What is Lectio Divina?
Many people today are discovering anew the power of the scriptures which can enrich their prayer life. Christians have always understood the Bible as being the Word of God and through the rediscovery of Lectio Divina, we are reminded that the Word of God is always alive and active, always new. Lectio Divina is not a new way of praying, it dates back to early centuries of the Church, and those who practice it find it to be a rich resource for spiritual growth. In our Carmelite Tradition it was practised by our first hermits on Mount Carmel and has grown and developed down through the centuries. It was also practiced by St. Teresa of Jesus, who used it as a basis for her teaching on prayer. The Carmelites today, both sisters and friars have rediscovered the power of Lectio Divina both at community and individual level and they see it as a privileged way of growing in their relationship with Christ.
The term Lectio Divina comes from a Latin expression meaning “Divine Reading” or “Sacred Reading”. It describes a way of reading the scriptures and offers a helpful and practical framework for prayer. Rather than we setting the theme for prayer ourselves, we allow Christ through the scriptures to lead us in our reflection and prayer.
There are four cornerstones which are generally accepted in the practice of Lectio Divina. This structure is based on a group model, which we have adapted with our St. Teresa's Group.
The first cornerstone is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reverentially so that it touches our hearts and minds. Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer but at St. Teresa’s we use the Gospel for the coming Sunday.
The second cornerstone is meditatio (reflection) where we allow the passage or a phrase to stir up memories and ruminate upon it so that God can reveal his message or grace to us. We come to recognise that this is God’s word to us. This leads us to a deeper understanding of God’s message for us.
After a period of silence a second member of the group read the passage for a second time, followed by a second period of reflection.
The third cornerstone is oratio (response) where having been touched by God’s word we want to respond. This can be done in the silence of the heart or expressed in words. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God. We share this experience with the group. This can take the form of sharing a phrase, or a new insight that may have touched the person.
The final cornerstone of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (contemplation) or gazing at length at something. At this stage we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We are in contact with the One behind and beyond the text. Like Elijah we listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Obviously this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer. We must take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives.
The practice of Lectio Divina can be adapted to suit each group. As a way of praying the Scriptures we have found it a fruitful source of growing in relationship with Christ. The Word of God is alive and active and will transform each of us if we open ourselves to receive what God wants to give us.