Blessed Lord,who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Hours, Bruges, ca1510-25
Lectio Divina means Divine Reading
Going deep rather than going wide.
A process of integrating holy texts into your being.
As with all intentional prayer, a specific time and place makes praying easier. Past prayers open space for new prayers and they all become one prayer. You probably know that anyway. Think of learning to ski. Or playing the piano. Once you master the basics you fly down the mountain or get to interpret Bach. Lectio is simple once you try it just a few times. Plus, pray as you can, not as you can't. Adjust the practice to your inclinations.
After a while these steps become unconscious. The progression will happen naturally, and you will find your own spin on the practice, as I do with “risio/laughter/delight” for example.
Time. Place. Posture – comfortable but alert. Light a candle, if it's safe. Wrap yourself in a shawl that's just for praying. Whatever helps you give yourself fully. Text. If you don't already have a Bible reading practice, why not start with a sentence or two from the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday? (You can click through to Sunday's readings from the Home Page of this website).
Do this several times keeping silence between readings.
Try to read without preconceptions.
I find it helpful to read the portion aloud, listening, sensing the rhythm, feeling the words in my mouth.
Meditatio - meditation
Enter the text. Ponder with utter freedom and openness, using all the angles you can possibly conceive of with your imagination, Look at verbs, nouns, loaded words. Hold the text lightly - just be there. Don't give the usual prejudices e.g. to the Pharisees, or Satan, wolves, Judas, dumb disciples, etc. Be all the characters, words, inanimate objects. Enjoy the scenery. Be the scenery. Make mental connections with other texts that have the same or similar words. Hold what you don't understand in loving tension. Notice, too, how you react to the text emotionally. Just be there.
Oratio - praying
Book of Hours, Bruges, ca 1500
How might you bring your meditation to prayer? Gratitude? Praise? Repentance? Awe? Questioning? What “divisions” within you, what prejudices and assumptions and rules can you rid yourself of, what shadows lurk for you in this text? You can bring these into free prayer or try to incorporate them into, say, the Lord's Prayer, “As we forgive those who sin against us.” Be open to transformation. “Thy kingdom come.” Weeping is fine. So is laughing.
Contemplatio - contemplation/ silence
Let your prayer sink into silence. Let the Spirit work in you, that which comes from and goes to your unconscious, and your connectedness to the divine and to all humanity. Give yourself to this silence. Be confident that there is much going on inside your soul that your mind can't access.
(NOTE: It may be more logical to you to practice your silent contemplatio before your praying with words – oratio. In other words, reverse the order.)
Actio - action
How will you bring to fruition in your life the insight you gained? What concrete action can you do today that your experience of lectio inspires today? What kindness, act of gratitude, mercy, attention can you offer?
Risio - laughter / delight
Lectio, any prayer for that matter, is an expression of intimacy. But intimacy is not possible without laughter. Although “risio” is not a traditional step in the lectio process, it is essential to my own practice and I'm happy to share.
What new delight, surprise, inspiriting, what spark, what laughter comes from your prayer? There may not always be humor, but don't miss it when it's there!
Words of Advice
Let yourself be surprised.
Trust that insights will come. (Maybe not during the process, but at some other unexpected time.)
Ambiguity is okay. Don't look for answers.
This practice is about intimacy.
Stay with it. The more often you do this practice, the richer it will become.
Don't worry that you are not "doing it right." Approach lovingly.
Some Personal Examples of notes taken during Lectio
Luttrel Psalter 1325-1340
Philip Saunders, New Zealand Lectio Divina Practice
My practice follows the traditional sequence of Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio, and Actio. I bring the reading down to one word if possible.
This week the reading led me to salt but I diverted from the original scripture. ‘Salt’ triggered a connection to a note I had taken from The God Who Gave You Birth – A Spirituality of Kenosis by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio. ‘Empty yourself completely – deconstruct yourself, dissolve like a seed, like yeast, like salt.’
My word became ‘dissolve’.My contemplation/meditation practice is in the tradition of the World Community for Christian Meditation. For lectio I take the word I have chosen as my mantra for a 20 minute time of meditation.
Following contemplation, I came to Actio -action. This was challenging because at first it seemed at odds with ‘dissolve’ but of course it is not, it is a means to action. I was thinking back to the scripture, maybe I should be jumping around, Bible in hand, a light in the dark, but then, perhaps it is about just being, availability, dissolving.
As I'm writing, here in New Zealand we are in a State of Emergency caused by weather; not allowed out, the lights are flickering, perhaps appropriate to the reading. What is my action? – to be available,phone around. I feel called to phone three friends. It turns out one has broken both arms a couple of weeks back, one is going into hospital for an operation, one has pneumonia. All were so very pleased to talk. I ‘dissolved’ to allow them a space to connect.
What was also noticeable this time is ‘dissolve’ flowed through to the next day as I encountered others, it helped to know and contemplate and delight in these moments.
The sparrow / has found her a house / and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; by the side of / your altars
I normally don't take notes during my lectio practice, but if I did, it might look something like the following two examples. If I were to use the same scripture weeks or years apart I'm sure the notes of each would be quite different from one another.
Lectio: Read (aloud) several times slowly.
Meditatio: Enter and play within the text, free associate, etc.
found – had been looking for? seeking and finding? lost, then found ? where she may lay her young– she has something to do that's important - raising her young.
sparrow – little, direct, ordinary brown bird. swallow – slices the air at dawn and dusk, swoops, luminescent colors
house – a place to go about the business of life, refuge, tradition, generational nest – connotes coziness, safety, comfort, intimacy
altars – inner, holy place, place to be with God ( altars – place of sacrifices? Not being doves, these birds don't have to worry. ) ( altars – the horns of the altar – place of safety and refuge from imminent danger) The Holy of Holies
I am sparrow, swallow, the young, I am the nest, I am the altar of safety.
I like being here in this text, within the context of all of Psalm 84. I feel like I am in a cozy place of safety in the church (however busy and dysfunctional), in the place of worship, near God. This is the part of commitment that keeps me coming back.
Oratio: Bring meditation into prayer. Forgive my troubled relationship to the church. I know at least part of it is my fault. Help me to mend what I can. Thank You for giving me a place, a house, a nest, to nurture myself and others. Help me to be better at both. Let me be a refuge for others. Thank You for the intimacy of prayer, where I can sail in like a swallow and be homely like a sparrow in close proximity to You, in the temple of my own heart.
Contemplatio: Prayer sinks into silence.
Actio: What concrete step can you do today- I'm going to bake a simnal cake for my worship community. I can be a mother bird, a nurturer, a healer, contribute to the espri de corps, keeping traditions alive. I'll pray for the community during every step of preparation. (It was a good cake!)
Risio: find the humor
Ha ! Me baking a cake !
Example Two : Suzanne
And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, Stretch out your hand.” Mark 3:3-5b
Verbs : said, come, do good or do harm, save life, kill, stretch out.
Stand out phrases: withered hand lawful on the Sabbath were silent, Come here (he) looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart
Narrow down to: But they were silent. And he looked around them with anger; grieved at their hardness of heart.
Silence is acquiescence. Silence is as strong as guilt. Them. The Pharisees are a group, a body, a block of people. No individual stands out. No one Pharisee says “Wait a minute, guys, if it's all right to rescue your mule from a ditch on the Sabbath, why not heal a person trapped in an affliction?” Are “they” afraid of one another?
Does Mark make them faceless for a reason? Pharisees are righteous men, why make them into enemies of Jesus? What's happening politically here is beyond the scope of my meditation. But the questions as background can help in my later prayer and contemplation.
The Pharisees in this story remind me of my “committee” - that group of negative inner voices that nag me into believing I am not good or competent enough to do creative or engaged work. I have sometimes made a cartoon of this “committee” - to laugh at them helps me to overcome them. [Lynda Barry's book One! Hundred! Demons! has been a help to me in identifying and cartooning my “committee.”]
On the other hand, in what ways am I just like the Pharisees in this passage? What silences of mine contribute to the oppression of others? How am I intimidated into silence or indifference by those around me? Do I let this happen? Maybe I'm not even aware that I'm doing it.
Looked...with anger. Jesus is often angry in Mark. I am afraid of anger; others' anger and my own. What is my anger about? And, more important, what am I angry about on behalf of others? [This I will veil from you, Reader.] Can I embrace an angry Jesus? How does looking at my own anger make me grow with him? Anger, not channeled in positive ways, can become violent and destructive in all kinds of hidden and overt ways. Is my own anger destructive or constructive? How do I know?
Grieved at their hardness of heart. Here, I don't need to go far to feel convicted. For all kinds of good reasons I've developed a studied hardness of heart to protect myself and survive. But is there a balance possible? If my own hardness of heart is laid bare before Jesus (and maybe Jesus' anger) can some healing take place? Come. Stretch out your heart?
Oratio: I need lots of help. Help me to locate and direct my anger in positive ways. Help me to love and know Jesus in his anger. Help me to be angry on behalf of others. Help me to overcome my inner “committee” of negative voices, that I may be freer to serve Your people and Your creation. Help me to use my voice on behalf of those with no voice.
Contemplatio: silently move into no words
Actio: Resolve to do some of the inner work brought up in the meditation. Write a letter to a government official today on behalf one of the many justice issues that infuriate you. Do something.
[Risio: Maybe make a new set of cartoons of the “committee”. Ha! Maybe they all look like me!]