Studying Scripture can bring rich rewards. At the same time though, studying all on its own may not be enough to connect Scripture to our everyday lives. Study involves the brain and our analytical skills, but Scripture reading practices like Lectio Divina are interested in connecting to Scripture with our entire being. For people who are used to thinking of Scripture as text to be studied this can be a difficult mental jump. The main idea of Lectio Divina though is that Scripture is alive. It is a living conduit that connects us to God, and through Scripture we are enabled to hear the words God has specifically for us, right here in this moment. To put it another way, Lecito Divinia is less about imposing our perspective onto Scripture, and instead is a process by which we become more open to what Scripture has to say to us.
Although Lectio Divina is a specifically Christian practice (unlike other mindfulness practices I have discussed elsewhere), the basic principles I describe here can be used by any religion that has a central sacred text. If you are not Christian, but still curious and spiritually open-minded, I encourage you to spend time trying to figure out how these ideas can work for you.
The building blocks that would eventually come together to form Lectio Divina were present in Christianity possibly since the very beginning, depending on how you look at it. Some argue that there is even certain Bible verses that connect with the basic ideas of Lectio Divina (such as Romans 10:8-10). The phrase "Lectio Divina" has also been used at least since the sixth century to describe the process of contemplative Scripture reading, especially by monks and Christian contemplatives.
In the book The Ladder of the Monks, written by a monk named Guigo II in the 12th century, we first encounter the four main movements of Lectio Divina. He named them using the same four Latin terms we used to this day: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Other monks and Christian figures in the intervening centuries would create their own four movements, or adjust Guigo's movements, but much of what we think of today as "traditional Lectio Divina" was put together by Guigo at this point in history.
Lectio Divina was originally used by monks in a communal setting. It is possible to do Lectio Divinia on your own, but you may also want to consider joining or starting a Lectio Divinia group to make the most of this practice.
When selecting a section of Scripture to focus on for your time of Lectio Divinia it is helpful to keep your selection brief, such as two or three verses or a single short story. Remember, we are not trying to study or memorize these passages. Instead we want to have just enough text that we can savor each word and reflect on each idea, even if we read the passage multiple times in a row, without becoming strained or overwhelmed.
Like most practices of this kind there should be a period of preparation, where you settle yourself down and mentally disconnect from the busyness of daily living. Simple mindfulness practices may be useful here, or you could slowly read through a written prayer or scripture verse that will help to center your mind. This will not be the same scripture verse that the practice will center around later, but rather something that helps you to get focused as you settle in. Psalm 46:10 is one that is used by some, though it is up to you.
The practice itself is broken up into four separate steps which are traditionally referred to as "movements" because each is meant to build on the previous.
1. Lectio ("to read") - We begin by reading the verses we have selected for this practice. We read them slowly and carefully, savoring each word. Our goal is not to learn in the traditional sense. We are not studying, memorizing, or analyzing. Instead we are trying to open ourselves up to these words as if we are encountering these verses for the first time.
Imagine that you are a pond and these verses and sacred words are stones being dropped into the pond one after the other. We experience the ripples as the words fall gently onto our hearts.
It may be helpful to read the verses through more than once, especially if you find that you are having trouble releasing your preconceived notions about those verses.
2. Meditatio ("to meditate") - Now that we have read the verses selected for this practice we begin to ponder them. On the one hand we are trying to be open to what these verses have to say to us specifically in in this present moment. On the other hand though we are not just sitting passively. We are exploring these words with our minds and our hearts and waiting to see what resonates.
If you have read a story for this practice it may help to imagine yourself being present in that story as one of the characters or as a bystander. Imagine with as much detail as possible. What do you see? It can be as simple as the weather, as emotional as the expressions on a person's face, or as profound as Jesus looking you right in the eye.
If you are not reading a story, do any of the words or ideas of the verses connect with you? It can be as simple as feeling physical relief when you encounter the word "peace." Or it can be as complex as feeling frustration when you encounter an example of the goodness of God.
3. Oratio ("to pray") - As a natural reaction to what was uncovered in the previous movement we begin to pray. Up until this point we have been listening. Now it is time to respond and speak for ourselves. Pray whatever makes sense based on what you experienced in the previous movement. It may be a prayer that is just open silence. You may decide to ask a question. You may say a prayer of thanks, express your anger, or talk to God about a fear you suddenly remembered. The key is to make your response genuine and not what you think you are supposed to pray.
4. Contemplatio ("to contemplate") - Now that you have spoken it is time again to listen. Unlike the second movement (meditatio) where we were exploring the words we just read, this final movement is about silence and openness. The three previous movements combine together in our hearts. From any of it, or all of it, God may speak to us.
It may be helpful to read the page I have put together about centering prayer which talks more about Christian contemplation.