Douglas Gregg, Christian Formation and Direction Ministries, 1/2017

Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)

It is the Benedictine (monastic) insight that reading, if it is to be authentic and nourishing, cannot be undertaken simply with the eyes and the mind. Rather, it must involve the whole person: mind, heart, body, and spirit. It is reading for formation, not information—for encounter with the living God in this moment in such a way that one’s heart catches fire and one’s life is transformed. Traditionally, lectio divina is understood to contain four basic steps or elements:

  1. Lectio (reading): take a passage of scripture or other devotional/theological work and read aloud a few verses, seeking to hear “with the ears of our hearts,” (as Benedict encourages). The reading aloud engages the body in the reading and already begins to draw one more deeply into the text.
  2. Meditatio (meditation): allow yourself to be drawn by a particular word or phrase, pondering in your mind what it means, what was its intent. Take time to ask questions of the text and mull it over.
  3. Oratio (prayer): apply the meaning to the present situation in your own life, allowing the word to penetrate your heart, evoking prayerful response and conversation with God.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplation): turn the whole process back over to God, quietly allowing yourself to be deepened, guided and transformed by the Spirit.

In the tradition, lectio moved one naturally toward contemplation as the culmination of the encounter with God through Scripture—as rest (without any effort or focus) in the Presence of God, as union with God (see the mystics). This has been lost in Scripture study in the last 500 years (post-Reformation—see Thomas Keating’s writings, Contemplative Outreach, etc.). Thus we have a renewed emphasis on contemplative prayer, but it is a mistake to divorce this from lectio.

As Christians committed to Scripture, we need to recover the full traditional impact of lectio in all its dimensions, and begin reading Scripture for formation and not just for information. 

Lisa Myers suggests a more contemporary Protestant understanding and recovery—the six P’s: 

  1. Preparation: silence and perhaps opening prayer of preparation
  2. Perception: reading, lectio—listening to Scripture, Ignatian prayer of consideration
  3. Pondering: meditation, meditatio, ruminating, mulling over—using all your faculties—including what Ignatius called fantasy or imaginative contemplation
  4. Prayer: prayer, oratio—conversation, our response or answering word to God’s address to us, communication
  5. Presence: contemplation, contemplatio, Prayer of Restour pause to rest and receive; there is nothing more we can or should do—open alertness? A line between active and infused contemplation?
  6. Praxis: incarnation—you become the word spoken by God to others, the fruit of the transformation taking place in lectio (Mary as model)

My favorite—from a contemporary rural pastor:I reads myself full;
I thinks myself clear;
I prays myself hot;
I lets myself cool.