The phrase lectio divina, difficult to translate adequately, is the Latin for “sacred reading.” We could translate as a reading which is sacred or better, divine. Ordinarily lectio is confined to the slow perusal of sacred Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. It is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aide to contact the living God. Basic to this practice is a union with God in faith which, in turn, is sustained by further reading. There is no special program or technique to lectio. Even more importantly, one must resist the temptation of covering a given amount of material within a prescribed time frame, a particularly modern temptation. This is more difficult to sustain than first meets the eye, and one will run up against it sooner than anticipated. A person is well advised to linger over a single word or phrase for an indefinite period of time, trusting that it will lead to further texts. Such is one of the most attractive features to lectio divina, for it is open-ended and subject to continuous growth.
One would expect that instead of the phrase lectio divina, the adjective sacra (the feminine form) or “sacred reading.” The word “sacred,” whether Latin or Greek, pertains to objects related to the holy such as a church or vessels of the altar used for Mass. Instead, tradition employs the adjective divinaor “divine.” This intimates that such reading is divine, not sacred, or more proximate to God himself instead of being an object related to his holiness. Furthermore, lectio derives from the verb lego, “to choose, pick.” In sum, lectio divina may be said to be a “divine picking” or choosing of a given sentence, phrase or word through which God himself speaks. While certainly sacred (or sacra), one quickly discovers that lectio appeals directly to the heart of God and does not beat around the bush, so to speak.
Lectio traces its origins to early monasticism and currently is enjoying wide acceptance among lay persons. In fact, many people show a spontaneous interest in lectio divina after having been initiated into some form contemplative prayer in line with Christian teaching and tradition. They realize that such prayer cannot continue without verification of their practice, and the best locus for those raised in the Judeo-Christian heritage is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Prayer enables one to penetrate beyond the letter of text and to see how the Holy Spirit is speaking to us through these inspired words here and now. Not long ago Pope Benedict the Sixteenth recognized this and remarked that lectio divina lies at the heart of the Church's renewal.
We, the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Newark encourage and offer you a guide for this extraordinary way of prayer:
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 for 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; other have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. 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.
THEN TURN to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor 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 lightening or ecstasies. Inlectio divina God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek Him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence.
NEXT TAKE the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize 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 which, 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.
THEN, SPEAK to God. Whether you use words or 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 in yourself during your experience of meditatio. Experience yourself as the priest that you are. Experience God using the word or phrase that He has given you as a means of blessing, of transforming the ideas and memories, which your pondering on His word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
FINALLY, SIMPLY rest in God's embrace. And when He invites you to return to your pondering 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 one will return several times to the printed text, either to savor 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 anxiously assess the quality of one's lectio divina as if one 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.
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