Lectio Divina: An Ancient Prayer and Bible Reading Practice

by Oct 3, 2023

The first time I heard the phrase lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”) was in a small group to which we once belonged. We were fairly new and one of the members said, “Sometimes, in this group, we don’t study the Bible. We just practice lectio divina and see what God says to us.”

After he explained that lectio divina was essentially just reading a brief passage of scripture repeatedly while listening intently and prayerfully for what God might be saying to us, I thought, Well that’s not right!

In my personal faith background, I had been raised and trained by the wing of evangelicalism that was skeptical of any practice that merely tried listening to God without the aid of Bible reference materials or study aids to ensure a proper exegesis of the text. So I thought, You can’t just read it and listen! You’ve got to STUDY the text, in-depth.

As it turns out, I’ve found lectio divina to be one of the most beautiful and productive ways to ingest the words of the scriptures and to hear from God. It’s an ancient, contemplative practice that I’m now hoping to pass on to my own children.

There are a couple of different ways to approach lectio divina, but my way is this…

Read

The goal isn’t to read large passages or get through the whole Bible in a year. The goal is to read something more narrow and distinct. I usually start at the beginning of a chapter and when something catches my attention and arouses my curiosity, I stop, wherever I am, and I read that verse or short passage again.

And then I read it again. And again. Sometimes I read the passage in several different translations (I like to underline in my NRSV, but then I use Tecarta’s multi-column feature to put several translations on my laptop screen).

The point of reading, in lectio divina, is to listen. To keep our hearts and spiritual ears open to any whisper of the Spirit’s voice inside the holy temple, the secret recesses of who we are at our most vulnerable and real.

And then, I listen more. I try to spend at least five minutes just sitting, with my eyes closed, listening for the Spirit’s leading.

Hearing something isn’t the point. The Spirit isn’t an object to be sought, but a person to know. Silence is okay. It’s uncomfortable, but we only grow when we’re uncomfortable.

Reflect

Having read the passage, I then reflect on it. I avoid the question of what does this passage mean to me? because that’s a bit too existential and has a tendency to lift it from its context. Rather, I ask myself, what jumps out at me? What do I notice?

I consider the context as much as possible – who wrote it, where in the scripture they wrote it, the historical context in which they wrote it – but my main concern isn’t scholarly in nature. It’s devotional.

Meditation has been defined as “focused thinking,” and that’s my goal here. I want to focus all of my thoughts on the lesson about life to which the Spirit is enlightening me through the reading of scripture.

Sometimes, I write and journal during this time (I use either Apple Notes or one of my Moleskines), but I’m not legalistic about this. Sometimes, stopping to journal might interrupt what’s happening at the moment, so I just keep reflecting silently.

Respond

Having read, and having listened and reflected upon the reading, I respond. I pray. I articulate to God, either verbally or silently, my commitment to remember and to put into action whatever it is I’ve sensed from the reading and reflection.

I ask for the Spirit’s help in applying whatever it is God has revealed throughout my day. And I try not to think too much about tomorrow. In other words, I’m not collecting one more thing to do on top of all the other things I think I need to do every day for the rest of my life. My concern is living it out today, and when days stack up upon days, this way of living becomes a lifestyle.

Rest

The way I end my period of lectio divina is to simply sit in silence, with my eyes closed, and rest. I try to quiet my mind and simply dwell in God’s presence.

Rest is antithetical to everything our culture pressures us to do. While I’m tempted to jump up and get busy and be productive and conquer the world, I remind myself that having a calm, quiet soul is of immense value in the craziness of the world in which we live.

And that’s all. Read. Reflect. Respond. Rest. Sometimes that takes a few minutes. Sometimes it’s an hour. There are no quotas. There is simply the open invitation to enjoy the presence of God.

An Example

Just this morning, I was reading in Matthew 21:33-46, the Parable of the Wicket Tenants. There are many observations to make about the passage, but what stopped me and caught my focus was when Jesus said to the Pharisees, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

And then I focused more narrowly. The kingdom of God is going to be given to whom? A people that “produces the fruits of the kingdom.” Fruits of the kingdom.

And I dwelt upon that phrase – fruits of the kingdom.

My mind went to all of the ways in which Jesus kept trying to teach and model the values of the kingdom of God. I thought about the ways in which I might or might not be bearing such fruit. I prayed for the Spirit to help me bear that kind of fruit because I sincerely want to enjoy the kingdom of God in the everyday minutia of my life.

And then I rested. And I’m still thinking about how I can bear the fruit of the kingdom of God.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?


Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash.

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The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus
  • Villodas, Rich (Author)
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  • 288 Pages - 08/31/2021 (Publication Date) - WaterBrook (Publisher)

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