If you’re anything like me, you may be surprised to hear about the practice of Lectio Divina. Even having grown up in the Catholic Church, I had never heard of Lectio Divina, nor had I experienced this sacred practice.
So I was overjoyed when I read the message Pope Benedict shared about Lectio Divina:
I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.
As a strong point of biblical ministry, Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times. It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (cf. Ps 119: 105).
Whether you are Catholic or not, I feel this statement demonstrates the importance of the Lectio Divina practice for every Christian.
So let’s explore it’s history, steps, and how to do it.
What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is the spiritual practice of reading the scriptures with mindfulness and devotion. It is not focused on the mental or logical interpretation of scripture, but of the heart’s ability to open itself to a more personal experience of God through the Word.
Pronunciation and Meaning
Lectio Divina is pronounced (lex-ee-oh div-ee-nah). If you’d like to hear how it’s pronounced, listen to this video.
The word Lectio means reading and the word divina means divine. So Lectio Divina can be translated to mean ‘divine reading,’ although sometimes it is also translated as ‘spiritual reading.’
During the third century, Origen introduced the practice of Lectio Divina. According to the History of Information, “Origen was the first Christian biblical scholar, and the first Christian scholar to undertake the study of Hebrew.”
Origen shared, “when you devote yourself to the divine reading, uprightly and with a faith fixed firmly on God seek the meaning of the divine words which is hidden from most people.”
From the works of Origen, the indisputable master of the “Alexandrian School”, [St. Ambrose] learned to know and to comment on the Bible. Thus, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the meditation on the Scriptures which Origen had begun, introducing in the West the practice of lectio divina. The method of lectio served to guide all of Ambrose’s preaching and writings, which stemmed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God.
Sometime between 590 and 640 A.D., St. Gregory the Great wrote to Theodorus, Physician to the Emperor, “Meditate daily on the words of your Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God,” (Book IV, Letter 31).
In the 6th-12th Century, Pope Benedict established specific times and rules for the practice of Lectio divina in The Rule of St. Benedict, where he shares that we must, “incline the ear of your heart.”
Some people disagree as to whether there are 3 steps, 4 steps, or maybe even 5 steps to Lectio Divina. The most commonly used is the four-stage process taught by John of the Cross.
The 4 Steps of Lectio Divina from John of the Cross.
In the Collected Works of John of the Cross, John of the Cross shares, “Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation.” From this, the four steps of Lectio Divina have been most commonly shared to be:
- Reading (lectio)
- Meditation (meditatio)
- Prayer (oratio)
- Contemplation (contemplatio)
Clare of Assisi’s 4-step Process for Lectio Divina
Clare of Assisi also laid out a 4-step process to Lectio Divina, which is not as commonly used.
- Gaze on the Cross (intueri)
- Consider (considerare)
- Contemplate (contemplari)
- Imitate (imitare)
The Five Steps of Lectio Divina
Stephen J. Binz outlines the five steps of Lectio Divina as follows:
- Listening (lectio)
- Reflection (meditatio)
- Prayer (oratio)
- contemplation (contemplatio)
- Action (operatio).
How to do Lectio Divina
You may be wondering how to do Lectio Divina. While most instructions for Lectio Divina are similar, there are many methods which may be helpful in participating in the practice. Here are some instructions that may help.
- Prepare. In order to prepare yourself, sit quietly in silence and through prayer, set the intention for your practice of Lectio Divina.
- Opening Prayer. Speak out loud or silently a pray to being your practice of Lectio Divina.
- Read (lectio). In the practice of Lectio Divina, you will read or listen to a passage from the bible. This will be done three times, preferably using three different translations.
- Pray (oratio). Just as you began your practice of Lectio Divina with a prayer, you will continue to utilize prayer throughout the practice.
- Meditate (meditatio). Holding the Bible verse in your heart, you will ‘listen with the ear of your hear,’ in order to hear what God has to share with you about the verse.
- Contemplate (contemplatio). By resting in God’s presence, we become open to hearing God’s voice.
- Take Action. Carry the practice of Lectio Divina into your day, and allow it to be a center point for all you do.
4 Questions to Ask
Fr. Jim Martin, author of My Life with the Saints, shares that God is present in the Word, and proposes 4 questions to ask yourself during the practice of Lectio Divina.
- What does the text say?
- What does the text say to me?
- What do I want to say to God about the text?
- What difference will this text make in my life and what action will I take?
In his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola shares “For what fills and satisfies the soul consists, not in knowing much, but in our understanding the realities profoundly and in savoring them interiorly.”
Utilizing this Ignatian method of Lectio Divina, you may read the scripture and find yourself drawn to one word or phrase. Contemplating it’s meaning for your life, you may then rest your attention on that phrase and savor it. Allow it penetrate your heart.