Definitions

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, spiritual reading, or "holy reading," and represents a traditional Christian practice of prayer and scriptural reading intended to engender communion with the Triune God and to increase in the knowledge of God's Word. It is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray from God's Word.

History

The monastic rules of Sts. Pachomius, Augustine, Basil, and Benedict made the practice of divine reading, together with manual labor and participation in liturgical life, the triple base of monastic life.

The systematization of spiritual reading into four steps dates back to the 12th century. Around 1150, Guigo II, a Carthusian monk, wrote a book titled “The Monk’s Ladder” (Scala Claustralium) wherein he set out the theory of the four rungs: reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation.

In September 2005, Pope Benedict XVI stated:

"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 (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church - I am convinced of it - a new spiritual springtime."

Method

Lectio is typically practiced daily for one continuous hour. A selection from the Holy Scriptures is chosen ahead of time, often as a daily progression through a particular book of the Bible.

Time

Selecting a time for lectio divina is important. Typical methods are to pray for one hour in the morning, or to divide it into two half-hour periods, one in the morning and one in the evening. The key is to pre-select the time that will be devoted to the prayer and to keep it. Using the same time every day leads to a daily habit of prayer that becomes highly effective.

Place

The place for prayer is to be free from distractions. This means it should be isolated from other people, telephones, visual distractions, etc. Some find a religious icon to be helpful. The same place should be used for lectio if possible, especially as one first begins to practice it. Familiarity with a location reduces the possibility of distraction away from the prayer. Or, one may wish to pray in an unaccustomed place, for the express purpose of finding a place that will be dedicated to prayer alone and not other daily actitivites. Some practitioners conduct other devotions, such as praying before the Catholic Eucharist, as a preparation for Lectio Divina.

Preparation

Prior to reading, it is important to engage in a transitional activity that takes one from the normal state of mind to a more contemplative and prayerful state. A few moments of deep, regular breathing and a short prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to guide the prayer time helps to set the tone and improve the effectiveness of the lectio.

Once the stage is set it is time to begin the prayer. There are four phases of the prayer, which do not necessarily progress in an ordered fashion. One may move between different phases of the prayer very freely as the Holy Spirit guides.

The Four Moments

Lectio Divina has been likened to "Feasting on the Word." The four parts are first taking a bite (Lectio), then chewing on it (Meditatio). Next is the opportunity to savor the essence of it (Oratio). Finally, the Word is digested and made a part of the body (Contemplatio).

Lectio

This first moment consists in reading the scriptural passage slowly, attentively several times.

Meditatio

The Christian, gravitating around the passage or one of its words, takes it and ruminates on it, thinking in God’s presence about the text. He or she benefits from the Holy Spirit’s ministry of illumination, i.e. the work of the Holy Spirit that imparts spiritual understanding of the sacred text. It is not a special revelation from God, but the inward working of the Holy Spirit, which enables the Christian to grasp the revelation contained in the Scripture.

Oratio

This is a response to the passage by opening the heart to God. It is not an intellectual exercise, but an intuitive conversation or dialogue with God.

Contemplatio

This moment is characterized by a simple, loving focus on God. In other words, it is a beautiful, wordless contemplation of God, a joyful rest in his presence.

Fundamentalist Criticism

Some Christians believe that contemplative meditation may be dangerous, because it can be used wrongly, as a form of mysticism that is prohibited in certain Protestant sects . However, there is a clear difference between mysticism and the Protestant doctrine of spiritual illumination . Some fundamentalist doctrines state that when the Christian reads the Bible, the Holy Ghost works inwardly in his heart, bearing witness by and with the Word to him. Thus, the Holy Ghost supernaturally imparts the spiritual discernment of the Scripture. Certain groups of fundamentalist Christians hold that there is no other revelation than that which is already objectively revealed in the Scripture. To these Christians, mysticism involves the communication of truths that are not revealed in the Bible, being an alternative, invalid way of searching for divine truths. Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, expressly explains the difference between mysticism and the doctrine of spiritual illumination:

"The two things, namely, spiritual illumination and Mysticism, differ, firstly, as to their object. The object of the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to discern the truth and excellence of what is already objectively revealed in the Bible. The illumination claimed by the Mystic communicates truth independently of its objective revelation. It is not intended to enable us to appreciate what we already know, but to communicate new knowledge. It would be one thing to enable man to discern and appreciate the beauty of a work of art placed before his eyes, and quite another thing to give him the intuition of all possible forms of truth and beauty, independent of everything external. So there is a great difference between that influence which enables the soul to discern the things “freely given to us of God” (1Corinthians 2:12) in his Word, and the immediate revelation to the mind of all the contents of that word, or of their equivalents."

As a contemplative practice, however, Lectio Divina is considered by some fundamentalist Christians as a form of mysticism, used by the reader as means of receiving a special revelation from God, or as a way of studying the Scripture, in which the reader discerns an opinion on what is written in the sacred text.

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