Lectio Divina is a special kind of Scripture prayer. The term means a “holy reading” or “a prayerful reading” of Scripture. It is a process of praying with Scripture in a way that invites us to be more open to hear a personal and meaningful message from within the passage. This kind of prayer also leads us to a contemplative stance in our prayer with Scripture.
The Lectio Divina is an ancient method developed hundreds of years ago in monasteries and convents. In more recent times in the church, interest in the Scripture has been revived and its importance is strongly emphasized by the Vatican II document on Divine Revelation. Scripture’s place in the life of the Church, both in liturgical celebration and in our personal lives, is highlighted by this document.
Scripture, and reflection on it within the Mass, was seen as important enough to be called the Liturgy of the Word, along with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Much in this Vatican document also emphasizes the place of Scripture for our personal spiritual growth. Our personal response and use of Scripture for growth in our own spirituality, is at the center of this kind of prayer. The use of Lectio Divina as we pray the Scripture is a very effective means of strengthening our prayer, both by listening and responding more deeply to Word of God.
As we consider this kind of prayer, it is important to know what the Lectio Divina method is NOT. It is not a Scripture study or an analysis. The purpose of this process is to present the Scripture to us in a fresh way, in a way that lead us to a prayer. This prayer is one of letting God’s word in the Scriptures touch us more deeply. Its goal is to help us grow in our relationship with God and to allow God’s word to take deeper root in our lives. It is a kind of contemplative prayer.
In this article you will find the four basic steps of Lectio Divina: READ, MEDITATE, PRAY, CONTEMPLATE. I will attempt to explain these steps in a practical way. My hope is that this process will help us to pray with the Scriptures in a richer way. This reflection is meant to aid us in understanding and following the spirit of each step and also to help us to become more open to God’s word within the Scripture passage you select.
THE PROCESS OF LECTIO DIVINA:
The outline of this process of prayer can be used with a selected Scripture passage for either private prayer or for prayer with a group.
For the private process: All that will be needed is the Scripture passage and an outline of the process to serve as a guide. The Gospel for the upcoming Sunday or of a special feast is sometimes used.
For a group process: All the group members will need a copy of the Scripture passage. The group will probably need a facilitator/leader to help the process flow. The facilitator will have several tasks:
1. To choose a mantra or song for the beginning or end of the gathering (optional)
2. To help form the groups of 2 or 3 for sharing at the proper time
3. To be a time keeper for the different steps
THE STEPS IN THE PROCESS:
1. PRAYER FOR READINESS
As an individual we prepare ourselves by quieting our hearts and by prayerfully placing the Scripture in special place near us. The purpose of this activity is to PAUSE, WAIT, to focus, and to quiet ourselves by honoring the Sacred Scripture in our midst. By this activity we create an atmosphere of prayer and deeper receptivity within ourselves. We OPEN OUR HEARTS MORE DEEPLY TO RECEIVE WORD. This pause is very important to prepare us for reading and praying the Scripture.
With a group we begin by the ENTHRONEMENT of the Scripture. Our readiness for God’s word is created by someone who will slowly walk into the room with the Scripture solemnly lifted up. The Scripture will be ENTHRONED in a special place and the group can be invited to sing an appropriate mantra or song. As we sing we are inviting God to come and open our hearts and speak to us now, here in this place.
2. READ THE SCRIPTURE
For an individual let us READ the Scripture passage slowly and prayerfully. We will listen with an eagerness to hear a fresh word for us and our prayer. This passage is the center of our prayer.
With a group, a good reader will proclaim the Scripture strongly and clearly.
This step is the same for individual and for the groups.
After the reading of the Scripture, take a quiet moment to think of a word, phrase, or concept
that touches you or one that has significance for you in your life right now. Take about three
(3) to five (5) minutes to choose a word of phrase from this Scripture.
4. READ THE SCRIPTURE AGAIN
For an individual READ the Scripture passage again, slowly and prayerfully. Notice your word or phrase as it is read. Listen with an eagerness for the word you have chosen.
With a group, a reader will again proclaim the Scripture strongly and clearly. Notice your word or phrase as it is read. Listen with an eagerness for the word or phrase we have chosen.
This step is the same for individuals and for the individuals in the groups. Now PRAY about the word or phrase you chose.
Ask yourself, why did I choose that word? How is God speaking to me through the word or phrase I chose? Is God encouraging, giving me a fresh understanding or calling me in some way?
Bring this call before God. Let God speak. Reverence the message you may be receiving in your prayer. (Allow yourself 3 to 5 minutes for prayer with the message that seems to be coming to your heart.)
6. GROUP SHARING
This step is for groups only.
Form groups of 2 or 3 persons. In your small group, let each person take a turn to share his or her very special word or phrase and why that word or phrase spoke to her/him. Share to the extent that you are comfortable. In sharing, contemplative listening is very important. This process calls us to listen with deep reverence and to let each person share with no interruption or comment. (Allow enough time for each person.)
This step is for all individuals (within a group or alone)
This is a time of prayer or contemplation. Let us put our word or phrase before God and ask for guidance. Welcome God’s presence and sit in silence. Let go and let God speak or work in us. We open our hearts in receptivity. In gratitude, we still our hearts and come before God in inner silence and to let God speak or just to be in God’s presence.
8. FINAL PRAYER:
For individuals: Take time for a simple prayer of thanksgiving.
For groups: Bring the time of prayer to a close by using a simple mantra or appropriate song. This song will serve as thanksgiving prayer for our graced time. It will also express the joy of hearing God’s fresh word.
Helpful hint for preparation:
Choice of Scripture to use: One good choice for Lectio Divina prayer is the gospel of the upcoming Sunday for a special feast.
Choice of a song or a mantra: You can find good mantras or a wide variety of songs on YouTube. You may find appropriate songs in your missalette. Short songs are usually best for this type of prayer. For this reason, mantras (short repetitive musical phrases) are great.
For me personally, using the Lectio Divina method opens me to a powerful and personal encounter with the God of Scripture.
For me as a facilitator, leading the Lectio Divina process with a group is a great privilege and brings me deep joy to hear how the God of Scripture is alive and active in each of our lives.
What is your present experience of praying with the Scripture?
How has your experience with Scripture, whether alone or with others, led to your personal spiritual growth in prayer?
Recently there is much more emphasis on contemplative prayer, what part does this kind of prayer play in your present prayer life?
Maggie Cooper, SCN is currently in retirement at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth at Nazareth, Kentucky. She has served as an elementary teacher, religious education consultant and a college theology and ministry professor. She has also served as a coordinator and trainer of ministers for the parishes and for religion teachers within the Catholic schools. While at Nazareth she has had a very meaningful experience of leading the Lectio Divina process with the Sisters who live there. One big joy Sr. Maggie has had is working with people of different cultures while in ministry with the people of southern Texas and in the country of Belize in Central America.