My alarm rings at 5 o’clock every morning: It’s “lectio divina” time.
Not many things can drag me out of my warm cocoon of a bed before the crack of dawn — but “lectio divina” can. Blurry-eyed, I stumble into my recliner with a warm cup of coffee. After a few methodical sips, I crack open my Bible and journal. Let the praying begin!
The ancient Christian prayer practice of “lectio divina” captivated my heart as a student at the St. John’s University School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville. The Latin phrase means “holy reading” — which as a graduate student I thought was an oxymoron, given how many pages we were assigned each night!
But “lectio divina” is a different kind of reading, one that invites a slow, intentional encounter with Scripture. During the movements of the prayer (described in more detail below), I engage a particular biblical passage three times. I hear the holy words. I think about the sacred story. Then I consider how God is transforming my heart.
One of my most powerful experiences of “lectio divina” came as I prayed with the Gospel story of Bartimaeus, the blind man who begged Jesus to restore his sight. The line, “Master, I want to see” haunted me during the first read through. As I read the passage a second time, I imagined Bartimaeus sitting hunched over on the side of the road. Perhaps a cloak covers his body, hiding his true self from the world. But when Jesus walks by, Bartimaeus risks calling out. He believes in Christ’s power to heal — and that’s what Bartimaeus wants. He doesn’t want to spend his life in darkness. He wants to see the light of life! Reading the passage a third time, I heard myself say to Christ, “Master, I want to see.” How is Jesus calling me to get up and open my eyes? I still carry this question today. That’s part of the gift of “lectio divina” — it lingers.
Laura Kelly Fanucci, director of the Communities of Calling Initiative at the Collegeville Institute, developed a wonderful guide for praying “lectio divina” with a group as part of the Called to Life and Called to Work small group series. I adapted her guide to include notes for those praying individually. People enter into the movements of “lectio divina” in a variety of ways. Figure out what works best for you!
The Practice of ‘Lectio Divina
Based on the image of Jacob’s ladder, a 12th-century Carthusian monk named Guigo II described four steps of “lectio divina”: “lectio” (reading), “meditatio” (meditation), “oratio” (prayer), and “contemplatio” (contemplation). Through these four steps, God’s word sinks deeper into our hearts and imagination.
If praying as a group, ask for three volunteers to read the Scripture passage. Those praying individually are also encouraged to read the passages out loud. We digest spoken word differently!
Once the logistics are set, make yourself comfortable as you settle in for a time of quiet prayer. Breathe deeply to settle your body and your mind, becoming aware that you are in God’s presence.
WE LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Listen to the first person read the Scripture passage aloud or read it yourself. Spend a few moments in quiet reflection on the passage. What word or phrase speaks to your heart? When the group is invited to share, speak that word or phrase aloud.
If praying individually, consider speaking the word aloud or writing it down.
WE LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD FOR THE SECOND TIME.
Listen to the second person read the Scripture passage aloud or read it yourself. Keep in mind the word or phrase that first spoke to you. Spend a few moments in quiet reflection on what God may be saying to you through this word or phrase. When the group is invited to speak, share what this word or phrase means to you.
If praying individually, consider writing out your response or simply sitting still with your thoughts.
WE LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD FOR THE THIRD TIME.
Listen to the third person read the Scripture passage aloud or read it yourself. Spend a few moments in quiet reflection on how God may be calling you to act through the word or phrase that spoke to you. When the group is invited to speak, share how you feel God may be calling you to respond.
If praying individually, consider entering into dialogue with God about your call and response.
We thank God in prayer.
Our group will close our practice of “lectio divina” with a prayer of thanksgiving for our encounter with God’s word. This may be led by the facilitator, or each participant may be invited to offer a short prayer of thanksgiving.
If praying individually, offer your own prayer of thanksgiving to close the time of prayer.