Lectio divina, Latin for “sacred reading” or “divine reading,” is a spiritual practice that promotes and facilitates communion with God. Its inception lies in the earliest days of Christianity, particularly in the teachings of the desert fathers and mothers and in the Benedictine tradition. The essential description of lectio divina was written much later by a Carthusian prior named Guigo II in the 12th century: “One day when I was busy working with my hands I began to think about our spiritual work, and all at once four stages in spiritual exercise came into my mind: reading, meditating, prayer and contemplation.”
“Reading,” wrote Guigo II, “is the careful study of the Scriptures, concentrating all one’s powers on it.” Reading a biblical text is where we start with lectio divina. It is an intentional and attentive reading. We cannot read the Bible during lectio divina in the same manner with which we might skim through the sports section of a newspaper or an article on the internet. We should take our time and pay attention to words or phrases that speak to our hearts and minds.
Read the following passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippians:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Reading leads to meditating or reflecting upon the passage. Guigo II wrote: “Meditation is the busy application of the mind to seek with the help of one’s own reason for knowledge of inner truth.” During this second stage of lectio divina we think about the passage and what it means to our spiritual journey. We think about words or phrases that catch our attention and meditate on them. We should allow the Holy Spirit to speak through the words of the Bible.
Meditation and reflection lead to prayer. After reading the above passage from Philippians, we may pray to be more like Jesus; we may offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Christ’s saving work on the cross. Our reading turns into a conversation. We speak, God listens; God speaks, we listen.
After prayer comes contemplation. It is not, however, contemplation as in thinking. In the Christian tradition and practice of lectio divina, contemplation is becoming still in the presence of God. “Contemplation,” wrote Guigo II, “is when the mind is in some sort lifted up to God and held above itself, so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.” We have had our knowledge of God increased, as well as having our connection with God enticed into a deeper relationship.
Lectio divina is not solely for monks or Christians of the past. The practice can benefit the spiritual journey of all of us; personally and corporately. Lectio divina is a wonderful way to engage our Bibles and commune with our Triune God.