The Practice of Lectio Divina

How to Practice Lectio Divina

David Mullens

Blogger at Fuzzing Thinking
David is a communicator, teacher, leader, manager, facilitator, administrator, strategist, coach, and follower of Jesus. He shares the love of Jesus through sermons, newsletters, websites, studies, and retreats. He is a spiritual director, a listening ear, and a prayerful presence. David, always a learner and curious, currently pastors a church in Bloomington, Indiana.

David has a bachelor’s degree in computer technology, a master’s of divinity, and a doctorate in spiritual formation. He has been certified as a spiritual director and has recently finished ICF credited coach training.

You can connect with him at Fuzzy Thinking.

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God speaks. For over a millennium,  Christians have practiced an ancient discipline called Lectio Divina, a practice which recognizes, and draws attention to the belief that God uses Scripture to speak into our lives. Through reading, prayer, meditation, and contemplation, Scripture becomes a vehicle for God to guide us.

Latin has traditionally been used to name the four movements of Lectio Divina: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio.While the practice has been adapted over the years, the focus of slow reading, prayer, reflection, and contemplation continues to be followed in the hope of creating space where God speaks.

The nature of Lectio Divina causes us to read slowly, opening ourselves up to God. By slowing down our reading of Scripture, Lectio encourages deep prayer. St. John of the Cross said, “Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation (Saying 158 in “Sayings of Light and Love”) capturing the essence of Lectio Divina.

1) Lectio (Reading)

A challenge of modern life is “getting things done.” We want to get things done and move on to the next thing. When we read, we read for information. Once we have read the material, we set it aside and move on to whatever is next.

Lectio forces us to slow down so we can pay attention. We are not seeking to finish and move on, but rather, we seek to listen deeply, and in order to listen deeply, we must slow down.

In school we learn to read for information and master the text. However, in order to read formationally, we must slow down so the text can master us! Slowing down and reading a passage multiple times might seem like a waste of time, but if we seek transformation, we must slow down.

The first task for Lectio is choosing a passage. Some people choose to work through a biblical book, a passage they find meaningful, or the Sunday sermon passage. A passage from a daily lectionary could be used as well.

Whatever passage you choose, keep the reading short. Lectio Divina focuses on becoming immersed in the text rather than reading a large portion of Scripture. Focusing on a short passage allows you to spend time listening deeply, giving you time to read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

Each time you read the passage, read it slowly, taking time to observe and notice. What happens within you as you read? What strikes you? What do you notice? What “bubbles up” from the passage?

Continue reading the passage three more times. Perhaps you missed something before, but now a word or phrase jumps out at you. If so, make an internal note of what jumps out, bubbles up, or grabs your attention.

2) Meditatio (Meditation)

In meditation we focus our attention on an object, thought, or, in some traditions, nothing at all. Lectio, however, focuses on God’s word. After reading through the passage and noticing what grabs your attention, you continue thinking and meditating on the word/phrase from your reading. Why does this certain word/phrase grab your attention? Where does the word/phrase connect with your life?

You may immediately know why a certain word or phrase strikes you. Perhaps the word/phrase reminds you of something currently happening in your life. Reading about the disciples being caught in a storm (Mark 4:35-41) and overwhelmed by fear, you may identify with the disciples because you are facing your own storm, wondering if Jesus cares (Mark 4:38).

As you meditate, you invite God into your thoughts, beginning to converse with God, transitioning your meditation to prayer.

3) Oratio (Prayer)

When the prophet Samuel was a boy he served in the temple with Eli the priest (1 Samuel 3). One day Samuel heard a voice and thought Eli was calling him. Twice he went to Eli and asked, “Did you call?” Both times Eli told Samuel he hadn’t called to him. The third time Samuel went to Eli, Eli had a sense that God was calling the boy. Eli counseled Samuel to go back and the next time he heard the voice to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:9).”

In Oratio we echo Samuel’s prayer — we want God to speak through God’s word, and for God to know that we are listening. During our prayer, we remain open to the voice of God. While we may not hear an audible voice, over time, we nevertheless are able to feel God’s abiding presence. We gain the ability to discern movements happening deep within us and begin to recognize God’s voice.

So far, you have allowed God to begin “speaking” into your life through God’s word. Something in the text has grabbed your attention. You have reflected and meditated on how the word or phrase that resonated with you connects to your life. Now, you invite God to be part of your internal communication.

Your thoughts turn from “Why might this word/phrase grab me” to a prayer; “God, what are you attempting to speak in my life?”

If you want a better understanding on the various ways that God speaks, I suggest looking for resources on discernment. Discernment is a process of discovering how God leads us and where we are being led. Sometimes we get off course because we mistake our internal voice, or some cultural voice for the voice of God. Discernment helps us to avoid other voices in order to focus on the Divine.

As we practice Lectio, we learn that God is leading us and thus speaking to us. Discerning God’s voice amongst others is vital.

One indication we are hearing God’s voice is that our thoughts drastically change. There have been occasions during Lectio when I thought I knew why a word or phrase had grabbed my attention, but as I prayed I sensed God had a different purpose.

A few times I have been shocked and humbled when I realized God had a completely different purpose than I originally believed. During those times of prayer, God gave me insight to see where I was unable to just minutes before.

An open and humble spirit enables us to sense God’s directives. When you want to be led by God and God to speak, your goal is to follow. Where is God directing you? What is God leading you to do? Be? Become?

4) Contemplation

We may view contemplation as someone staring at their navel on top of a mountain. While many view contemplation as inactive, that isn’t the case; contemplation is active. There can be times of silence and solitude within contemplation, but contemplation ultimately makes God’s word active in our lives.

St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross were both contemplatives, yet they were extremely active and accomplished much, creating many communities of nuns and monks. Thomas Merton, a more recent contemplative, was the author of more than 70 books, in addition to several articles and reviews. Like Sts. Teresa and John, Merton was a contemplative who nevertheless lived an extremely active and productive life in service to God.

Some have called the contemplation phase of Lectio “act.” As we contemplate, we attempt to allow God’s directive — what we ‘heard’ during the reading, meditation, and prayer — to become rooted and active in our life.

Contemplation is where we “sit” with God actively. We allow God’s directives to become set in our lives so that we might live differently. In other words, we contemplate so we might act.

Life Transformation

Lectio has the potential to transform our lives because we give God access to our life. As we spend time reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating, we ask God to direct us and move us forward.

I have used Psalm 1 for Lectio many times and each time I am surprised. As I read through Psalm 1 at different times, different words bubble up from the text. Each time I end my time sensing God’s direction.

God will, and does, speak through God’s word when we offer an invitation.