Praying with the Bible
Praying with the Bible: Lectio Divina
The practice of “praying with the Bible” is known as Lectio Divina, which literally means in Latin “divine reading.”
“Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation.” — The four stages of Lectio Divina as taught by the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross
Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice of reading the Bible as a way to pray and meditate. In Lectio, our purpose in opening the Scripture is not to use the Bible as a text to learn Biblical history or to improve our knowledge of doctrine. Instead, we use it as a doorway to communion with Christ, who is the eternal and living Word made flesh. Lectio Divina may be done as an individual practice, or it may be done in company with others.
There are four steps to Lectio Divina:
- First we read a passage of the Bible. We can look for a particular story or text such as the Birth of Jesus, the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, etc. This is the lectio. In this “feast of the Word” we could say this is “taking a bite of the Word.”
- Next we reflect on the passage and meditate on the revelation of Christ to be found therein. In Latin, this is the meditatio. Having taken a bite of the Word, now we chew on it a bit.
- Then comes prayer upon the Word we have received – the oratio. Here we savor the Word we have received.
- Finally comes the contemplation, where the Word we have received is taken in becomes part of our experience – the contemplatio.
Usually some form of centering prayer is used to calm our minds and spirits and place us in a spiritual mood before beginning the Lectio. This could be a decade of the Rosary, the repetition of the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner), or singing a hymn. It could be just sitting quietly for a moment.
The Lectio is a slow and spiritual reading. Perhaps the Biblical text will be read several times, although repetition is not an emphasis in Lectio Divina. When we read, we don't look for an instant meaning, instead, we are seeking Christ through the Word of God.
The second stage, meditation, is a way of thinking about the scripture, but in a spiritual way. For example, if we are reading the Beatitudes – “Blessed are the peacemakers” – we wouldn't necessarily think about the Greek word translated as “blessed” and what exactly Jesus was referring to with the word “peacemakers.” Instead, we would be open to whatever the Spirit is communicating to us in this passage of Scripture – maybe it is the concept of “blessedness”, or the existence of “peacemakers.” Perhaps the word “is” by itself can communicate something about what it is to be in Christ. We have faith that the Spirit will lead us, so it's important not to fret about this, or over analyze it, but simply to be open to the experience.
The meditatio leads us naturally to prayer, where we dialogue with the God who loves us. This may be spontaneous or prayers we know and repeat, it likely grows out of the reading and the meditation. About this, St. Ambrose said:
“And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for 'we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.'”
Contemplation is the fruit of the lectio, meditatio, and oratio. About contemplative prayer, the Catechism says in paragraphs 2176-2177:
"Contemplative prayer is silence, the 'symbol of the world to come' or 'silent love.' Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the 'outer' man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus."
That might sound a bit complicated, but it isn't. With Lectio, each of the stages naturally flows to the other. As with any spiritual practice, the more you do it, the better you become.