A wonderful way of listening to the Lord—and perhaps one of the first that we should practice—is praying with the Bible. For the past fifty years, the Church has encouraged all Catholics to re-discover lectio divina, a particular way of praying with the Bible that has its roots in the third century (with Origen specifically encouraging it as the way to read Scripture), and then later in the early monastic communities (especially the Benedictines). Lectio divina continued to be practiced through the ages by monastic communities, but in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI highly encourages all of us to do lectio divina. Why? Because lectio divina is “capable of opening up to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God.” (Scroll down to #87 for Pope Benedict’s description of how to do lectio.)
Traditionally, lectio divina has four steps, but Pope Benedict recommended adding a fifth without which lectio divina wouldn’t be complete. (There are other methods of lectio divina that have developed over time, too, but here we’ll stay with the traditional structure.) The five-step structure isn’t meant to be rigidly followed; rather, it’s meant to help us to engage with the Word of God with our whole being. It’s important when praying to follow where the Holy Spirit leads us; if we are drawn to stay or “rest” on one step during our prayer, that’s what we should do!
Here is a very short guide to making lectio divina, inspired by Pope Benedict’s short description in Verbum Domini and my own experience of prayer.
*To prepare, set aside some quiet time for prayer, and choose a Scripture passage. If you are new to lectio divina, a passage from the Gospels is a good place to start. The Gospel reading from Sunday or daily Mass can often be a helpful and easy way to choose.
Step 1. Lectio (Reading). Read the passage slowly and reflectively, listening attentively. What is the biblical text saying?
Step 2. Meditatio (Meditation). Re-read the passage a second time, asking the question, What does the biblical text say to me in my circumstances? Listen especially for a particular word or phrase that strikes you more than the others—perhaps it resonates with you; perhaps it raises a question or even some disquiet. Let that word or phrase enter deep into your awareness and then reflect on it: why does this word appeal to me or disturb me? How is the Lord speaking to me?
Step 3. Oratio (Prayer). Speak to God about what is happening inside of you as you spend time with his Word. Prayer is a dialogue with God, and this is where you can respond to God’s Word. Perhaps the Word of God is comforting you—thank God for his comfort and strength. If the Word is challenging you or raising questions in you, ask God for the grace to understand and live his Word.
Step 4. Contemplatio (Contemplation). Contemplation is a time to take on God’s way of seeing. As you rest under God’s loving gaze, ask the Lord how he is inviting you to convert. What needs to change in your mind, will, life?
Step 5. Actio (Action) Take the Word of God with you back into your daily life. You can live the Word of God in your day by choosing to take on an attitude or particular action in the spirit of the invitation God extended to you as you prayed with the Scripture passage.
The guided lectios linked to below are provided to help those who are just beginning with lectio divina. If you choose to pray with them, I encourage you to go back later and pray with the Scripture passages on your own, using the above simple guide.