What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio divina is a traditional Latin term used to describe an ancient practice for prayerfully reading the Scriptures and later the writings of the Fathers of the Church. It can be applied to other spiritual literature as well. It was developed in the early church based on principles inherited from Judaism. It was handed down by the desert fathers and the monastic communities and has experienced a resurgence within Catholicism in the last half century. It is equally relevant to lay persons, clergy, and religious.
Lectio divina is composed of five stages or activities that involve different dimensions of the whole person: Reading/Listening, Meditation, Prayer, Contemplation, and Action. We do it naturally, often without being aware of the structure and flow, though consciousness of such can improve our experience by making us more disciplined. Without being scrupulous, it is important to incorporate at least some part of each activity in the process, so that our interaction will involve the whole person and be balanced.
It is not a mechanical or necessarily linear process, however, so we don’t need to be rigid about going through all the stages in order. It is a Spirit-driven process that interacts with our nature, aptitude, and circumstances. Sometimes we will primarily be engaged in one activity or a particular mix of activities because that meets our needs and capabilities at the time. With experience we will develop a comfort level and personal rhythm that will evolve with our life and providence.
Here are the activities that have been handed down and refined with the Church:
- We slowly read (aloud or in a whisper, if so inclined) a manageable portion of text,
- open ourselves to some word or communication from the Spirit in the form of one or several words or images from Scripture,
- repeat and internalize them,
- ponder their application to our life,
- share our feelings with God (or others, if in a group) about our response to the text,
- pray it receptively, in the sense of quiet contemplation or simple presence before the Lord,
- · and then, most important, seek to act on or live it.
As St. James observes, in agreement with St. Paul’s teaching of working our faith through love, faith without works is impotent.
The lectionary of readings from Sunday and Holy Days, and the weekday cycle as well, is a great source for lectio because it integrates the Old and New Testament and reveals their correspondence.
A description of biblical source material for lectio is found in these books by Karl A. Schultz:
The How-To Book of the Bible (OSV)
How to Pray with the Bible (OSV)
Becoming Community (New City Press)
The St. Joseph Guide to the Bible (Catholic Book Publishing Co.)
The St. Joseph Guide to Lectio Divina (Catholic Book Publishing Co.)
Remember that in the practice of lectio divina, or holistic prayerful reading of Scripture or other spiritual writings such as the Church Fathers, spiritual classics, and magisterial documents, it is not necessary to read a substantial portion of material.
This natural, fluid, non-mechanical ancient process innate to spirituality and the biblical forum applies also to modern magisterial documents because they are typically permeated with a thoughtful exposition and application of Scripture. It is like reading the Bible with the pope and other Church leaders and authorities!
Various CDs and DVDs of Karl Schultz giving presentations, retreats, and interviews on lectio divina are available through the website karlaschultz.com under Products Page or by contacting Genesis Personal Development Center at (386) 323-3808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.