When I first arrived at the seminary, my spiritual director told me he wanted me to do something called Lectio Divina everyday. “OK,” I said. “What's Lectio Divina?”
He explained… Lectio Divina is Latin for “sacred reading” and it's a method of prayer with Sacred Scripture. It was begun by Benedictine monks centuries ago. The monks would spend hours in prayer with the bible. However, books like the bible were extremely expensive. So, in order to pray with the Scriptures effectively, they would meditate on a very brief passage of Scripture, then pass the Bible on to the next monk, while they continued to meditate on what they had just read.
Most of the time when we pray, we tend to just start telling God what we want, what we need, what we’re suffering or what we’re thankful for. Most of the time, we do most, if not all, of the talking and wait for God to respond. And those are all perfectly legitimate ways of praying.
But, Lectio Divina, is prayer where God starts the conversation and we listen; then, we respond to what God is asking of us. How does God speak to us? Through Sacred Scripture, the Bible. So in Lectio Divina, we listen to the Word of God very slowly and deliberately; and then we respond.
The Benedictine monks said there are basically four stages of Lectio Divina: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio; Latin for reading, meditation, praying and contemplating. Or as the Catholic Youth Prayer Book calls them: The Four R’s of Lectio Divina: reading, reflecting, responding and remaining.
The First Stage: Reading
First you choose a short passage of scripture and read it very slowly. You listen carefully to every word. There are no wasted words in Scripture. So you read the passage very carefully, listening for a word or a phrase that you may want to pray about. You may want to slowly read the passage 2, or 3, or 4 times until that word or phrase jumps out at you.
The Second Stage: Reflecting
You read the passage again, slowly. And now that you have that word or phrase in mind, you “ruminate” on it. There are animals classified as “ruminate” animals. These are animals like cows that chew on a cud. They chew and chew and chew. That’s what you’re doing; you’re chewing on the Word of God, considering what God is saying to you.
The Third Stage: Responding
You read the passage again, slowly. And now, after you’ve spent time listening to the Word of God and chewing on it, you respond back to God. You pray to God in such a way that you say, “OK God, I’ve heard you say this to me” or “ I’ve heard you ask this of me, here’s how I’m going to respond.”
The Fourth Stage: Remaining
You read the passage again, slowly. And now, after you’ve had this conversation with God in which He has spoken to you through His Word and you have responded, you remain there with him in silence. At this stage, you don’t even really say anything to God. You just enjoy sitting silently in his presence. This is, for many people, the hardest stage to get through, because we’re so uncomfortable in silence. But think about it: when you’ve had a good, deep, meaningful conversation with someone, you really shouldn’t just immediately hang up the phone or run out of the room as soon as the last sentence is uttered. You remain there with the person. In Lectio, you remain there with your Father.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of Lectio Divina, where Fr. Andrew shares about the Thanksgiving Feast that is praying with Scripture, and gives some great tips and tools for getting started!