Studying one’s Bible isn’t the first method of prayer for most Catholics.
Receiving the Holy Eucharist during Mass, reciting the rosary, or spending time in quiet contemplation may be our most frequently chosen methods of prayer and worship. Notably, our Protestant brothers and sisters easily outpace us with memorization and interpretation of the Lord’s word in Scripture.
One reason many of us find Scripture difficult is that we don’t know where to start, how to read our Bibles, or the ways we can use what we read to launch meaningful, deep prayer in communication with God.
Lectio Divina (literally “divine reading”) is a way of becoming immersed in the Scriptures. “It draws on the way Jews read the Haggadah, a text read during Passover that retells the Exodus story,” writes Elizabeth Manneh on the Busted Halo website. “Haggadah means ‘telling’ and along with being a physical text, the word captures the practice of telling and retelling a story.”
Manneh, quoting from Trappist Monk Fr. Thomas Keating’s “Open Mind, Open Heart,” says the Christian form of Lectio Divina was first introduced by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c 330- 395), and also encouraged by St. Benedict of Nursia (c 480-547), the founder of the Benedictine order.
“It’s a way of developing a closer relationship with God by reflecting prayerfully on His words,” she explains. “In Lectio Divina, the chosen spiritual text is read four times in total, giving an opportunity to think deeply about it and respond thoughtfully.
“When we practice Lectio Divina, we can imagine we’re actually involved in the events of Scripture — for example, hearing God’s words to the Israelites in the desert. It’s an intensely personal experience.”
There are four stages in Lectio Divina. Fr. Keating describes them as compass points around a circle, with the Holy Spirit moving seamlessly between them.
Getting comfortable is important as you clear your mind in preparation for the Word. A gentle reminder to calm one’s mind, like a flickering candle or soft instrumental music, can help concentration.
Select a Scripture reading and read it once.
Upon your second reading, go over the places you are drawn to, as God nudges you toward understanding. Rather than studying the passages, try to listen for His voice and the messages He is sending. Reflect on these messages.
After the third reading, record your thoughts in a prayer journal, paying particular attention to the ways you can use what you have read to deepen your relationship with God, improve your interactions with others, and enhance your family life and relationships. How can you use the lessons you have been given?
Beyond attending Sunday Mass, we don’t always take time to prioritize prayer or spend time with the Lord. Silent contemplation following Scripture reading can calm our “monkey minds,” allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us in stillness.
The internet is full of useful links and guides to practicing Lectio Divina, Manneh notes. Lectio-divina.org, Busted Halo, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops websites are all good places to start.
Perhaps most important, she writes, is to remember that Lectio Divina is not an end in itself or another spiritual practice to tick off our to-do list. “It helps us hear specifically and individually from God through Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, and deepens our relationship with Him.”