04.04.22 | by Mtr. Catherine Thompson
Scripture reading can nourish the spiritual life and become a devotional practice. Lectio Divina helps move the reading of scripture from an intellectual activity to an act of prayer. It involves a slow, repetitive reading of a Bible passage that allows you to move with each reading into a deeper encounter with God. This form of prayer goes back to the fifth century and Saint Benedict, who developed the practice for the benefit of his monks. Later, Guigo II, a Carthusian monk in the twelfth century, formalized the structure into what we use today.
The Lectio Divina practice has four parts: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. In other words, the four parts are: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. This practice involves the reading of the scripture passage four times.
READ (lectio): Read slowly and deliberately, listening to the words of the text, and noting if a word or phrase pops off the page or stands out for you.
MEDITATE (meditatio): Mentally chew over the text by purposefully savoring, analyzing, and pondering the meaning of the words of the text.
PRAY (oratio): Pray and communicate with God for insight and clarity for how the text relates to you.
CONTEMPLATE (contemplatio): Be still and let all thoughts and feelings fade away and rest in the presence of God.
- Select a passage of scripture. You might want to use a daily lectionary, the Daily Office, or a daily reading Bible. Shorter passages work best.
- Be fully present. Establish a comfortable position for prayer, relax your body, and take three deep breaths.
- First Scripture Reading: Lectio
- Read the scripture passage while listening for a word or phrase that stands out. Be silent for a few moments. If you keep one, write that word or phrase in your journal.
- Second Scripture Reading: Meditatio
- Read the scripture passage again and reflect on the content. Analyze the structure of the text and the historical and literary context of the passage. You might find it’s useful to augment the reading with a devotional reflection resource like Forward Movement’s Forward Day by Day or a commentary. Take a few minutes for silent reflection. Now record your thoughts, impressions, and insights.
- Third Scripture Reading: Oratio
- Read the scripture passage again, and this time speak and pray directly to God, asking for insight from the text. Be silent. Write a prayer to God that has been forming in your heart in response to this text.
- Fourth Scripture Reading: Contemplatio
- Read the scripture passage a final time. This time, abandon speech and reflection and instead rest in the silent presence of God for somewhere between two and twenty minutes. If you start to get distracted, simply return to your breathing or the word or phrase from the first reading. After the silent period, record your reflections.
How do you imagine God? When you pray, how do you describe the God you encounter? The scriptures give us a variety of images of God that have served the faithful over the ages. God as father, mother, judge, comforter, shepherd, fire, woman who has lost a coin, father who has lost a son. These images are beautiful and rich. But the challenge with images of God is that they both reveal and limit at the same time. Images deepen our understanding of God, but God is so much bigger than the image. Images, no matter how beautiful, eventually fall short. No image can give the full picture of the vastness of Almighty God, the same God who also knows the number of hairs on our head.
Most of the images we use fall into two broad categories: transcendent and immanent. Almighty God and King are transcendent images as they reveal God as powerful, worthy of respect, and distant. The shepherd and mother hen images are immanent; they convey a comforting, close relationship. Which image of God do you best relate to: a transcendent, awe-inspiring, respectful, set-apart image? Or is it a close, intimate, relational image? Or is it a bit of both?
Another problem with our images is that they are influenced by our experience. A very familiar image of God is father. This was a favorite of Jesus; he referred to God as Abba or Father. But if you have not had a healthy experience of fatherhood, then this may be a painful image for you and distort your understanding of God. We may gravitate to more authoritarian images of God as judge or warrior because of our family experiences. An important question to consider is: “How are my go-to images of God helping my relationship with the Divine and how are they impeding my ability to spiritually grow?”
Our images of God can be very personal, and so you may find that you have strong feelings about a particular image. I encourage you to reflect on these feelings. This emotional reaction may, in fact, be a holy nudging that is inviting you to a deeper reflection and awareness. Ask God to help guide you through this place of growth. Sometimes we choose the image most like ourselves, but when we encounter God, we get the image we most need.
The next form of prayer we are going to experience is called the Visio Divina. Like Lectio Divina, it involves repeating an action to evoke gradual deepening of our relationship with God. But instead of using scripture, this practice uses the visual arts such as an object from nature, a piece of art, an icon, or a sculpture, among others.
First, choose an object or image. You might want to use an icon, a picture from a book, or an object from nature. Hold the object or place it before you. Second, establish a comfortable position for prayer, relax your body, and take three deep breaths. In between each viewing, close your eyes and be silent as you consider your response.
GAZE (visio): View slowly and deliberately, look for anything that stands out or attracts your attention. Stay with that one thing and focus on it. Close your eyes and consider your feelings. What does the Holy Spirit want you to notice?
MEDITATE (meditatio): View the image and reflect on it deeply. Mentally chew over what you are seeing by purposefully savoring, analyzing, and pondering the image. Analyze the color, the structure, the texture, its composition, and its beauty. Note your feelings and reflect on how the image makes you feel. What desires and meaning are being conveyed from the image? What does Jesus want you to understand?
PRAY (oratio): View the image again and this time speak and pray directly to God, asking for insight and clarity for how the object relates to you. Listen for God’s word to you. What does God want you to do?
CONTEMPLATE (contemplatio): View the image and this time, abandon speech, thought and feeling. Instead, rest in the silent presence of God. Be still. Surrender and let all thoughts and feelings fade away. Spend somewhere between two and twenty minutes. Don’t worry about distractions.
After your period of contemplation, you may want to record your thoughts and feelings in a journal. It can be helpful as you process your time of prayer, and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit within it.