“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the monks should have specified periods of manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.” - Rule of Benedict, Chapter 48
Lectio Divina is a Latin term meaning ‘holy reading.’ The main source of reading material is Holy Scripture. This type of prayer was so important for St. Benedict that he prescribed 2 – 3 hours of lectio divina, daily, for his monks.
It is a form of listening prayer that allows us to hear the Word of God speaking to us personally and pointedly in the words of the sacred Scriptures. Lectio Divina isn’t just limited to the head, the eyes and the mind. It is meant to be a prayer of the whole person, body, mind, heart and spirit. Unlike reading for information, lectio is reading for transformation. It is meant to slow us down and center us so that we might catch our breath from the breath of God.
HOW DO YOU DO LECTIO?
In the 12th century a Carthusian monk named Guigo, wrote about lectio divina as a ladder that was grounded in earthly experience and reached up to the heavenly realms. In his writing Guigo envisioned the ladder having four rungs comparable to the four elements of lectio divina. These rungs are lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.
Lectio is to read in a sacred manner. You will want to read the passage slowly 2 or 3 times (at least!). You are invited to bite into the Word, to take only bite size pieces. Pay attention to a word or phrase that may have struck you. You may want to memorize those particular words through repetition.
Meditatio is thinking about the passage, seeking understanding and insight. You ask yourself, "What is God saying to me here?" You may choose to use active imagining – picturing yourself as a character in the scene - allowing you to get inside the text and to help the text sink into your mind and heart. You can also use study aids, such as commentaries, to help understand the author’s intent.
Oratio is talking to God about what the word is saying. It is responding to the Word in your own words. Here you may argue, complain, praise, thank, repent, bargain, and surrender.
Contemplatio is the prayer of silence, when the words, and perhaps the feelings, have run out. There is only the experience of Presence. This is the prayer where God does the work to make the Word take root in you, that your lives may bear fruit. Let your word or phrase become a mantra to tether your heart to God.
Lectio Divina is all about deepening our relationship with God. Committing time each day to listen to God’s Word will bear much fruit in our lives.
For futher reading:
Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey, O.C.S.O. Liguori/Triumph, MO, 1996
Too Deep for Words by Thelma Hall, R.C. Paulist Press, 1988