Lectio Divina: Praying the Scriptures – Part 1

Lectio Divina: Praying the Scriptures – Part 1

Lectio divina is a form of prayer that has a long history in the Church, and is especially associated with the monastic and religious life. It is a way of prayerful reading, where our hearts and minds are open to God. The main text for lectio divina is the Bible.

So why should we read the Bible?

We believe that the Bible is much more than a book of nice stories. We believe that the Bible contains religious truths, truths about God. So these are not just stories, but a very important way in which God speaks to us. It is the word of God. But the word of God is not just some text on a page. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

What the passage is saying is that the word of God has the power to change us and speaks to us now, here, today.

Reading the Bible is an important part of our growth in the Christian life. Reading it in a prayerful way will change us. But if we want this to happen, we must learn some particular skills, ways of reading and listening. We need to be able to listen for the still, small voice of God. Through gentle listening we become aware of the presence of God in the Scriptures.

How do we do lectio divina?

Traditionally, lectio divina was seen simply as a very slow, deliberate reading of the Bible so that the words could be learned off by heart. The idea was that if a monk knew texts of the Scripture off by heart, he could take these words with him in his mind and heart wherever he went. Particular passages would also come into his mind in particular situations, and so the words would be his constant companion. Thus the words were an important part of the monk’s relationship with God.

These days, people tend to think of 4 stages of lectio divina:

Lectio: We read the text. But not as we would read a newspaper or normal book. We read slowly.

Meditiatio: When we are reading a passage, slowly and attentively, we may find a part that is particularly attractive, some words or a word that grabs us. We should stop and think about it for while. We can repeat it a few times in our mind for a few minutes.

Oratio: This is when we speak to God, responding to that part of the passage that has attracted us. In other words, we make our own response to God’s invitation.

Contemplatio: I think the best way of describing this is that we just remain quiet and still for a few moments after having spoken to God in prayer.

Some thoughts:
1) Remember that prayer is God’s gift. We cannot just use methods and think that God will do things for us. God works in our lives through his grace. We are not in control. Lectio divina is simply a way for helping us be attentive, and to create space and time in which God can speak to us through the Bible. Sometimes lectio divina may make us ‘feel’ good, but more often we won’t notice any difference. Prayer is not just about feeling good, but about allowing God to transform us, and helping us to love him and others. God works on us in ways that we cannot know.

2) Always start by making the sign of the cross, then say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help you, and end with a prayer of thanksgiving.

In our second post, we will have a look at some of the resources available to help us with lectio divina. Some passages will also be provided as examples.

Robert Gay OP

Fr Robert Gay is Prior of the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, and he is also a lector in moral theology at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.