What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina, Latin for “spiritual reading”, was first expressed in the year 220 AD. It was found that to read the Bible profitably it is necessary to do so with attention, consistency and prayer. The systematization of “spiritual reading” into four steps dates back to the 12th century. Around 1150, a Carthusian monk, wrote a book entitled “The Monk’s Ladder,” where he set out the theory of the four rungs: reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. Pope Benedict XVI stated, “This is the ladder by which the monks ascend from earth to heaven.”

Lectio divina is a way of allowing the Scriptures to become again what God intended that they should be – a means of uniting us to Himself. Lectio divina teaches us about the God who truly loves us. In lectio divina we dare to believe that our loving Father continues to extend His embrace to us today. And His embrace is real. In His word we experience ourselves as personally loved by God; as the recipients of a word that He gives uniquely to each of us whenever we turn to Him in the Scriptures.

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The follow is an article was written in 2009 by the Rev. David L. Toups, STD, Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Lectio Divina
Listening to God in the Prayerful Reading of the Sacred Scriptures

Pope Benedict XVI regularly mentions the practice of Lectio Divina in his catechesis as one of the sources for the renewal of Christianity in the world today. During the Pauline Year, there was a gathering of Bishops in Rome for a special Synod on the Word. The word Lectio Divina was mentioned 28 times in the Instrumentum Laboris (the preparatory document) of the Synod and was brought up regularly in the interventions of the synodal participants. The Instrumentum Laboris states: “An authentic spirituality of the Word demands that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine sayings” (n. 41).

Listening to God in the prayerful reading of the Sacred Scriptures occurs in two basic forms: Lectio Divina and Ignatian Contemplation (according to the Spiritual
Exercises
of St. Ignatius of Loyola). Lectio is the practice of pondering a line from a particular scriptural passage and “chewing on it,” while the Ignatian method invites one to enter personally into a biblical scene through the gift of the intellect and imagination. Both of these forms of scriptural prayer are interrelated and are very effective in connecting with Jesus in a personal way through listening to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. All prayer is a gift and is thus the result of grace – when something profound comes to us in prayer, we accept it as a gift, and when nothing happens we are still with the Lord Jesus in a prayerful posture and we again receive the simplicity of the prayer as a gift. There are a few things we can do to more properly dispose ourselves to the Word:

  • Choose the  Scripture over which you are about to pray ahead of time.
  • Decide how  much time you are able to spend with this particular scripture (20-30 minutes), and don’t quit early once you have decided upon a time –  leave room for God to work right up to the last minute. It is a genuine temptation to leave early.
  • Find a comfortable chair and posture. It is always a blessing to be able to pray  in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Access to a chapel would be optimal, but if that is not possible, set aside a prayer corner with an icon or a crucifix to keep you from distraction.
  • Begin the time  of prayer with a simple dialogue with each of the Three Persons of the  Blessed Trinity, thus acknowledging with Whom you are engaging in prayer.  Invite Mary and your patron saint also to journey with you and intercede for you to grow closer to Christ. This is what St. Ignatius calls the colloquy.
  • Read over the scripture that you have chosen a few times and then simply sit with the Word.
  • Relax and  breathe – getting uptight can be a major obstacle. Again, prayer is a gift, allow yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit; it is not you “doing  it” but God allowing it to unfold within you. Allow the Scripture to manifest itself; you do not have to try too hard or contrive anything.
  • As you entered into the reflection of the scriptural passage “Did it seem as if the Holy Spirit was giving you an insight, or giving you consolation or encouragement? Did a new awareness of the meaning of the gospel teaching dawn on you? Was the time just quiet or was it stormy? […] Because the goal of [each time of prayer] is a stronger personal relationship with God, a two-way communication is implied. Be open to receiving insight and guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.”[1]
  • Be  surprised by the Lord, it is He Who is the author of the intellect and imagination, allow Him to use yours. Do not be afraid of this type of prayer, you will be amazed at what God will reveal to you. Make a conscious move to operate out of the heart and not the head. This does not mean that you are suspending reason; you are simply getting out of the way to allow the Holy Spirit to be the driver and not yourself. You may want to pray the prayer of St. Ignatius below to help you allow God to be in control.
  • ARRR: Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, and Respond. Acknowledge what stirs in your heart as you read the Scripture and relate/talk to Christ about it. Once you have shared with the Lord, receive what He wants to give you – receive a word, phrase, image, feeling of comfort or peace, etc. Finally respond to what is happening within you: more conversation with God, a resolution, the strength to move forward, etc. [2]
  • “As we prayerfully and submissively bring ourselves into the Lord’s presence through a Scripture passage, the Spirit will bring thoughts, ideas, images, symbols, insights and impressions to our mind which will convey the application of God’s Word in Scripture to our own personal reality. We learn to recognize this form of communication by practice and experience with prayer.” [3]
  • Close with a similar colloquy as at the beginning of prayer and ask: “Lord Jesus, what is the word that you want to give me?” Listen quietly as you close your prayer and an echo of the scripture you just prayed over may come to you, or another word of peace and comfort.
  • Write down the words you feel the Lord has given you in prayer, as well as the thoughts, feelings, and desires you may be experiencing. What is Jesus trying to say to you today with the reflection that you just had?
  • It is beneficial to share your prayer experiences with someone well versed in the spiritual life. This may be done in a small group setting or with a spiritual director.
  • Scriptural prayer is very enriching and allows the Word of God to become ever more something that vivifies your life. The time and effort that you put into spiritual exercise will result in a deeper, more intimate union with the Savior of the world. God’s gift of prayer is exponentially more rewarding than anything we put into it.

Take, O Lord, and receive
my entire liberty, my memory,
my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me:
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more. Amen


[1] Carol Marquardt, Foundations of Personal Prayer: Listening and Loving in God’s Embrace (Mantle Publishing: Clearwater, Florida, 2008), 11 (www.ourfiat.com).

[2] As articulated by the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University (http://www2.creighton.edu/ipf/).

[3] Marquardt, 14.

CONTINUE

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