On Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina – The Difference Between Reading and Praying the Bible
What is Lectio Divina? The Latin term is unfamiliar to many, Catholic or not, because the practice does not enjoy the popularity it had in the days of some of our beloved saints like St. Benedict, St. Augustine, and others. The term means “Divine Reading,” and is also referred to as Spiritual Reading, Holy Reading and Praying the Bible. Lectio Divina is a traditional practice of praying with the Scriptures. Unlike simply and quickly reading the Bible as so many Catholics do today, it involves taking time to contemplate God’s word, to meditate on and pray the Sacred Scriptures.
The idea of spiritual reading is not a new concept. In the Rule of St. Benedict, from the 6th century, the value and importance of lectio divina is discussed. Benedict instructed his monks to make prayerful reading an integral part of their lives. Before Benedict, Sts. Pachomius, Basil, and Augustine of Hippo also stressed the value of divine reading. From these early centuries, the practice of lectio divina was one third of the triple base of monastic life, along with manual labor and participation in liturgical life.
Reflective, contemplative reading remained a common practice for many more centuries, not only within monastic orders. Active and receptive reading of Holy Scripture was quite the norm for the faithful in those early times. The Bible is no shallow tome, and so it should not be treated in the same way one might skim through a magazine in a waiting room. The importance of not just reading Holy Scripture but bringing it into oneself, meditating and reflecting on it has been recognized from those early centuries in the Church.
The Four Steps
The Four Steps of lectio divina, also called the Four Moments or Four Rungs, were defined in the 12th century by a monk named Guigo II, the Carthusian. At this time, he wrote a letter to another monk, describing divine reading as a ladder of great height, but only four rungs, which man would use to climb to heaven.
The first rung he calls lectio, and involves reading the Scriptural passages slowly, and attentively, several times. Next is meditatio. In this the reader takes the passage and reflects on it. He or she inwardly ruminates on it, and recollects the details of the passage, and in what ways God was present. The third moment or rung is oratio, or prayer. One uses a word or phrase from the Scripture and inwardly consecrates it, offers it up to God in prayer. Finally, the fourth moment is contemplatio; one remains in silent contemplation, accepting Christ’s presence and embrace.
It must also be said that lectio divina is not treated casually, but involves preparation. The Bible passages are typically selected in advance, and one should choose an appropriate time and place so that he or she will be able to fully engage in lectio divina without distraction. One then must take the time to ease into a prayerful state of mind and begin with a prayer before reading.
Lectio Divina and the New Springtime
What does this seemingly forgotten art of praying with the Scriptures mean for us today? We do not need to allow it to remain forgotten any longer. As with so many other aspects in our modern life, many look for the simple or easy way to get their ‘dose’ of Scripture. When studying, whether for school or for further training in your career, is it sufficient to skim over the necessary texts or will you learn more if you set aside time to stop and read and analyze the texts you’re reading? Shouldn’t our relationship with God, which is strengthened through praying the Scriptures, be allotted even more time and devotion? Only a few years back, in the fall of 2005, Pope Benedict XVI called on the faithful to revive this rich and invaluable form of prayer:
“In this context, I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart. If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church - I am convinced of it - a new spiritual springtime.
As a strong point of biblical ministry, Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times. It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.”
In our times, when many Catholics have fallen into the lull of doing the bare minimum in regards to praticing their faith, there could be no better time than now to revive and to practice this ancient art of praying the Bible.
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