Have you ever read your Bible and felt like the words were speaking directly to you? The passage may have been written centuries ago, but it seemed just as applicable to you today. Perhaps you could identify with Paul’s audience in Corinth or God’s people suffering in Egypt. The same instructions gave you wisdom; the same words of comfort bolstered your journey.
History of Lectio Divina
Monks, as early as the third century, put words to this experience. Origen talked about the Word (John 1:1) becoming incarnate in Scripture. He recognized that Scripture is not simply words on a page. Its message continues to speak beyond its original context, bearing deep wisdom as revealed through the living Christ.
Origen created methods for approaching Scripture to help readers discern this wisdom and more fully know God’s presence. These steps were used and adapted by the Desert Fathers, Church Fathers, and Christian monastic communities. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine called the method Lectio Divina, or “sacred reading,” a term we still use today.
While we can trace Lectio Divina back to Origen, some see the roots of the practice going even deeper, to the apostle Paul and earlier. Paul draws on the Old Testament to remind the church in Rome that “God’s message is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:14; Romans 10:8). It seems Paul’s community was also reciting Scripture out loud, meditating on God’s words in their hearts. Whatever its origins, Lectio Divina is a way of knowing the living Word. It continues to be a central practice in faith communities, churches, and individual lives.
What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina follows four stages: Lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation); some versions break out a fifth step of action. The stages give us a structure to linger with Scripture, engaging the words with both our hearts and our minds. The process leads us into an intimate dialogue with God.
Join me in learning about each stage, and try implementing each one as we go along.
The Four Stages
Lectio (reading): select a passage of Scripture to read. This could be a whole chapter or a few verses. You may want to follow a reading plan, liturgical calendar, biblical theme, or book of the Bible. Lectio Divina is meant to help you go deeper into Scripture reading, so as you start, choose a passage you are familiar with or want to study more thoroughly. To begin, try John 16:12-13 from today’s lectionary.
Read through the passage slowly. Pay attention to what words, phrases, or images stand out to you. Perhaps the word “truth” or phrase “the Spirit comes” caught your attention. Picture yourself in the scene. Jesus is teaching the disciples after washing their feet at the Last Supper (John 13). Do a little background research to read the passage in its original context. Jesus is foretelling his death, but promises “the Spirit.” Earlier, Jesus refers to the Spirit using a word that is variously translated as Advocate, Comforter, Helper, Counselor, and Friend (John 14:26, 15:26).
Read the passage again a second time. Then re-read the word or phrase that stood out to you, letting it sink into your mind and heart.
Meditatio (meditation): Take time to meditate on the word, phrase, or image that stood out to you. What do you think it meant to the original audience? Imagine what the audience felt or thought when hearing these words. These words were meant to comfort the disciples in their sadness. They would lose Jesus but their suffering would make way for something far better. Now think about why these words stood out to you. What might God be saying, revealing, or teaching you personally? Is God extending you that same comfort? Does a situation, person, or question come to mind? Reflect on how this passage applies to your life and how God is making God’s presence known to you.
Oratio (prayer): Respond to God in prayer. Talk to God about your thoughts, feelings, and observations. Thank God for being present. If God is prompting you to take action, ask for courage and faithfulness to carry it out.
Contemplatio (contemplation): Don’t let the pressures of your life keep you from this last critical stage, the culmination of our practice. We have exercised our hearts and minds to encounter God in Scripture. Now we are invited to stop. To rest in God’s presence. To be with God. To receive God’s love. God wants to spend time with you! Enjoy the intimacy of God’s embrace. Take this awareness of God’s presence with you into your day.
Try making this one of your Scripture reading practices going forward. Commit to slowly engaging God’s words, encountering God’s presence. May the same Spirit that Jesus promised the disciples lead you into all truth.
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