Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)

– there are four elements to lectio divina:

1.lectio (we read the text)

2. meditatio (we meditate the text)

3. oratio (we pray the text)

4. contemplatio (we live the text)

“Reading, as it were, puts the solid food into our mouths, meditation chews it and breaks it down, prayer obtains the flavour of it and contemplation is the very sweetness which makes us glad and refreshes us.”

(Guigo the Second, 12th c. European monk)

Lectio divina and the action of eating!

Ezek. 3:1-3; Psalm 119:103, 131; Psalm 34:8; Rev. 10:9-10

We use our mouth and tongue and throat to speak and we use them to taste and chew and swallow our food. For the ancients the connection was more vivid because even solitary reading was done aloud and the activity of the tongue and mouth was like eating. We use the word “ruminate” to mean inner pondering. Our ancestors would have been more conscious of literally chewing the words over as cows vigorously and rhythmically chew their cud.

Lectio divina is a very ancient form of meditation on Scripture for which tasting and eating and digesting is the most obvious metaphor. It stems from the way our predecessors read and was especially cultivated in the monasteries.

Its simplicity is a little deceptive. It is simple, but it has the kind of simplicity modern women and men can find very difficult to make their own. In the ancient world books were rare and precious. It was natural to read slowly in an almost ritual way. In our world we are bombarded with printed material and information, far more than we can dream of absorbing. We screen out almost all of it and become adept at skimming through pages of text to pick up the bits and pieces we want to use. Our reading habits are completely at odds with the slow, receptive quality of lectio divina. Consumer culture favours rapid reading and fast food. Lectio divina, “divine reading,” is going to take patient practice.

Here is a set of guidelines for lectio divina. At first it is advisable to pray with texts you have at least some familiarity with. If you try lectio divina with a part of Scripture that is completely strange to you, your curiosity may be aroused and it will be very tempting to race ahead to see what comes next. Lectio divina is not intended to introduce you to something new. It is meant to allow you to experience and feed on what you know. Regular reading of the Bible extends the breadth of our familiarity with Scripture. In lectio divina we absorb the Word in depth.

Spend a few minutes settling down and pray that your heart may be opened and receptive to the gift God knows you need today. Only the Breath, the Spirit of God, can bring the word to life. Let your own breathing become more deep-seated, gentler, from lower down, as you invite the Holy Spirit to pray in you afresh.
Begin reading and read very slowly with an open mind. Don’t study the text or analyse it, just read it slowly, aloud if you find that helpful. This is the “lectio,” or reading.
When a particular sentence or phrase or even a single word “lights up” or “rings a bell,” seems striking or inviting, put the Bible down. Resist the temptation to go on, and do not start thinking up reasons why the phrase has claimed your attention. Here the reading stops and the “meditatio” begins, the absorption through repetition. So, for example, you might be reading the tenth chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. As you come to verse 14 these words seem to have a special allure, “I know my own, and my own know me.” This is the verse you now meditate with.
Gently repeat this phrase or word again and again with the heart. Don’t project them outward. Let the repetition be gentle and not mechanical. There is no need to conjure up any mental picture to accompany the words or try to make yourself feel any particular emotion as you speak them. Resist the temptation to force particular lessons or meanings from the words. You know what the words mean well enough; the repetition is to allow you to savour and relish them at an intuitive level. After some time you may find that a longer sentence or phrase has shortened itself to a single word. Gradually allow yourself to be absorbed in the word. So, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you,” might become distilled into the single word “peace” (John 20:21)

In time you will become aware of an impression that the words have made on you. They have evoked a particular feeling or attitude. When you become aware of this there is no need to prolong the repetition. Now is the time for “oratio,” the praying of your response.

Express to God in the simplest way the impression the words have made on you. You may want to thank God for the gift they convey, ask the questions they have stirred in you, put into words the longings or needs they have brought up. Keep it simple, praying spontaneously. Or you may want to respond by remaining in loving silence in the presence of God, appreciating the grace or attitude the word of Scripture has instilled. Your prayer may move into “contemplatio,” a simple being in Christ with God in which all you are aware of is that you are being attracted towards God like the needle of a compass finding the north.
After some time you will not be able to sustain your spontaneous praying or state of loving awareness. Distractions set in. You may bring the lectio divina time to a close with thanksgiving or by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. If you have time and opportunity, you may feel drawn to begin the process again by returning to the Scripture. Begin at the point where you left off and continue with the reading expecting to be touched again by another sentence, phrase or word.

There are some parts of the Bible which are particularly promising for initial forays into lectio divina, such as John 13-17; Ephesians; Philippians; 1 John; Romans 5-8; the Psalms; Isaiah 40-66.

Source: Martin L. Smith. The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with

Scripture. Cambrige, MA: Cowley Publications, 1989.

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