.
Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images – or all three – is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
Rest in God’s embrace. And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
Sometimes in lectio divina, you may return several times to the printed text, either to savour the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for lectio divina. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your lectio divina, as if you were ‘performing’ or seeking some goal. Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.