Lecto Divina: Praying with the Bible
In Latin, one of many ancient languages spoken by the first disciples, Lectio Divina literally means "divine reading." It can also be translated as "holy reading" or "reading with God."
|Exercise The Bible will be one of your best resources for exploring your vocation. The Bible is full of stories about men and women who were called by God to ministries both simple and extraordinary. These stories can be explored through reading, study, and quiet meditation. The link to "Lectio Divina" will suggest some useful ways of prayerfully reading through scripture. The link to "Bible study" suggests some stories about vocation you may want to read.
What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is a traditional way of praying meditatively with the Bible so that the Word of God can reach our hearts and minds. It is a simple and natural way of meditation practiced by the early monastics—women and men who followed God's call to a radical vocation of silence, prayer and love. Other great faith traditions—including Islam, Judaism and Buddhism—independently developed similar methods for meditative reading of sacred texts.
This way of reading the Scriptures can help us let go of our own agendas when we read the Bible. Like other forms of meditation, Lectio Divina silences the noise of the world around us, leading us in stages to an inner silence where God is waiting for us. But Lectio Divina is not an escape from the world. Instead, God's Word helps us see both our lives and the world around us through God's eyes and to love what we see with the heart of God.
When we listen to God's Word in this way, meditation can be both a calming and a disturbing experience. Sometimes, God may want to quiet our fears and hold us gently. At other times, God may want to confront us with uncomfortable doubts or unanswered questions.
In the 12 century, a Carthusian monk named Guigo described four stages in the practice of Lectio Divina.
What are these stages?
The first stage is lectio (reading). We read the Word of God slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Any text from the Bible can be used for this purpose, but the text should not be too long. The Revised Common Lectionary is an appropriate source to help you identify texts for reading.
The second stage is meditatio (reflection). We think quietly about the text as we read it. Sometimes, a text can be read over several times to let the words sink into our minds and hearts.
The third stage is oratio (response). We leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God.
The final stage is contemplatio (rest). We let go not only of our own ideas and plans but even of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Obviously this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer. We must take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives.
Okay, but how does it actually work? What do I do?
There is no "right" or "wrong" way to read meditatively in this way. As you experiment, you may find yourself adapting this old tradition in ways that are useful to you. Here is one way:
First, establish a quiet space where you can read and pray. This could be a chair that is comfortable—but not so comfortable that you fall asleep! You want to be relaxed and attentive at the same time. You could sit on the floor with a cushion for support. You might want to set apart in your home a "holy place" that you use for daily prayer. A lighted candle, icon, cross or some other object can be used to center your attention.
Second, ask God to enter you through God's Word. Any "prayer of illumination," or your own spontaneous prayer, is suitable. Here is one example: "Prepare my heart, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in me any voice but your own, that, hearing, I may also obey your will, through Jesus Christ my Savior. Amen." (adapted from the Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church USA)
Third, use deep breathing to calm your body and mind. This is an old technique used for centuries in Christian and other faith traditions. Breathe slowly and deliberately in, then slowly out. Be conscious of your breathing: remember that all living things breathe and that "spirit" means "breath." Find a slow but natural and comfortable rhythm for your breathing. Continue until you feel relaxed and attentive.
Fourth, pick up the Bible and read through your chosen text. Read slowly and quietly. You can either read in silence or repeat the words out loud. Take your time. Read several times until one verse or a few words from a verse "speaks to you."
Fifth, repeat the words of the chosen verse or words. If it is helpful, divide the text into two parts: think the first part as you breathe in and the second part as you breathe out. Continue repeating the text until God moves you to silence.
Sixth, spend time in silence. Be aware that you are in God's holy presence. Continue looking at the object you have chosen as a focus of meditation: an icon, cross or lighted candle. Be open to whatever may happen to you: you may feel an emotion, or a sense of awareness, or simply a sense of God's presence.
Seventh, bring the time of meditation to a close. When you feel the time is right, reread the Bible text one more time. Then conclude with the Prayer of Our Savior (the Lord's Prayer), or any other prayer, or a personal prayer you feel moved to say to God.
Remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to pray! You may find these methods useful. Feel free to experiment and develop a style of your own. The important thing is to remember that the Bible is not only a text for study but also the first and best prayer book of the Jewish Temple and the Christian church. Use the Bible as your resource for prayer as you Ask the Question about God's call in your life.