The Practice of Lectio Divina
Rev. Stavrophoremonk Symeon Najmanje, OCSB Rom.
Orthodox Hermitage of St. John Divine
a Romualdian-Benedictine House in ROCOR
Based upon A step-by-step guide to praying the Bible by Father Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.
Virtue is a transformational quality of human Personhood. Natural Virtues are far from natural, in light of our common fallen condition. Virtues must be cultivated in both the body and soul. Ascetic disciplines or podvig (in Slavonic), taught to us by the Orthodox Church, is alikened to tilling the ground in preparation for the seeding of virtue. Amongst these disciplines are fasting and abstinence during the appointed seasons and designated days. …
Communal prayer, such as the Liturgy of Divine Hours, or Divine Office which leads up to the Christians’ central method of relating and communing with God in the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy. Prayer-in-action are charity, hospitality and service to human need (care) are all forms of Christian Love that is enriched and made genuine by the virtue of humility. True Love and genuine humility are intertwined; one cannot be present without the other. The only exception perhaps are with neophyte Christians just beginning to learn what it is to be a disciple of Christ.
Other “tools” of ascetic discipline and virtuous cultivation is private prayer or a rule of prayer. This may include the private recitation of various praises, thanksgivings, intercession and petition for mercy before the Triune God, the Most Holy Lady Theotokos as well as His saints and angelic powers as found in personal Prayerbooks. Additionally, one’s spiritual father or confessor might also instruct the believer in the Prayer of the Heart; typically referred to as “The Jesus Prayer”. This is a uniquely Orthodox Christian meditation upon the Holy Name through which we may discipline the mind, the body and the soul towards a deeper relationship with God. Among the Romualdian Family of Benedictines there is The Trinitarian Crown rosary of prayers addressed to the Triune Godhead and Our Lady of Ephesus. Finally there is spiritual reading or reading of spiritual matters such as the Philokalia, various other Patristic Instructions, Lives of Saints and other such books edifying to the soul. Lectio Divina, or holy reading, is a method of contemplation specifically upon the Word of God, the Bible. This paper shall concentrate itself upon the methodology and practice of Lectio Divina.
Our Holy Father among the saints, Benedict of Nursia thought Lectio Divina to be an important supplement to the monk’s daily ordo of prayer and labor that he included the practice in his Rule.
Lectio divina is a savouring, and the slow digesting of the Divine Word. In an age of excessive “busy-ness” disguised as familial and career responsibilities or personal development we would do well to shed all unnecessary attachments in favor of a slower and simpler life. In emulating the monastic life this is precisely what the Oblate of St Benedict seeks to achieve. In such a lifestyle time can be set aside for the practice of lectio divina.
What exactly is lectio divina; known as Praying with Scripture or Holy Reading? This is a Western Christian form of contemplation which differs from the Eastern Christian Prayer of the Heart and from pagan Oriental forms of meditation which differs from both of these. There are four stages or steps in Holy Reading: 1. Reading (lectio), 2. Pondering (meditatio), 3. Praying (oratio), 4. Contemplating (contemplatio).
Identify the Scriptural passage to be read. Position yourself comfortably and in a place of silence. Take a deep breath with eyes closed, exhale slowly. Quiet yourself from within. Recite the Eastern Rite prayer “O Heavenly King. . .” or some other prayer asking God to assist you in being open to His Grace.
Reading – Taking a portion of Scripture, either from the day’s Eucharistic Liturgy or a randomly chosen paragraph, it is read slowly with intention. One might re-read the same passage a second or third time. As is characteristic in Western meditation one may make use of one’s imagination by “seeing” the people involved, who they may be, how they may be dressed, how they may have reacted to Christ and or His Disciples. What have you “seen”, or “heard” or “felt” from what was read that you may not have experienced previously?
Pondering – Ponder upon this reading as you have just experienced it. How do you relate to those in this reading? Are you sympathetic or critical? What if you stood amongst them at the time of Christ? What then might be your reaction? In your encounter of this Biblical passage what new understanding or meaning comes to your awareness?
Praying – Allowing yourself to be open to the Word of God and to your experience, having pondered it, let yourself be open to a response of prayer. You might wish to keep a Lectio Divina Journal in which to record these prayer responses. Then notice how you have been so moved in prayer. With gratitude? With petitioning? With praise? Or with repentance? Is there another response you might be able to express?
Contemplating – “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps.46:10) This step is sometimes referred to as infused contemplation since there is nothing for you to do except “Be still” and “Listen”. We therefore allow ourselves to be open to Divine Grace to speak to our hearts. We are here alone, together, with God in search of God. Not so different than the Holy Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:9-11) who believed himself to be the last believer in the One God. Being alone Elijah sought out God in the elements of nature but nowhere was He found except within him, he heard “a still small voice.” So while we sit or stroll or lounge we remain in silence and open, listening for that same voice of Divine Grace.
As you go about the day’s business whatever new insights or blessings you may have received may be realized even further during communal prayer or labors. There is no actual goal to Lectio Divina except to dwell in the Divine Presence through praying the Scriptures, The Word of God.
Lectio Divina as a Group Exercise
In the churches of the Third World, where books are rare, a form of corporate lectio divina is becoming common, in which a text from the Scriptures is meditated on by Christians praying together in a group.
This form of lectio divina works best in a group of between four and eight people. A group leader coordinates the process and facilitates sharing. The same text from the Scriptures is read out three times, followed each time by a period of silence and an opportunity for each member of the group to share the fruit of her or his lectio.
The first reading is for the purpose of hearing a word or passage that touches the heart. When the word or phrase is found, the group’s members take it in, gently recite it, and reflect on it during the silence that follows. After the silence, each person shares which word or phrase has touched his or her heart.
The second reading (by a member of the opposite sex from the first reader) is for the purpose of “hearing” or “seeing” Christ in the text. Each ponders the word that has touched the heart and asks where the word or phrase touches his or her life that day. Then, after the silence, each member of the group shares what he or she has “heard” or “seen.”
The third and final reading is for the purpose of experiencing Christ “calling us forth” into doing or being. Members ask themselves what Christ in the text is calling them to do or to become today or this week. After the silence, each shares for the last time, and the exercise concludes with each person praying for the person on the right of him or her.
Those who regularly practice this method of praying and sharing the Scriptures find it to be an excellent way of developing trust within a group. It also is an excellent way of consecrating projects and hopes to Christ before more-formal group meetings.
Time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.
Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and aspirations, naturally intertwine with our meditations on the Scriptures. We can attend “with the ear of our hearts” to our own memories, listening for God’s presence in the events of our lives. We experience Christ reaching out to us through our own memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.