Dec 4, 2022
Lectio divina—or "divine reading"—is a type of prayer that involves reading Scripture slowly and contemplatively, with the purpose of encountering God.
Lectio Divina is a contemplative prayer practice that involves reading, listening, responding, and resting in Scripture. It's a beautiful way to connect with God and to experience His Word in a deeply personal way.
The practice of Lectio Divina has been around for centuries, and it's something that can be enjoyed by people of all faiths. It's a simple four-step process: Reading, Praying, Meditating, and Contemplating. You can do Lectio Divina with any passage of Scripture or sacred text, but I find the Psalms and spiritual poetry to be the most powerful.
The Origins of Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is an ancient practice from the Christian contemplative heritage that originated in the 6th century by Benedict of Nursia. It was formalized as a four-step process, which can be summarized as read, reflect, respond, and rest.
It's a simple practice that can be done with any passage of Scripture. The goal is to slow down and savor the words, letting them sink deep into your heart. As you read, simply pay attention to what stands out to you. Reflect on what God might be saying to you through the text. Respond by prayer or journaling. And finally, take some time to retreat and let all that you've experienced sink in.
Preparing Your Heart: How to Prepare for Lectio Divina
Before beginning your time of Lectio Divina, you'll want to prepare your heart. One way to do this is by inviting the Holy Spirit to guide you and guard you from distraction. Sometimes a gesture such as the sign of the cross or opening your palms can signify your consent to be with God.
Another way to prepare for Lectio Divina is to sit in silence for a few minutes and allow yourself to simply be still before God. This is a time for you to quiet your mind and simply listen with the ear of your heart. Allow Him to speak to you in whatever way He desires.
The Structure of Lectio Divina
The four parts of Lectio Divina are Lectio (reading), Meditatio (meditating), Oratio (praying), and Contemplatio (contemplating). To begin, set up a quiet and comfortable place for yourself, often in your bedroom or some other personal space.
Choose a scripture passage such as one from the Bible or another religious text that appeals to you. I find the Gospels and many of the stories from the Pentateuch to be difficult because you can get easily swept up in the story itself rather than particular words or phrases that might speak to you. You'll read the passage four times in the following way:
Lectio, or slow reading, is done with the intention of absorbing the meaning of each word. A word or phrase may now strike a chord in your soul or stir a memory in your head. Look closely at these words without worrying about what they mean. Don't worry about what's being said, simply hear the words. Be sure to read it slowly, and if you're reading it aloud, avoid dramatizing it.
Meditatio. Returning to the paragraph you used for lectio, look for the word or phrase you were seeking. Don't attempt to coax it back; instead, pay attention to what draws your attention. Think about the term or phrase you've chosen until it becomes second nature to you. It's like a mantra you repeat to yourself for a little while. You are currently in the process of "chewing" the words in order to assimilate them into your own mind and body. At this point, you're only repeating the phrases without challenging their validity.
Oratio. Reread the section and then give your thoughts. This may take the form of a prayer or an analysis of how this passage applies to you. Here's your time to really dig into the words, maybe pursuing some of the ideas or emotions they evoke. Reread the sentence, phrase, or word again if your thoughts wander. You may rely on the words as safe harbor markers. Consider the author's frame of mind and whether or not you can relate to the feelings or experiences described in the text. Consider whether you, too, may sense a bond with the divine, and give voice to your innermost thoughts.
Contemplatio. This is the point in the reading that you may relax and enjoy the passage. This is the time for inner silence, when you open yourself up to hearing a response from God. The moment the words stop being an obstacle, you are swept up in the moment once more. Feel the words, or the writer's, arms around you. Here is where we have the potential for brief periods of union with God. Resist the urge to label anything that comes to you. If, when in deep thought, you feel a sudden surge of unity and exclaim, "Ah!" The moment you say, "I've discovered it," you've left that place.
After you're finished, seal the practice with a gesture of gratitude. Because you've been sitting for a while, you might want to invite some small movements back into your body as you transition out of the prayer practice. If something confused you or needs more clarity, write it down in a journal, and return to that passage tomorrow or later that day.
Different Lectio Divina Techniques
Now that you’re familiar with the basics of Lectio Divina, let’s look at some different ways to practice this powerful prayer.
One great thing about Lectio Divina is that it has so many variations. For instance, you can use the traditional four steps or mix them up according to your needs or preferences. You can also try something called “Lectio Visiva”, which involves looking at a picture and listening for a word or phrase from God.
Another popular variation is “Lectio Interrupta”, where you read short passages of Scripture and pause in between to think about what you just read. This is a great way to quietly contemplate God’s Word.
Finally, there's “Lectio Creativa” where you apply creativity and imagination when reading Scripture, taking time to respond in writing, drawing or other art forms. There are many more variations of Lectio Divina so feel free to explore and find a format that works best for you.
Benefits of Practicing Lectio Divina
The benefits of getting into a practice of Lectio Divina are almost endless. It can help you build a deeper connection with the divine and create a more meaningful spiritual life. It can help you become more aware of God's presence in your life, as well as learn to identify and hear the voice of God in your daily life.
It might also be helpful to know that Lectio Divina is an excellent way to gain wisdom and clarity in difficult situations, as well as gain insight on what direction you should be taking. Additionally, it can help foster personal growth and bring about healing, both emotionally and spiritually.
But perhaps one of the most profound benefits of Lectio Divina is how it helps you form a closer relationship with God. This form of prayer encourages humility and reverence that allows us to become aware of how we are connected to something so much greater than ourselves – a truly powerful experience.
Tips for Making the Most Out of a Lectio Divina Practice
Lectio Divina is a powerful way to meditate on Scripture. However, it does take some discipline and practice. Here are a few tips to make the most out of your Lectio Divina practice:
Choose a manageable portion of Scripture that you could read several times. This could be a single verse or a short passage.
Make sure the translation you’re using reads smoothly. If your Bible translation isn’t clear, look for another translation that puts the text in modern language.
Write down any words or phrases that stand out to you, so you can delve into them more deeply during your practice.
Read slowly and try to pay attention to how each word makes you feel as you read it. Pay attention to any emotions and physical sensations that come up in response to what you’re reading and be sure not to ignore them.
Set aside 10–15 minutes for your practice, making sure it is uninterrupted; avoid distractions like TVs, phones, or other people nearby who may disturb your peace.
All in all, lectio divina is a powerful way to pray and grow closer to God through scripture contemplation. It's a simple yet profound practice that anyone can do, and it can deeply impact your relationship with the Lord.
If you're new to lectio divina, or even if you're a seasoned practitioner, it can be helpful to find a resource to guide you through the process. There are many great books and websites that offer lectio divina meditations, and it can be helpful to have someone else's insights to reflect on as you pray. You can also hear some of my recorded lectio divina meditations on my Insight Timer page. A popular one is about love from 1 Corinthians 13.
Don't be afraid to experiment with lectio divina, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in your prayer. It's a flexible practice, and there's no one right way to do it. Lectio divina can be a deeply enriching part of your spiritual life, so give it a try today!