Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Contemplative Practice of Lectio Divina

In Christianity, Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the meaning of sacred text. It is a process of bringing life to scripture and scripture to life.

Lectio Divina is not intellectual, it is experiential and insightful. The focus of Lectio Divina is not an analysis of biblical passages, but on holding them in mind and allowing the Spirit to reveal their meaning. It is a contemplative practice that moves one from active (reading and thinking) to receptive (intuiting and feeling).

The roots of Christian scriptural reflection and interpretation go back to Jewish liturgical practices when the scriptures were proclaimed, interpreted and preached in the synagogue. Time was allowed for the spoken scripture to be savored and memorized by those present so that the wisdom imparted would continue in daily life. This “hearing” of the Word into memory involved the whole person, body, heart and spirit, so that even in the slightest moments in life, God’s direction could be revealed.

Before the emergence of the Western monastic communities, a key contribution to the foundation of Lectio divina came from Origen in the 3rd century, with his view of "Scripture as a sacrament.” Origen believed that The Word (i.e. Logos) was incarnate in Scripture and could therefore touch and teach readers and hearers. Christ as the "interpretive key" unlocks the message in Scriptural texts.

The monastic practice of Lectio Divina was first established in the 5th-6th century by Saint Benedict of Nursia, and later, in the 11th century, a Carthusian prior, Guigo, formalized the practice of Lectio Divina, into 4 steps of deepening thoughtfulness:

Lectio (reading): An attentive, slow, repetitious recitation of a short passage of scripture.

Meditatio (meditation): An effort to understand the passage and apply it to my own life.

Oratio (prayer): Engaging or talking with God about the passage.

Contemplatio (contemplation): Allowing oneself to be absorbed in the words of God as the Holy Spirit draws us into God’s presence through scripture.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

Select a passage of scripture to read. You may use the Psalm printed above or find something in a book that touches your soul.

Lectio – In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's word for us this day.

Meditatio – Indentify a word or a passage in the Scriptures that speaks to you in a personal way, take it in and ponder it.

Read the scripture again….

Oratio – Lift up to God in prayer the thoughts and feelings that God’s word has evoked within you.

Read the scripture again….

Contemplatio - Rest in the presence of the One who has used His word as
a means of inviting you to accept His transforming embrace.

We can practice contemplation on objects as well as on text. In fact, just this morning I posted a Richard Rohr quote on FB about becoming "the other." And I likened it to Martin Buber's I-Thou or Thich Nhat Hanh's notion of Interbeing. Here is the quote: 

"When there is the encounter with the other, when there is mutuality, when there is presence, when there is giving and receiving, and both are changed in that encounter, that is the moment when you can begin to move toward transformation." 
- Richard Rohr

The process of lectio divina moves us from conceptual to consensual, from active to receptive, from objective to subjective, from without to within. This is the goal of all spiritual practices.

My you quiet your thinking long enough to receive the rich messages that are waiting for you! 

History adapted from:

1. Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer by David G. Benner, 2010.
2. Christian Spirituality: Themes From the Tradition by Lawrence S. Cunningham, Keith J. Egan, 1996.
3. Meditative Prayer by Richard J. Foster, 1983, Intervarsity Press.
4. Teaching World Civilization with Joy and Enthusiasm by Benjamin Lee Wren, 2004.
5. The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila, 2007.
6. Reading to Live: the Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina by Raymond Studzinski, 2010.