Embracing the Word of God with Lectio Divina

Ten college students spread out as much as they could in our small one-bedroom apartment. The darkened room, illuminated only by candlelight was still and silent on that August night. My husband’s peaceful voice took us slowly into the moment when Jesus calmed the storm, inviting us to join him on the boat.

The presence of Christ was as palpable in that room as the Alabama heat outside. Those of us left behind for summer vacation met each week to pray with Scriptures using a technique called Lectio Divina, and through it, Christ was made incarnate again in our midst.

Lectio Divina (or Divine Reading) is an ancient spiritual discipline, which involves a slow, thoughtful reading of and meditation on the Scriptures. This form of prayer dates back to the third and fourth centuries and is primarily associated with the monastic rules of such orders as the Carthusians and the Benedictines. But don’t let that intimidate you! Lectio Divina is easy to do. Just follow these five simple steps:

1. Lectio:
We began with a slow, prayerful, deliberate reading (and then re-reading) of a Scripture passage. The passage could be a single verse or an entire story, and it can be done with any book of the Bible. It is recommended for beginners to start with the Gospels and, if possible, to read it aloud.

2. Meditatio:
Then we spent time meditating on the passage, with the Holy Spirit as our guide. What word or phrase stuck out to us during the reading? We would focus our attention on that and ponder its meaning for a time.

3. Oratio:
We would then invite God into the conversation. We would pray and ask him what he wanted us to learn from the passage. We would ask God to reveal why that particular word or phrase from our meditation stuck out and what he desired us to take away from it.

4. Contemplatio:
Next, we took some time for contemplation. Contemplation means to rest in silence, to dwell in the presence of God. We allowed what had been stirred up in our souls during the previous steps to take root.

5. Operatio:
Finally, we would respond to the text. As Christians, we should never walk away from reading Scripture unchanged. We discussed what we prayed with as a group and determined where we should go next. Based on Step 3, create “an action plan.” Make some practical resolutions, and commit to incorporating them into your life.

As Catholics, we read Scripture at every Mass, but we don’t always take the time to ask God what he wants us to learn from it. We don’t always invite him to show us how it applies to our own lives. We often listen to the lector or the priest reading as if we are hearing stories in a newspaper or history book. But if Jesus is the “Word of God,” then the Word is eternal. It is, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, “living and effective.”

The beauty of Scripture lies not only in its historical context, but in the wisdom it holds for readers even today. God has chosen to reveal important truths about himself through Scripture, and it is there that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ. His prophetic words and loving commandments speak just as much to us today as they did to witnesses over 2,000 years ago, and Lectio Divina is an excellent way to unpack these truths. St. Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation “Vita Consecrata:”

The Word of God is the first source of all Christian spirituality. It gives rise to a personal relationship with the living God and with His saving and sanctifying will. It is for this reason that from the very beginning … lectio divina has been held in the highest regard. By means of it the Word of God is brought to bear on life, on which it projects the light of that wisdom which is a gift of the Spirit.

Our Catholic faith takes root in the Word of God. In it is found the story of salvation, which continues today and in which each of us plays a role. Lectio Divina orients us toward our eternal homeland because it reminds us of this sacred call and reinvigorates us in our pursuit of it. By praying with the Scriptures, we drink deeply from the never-ending fount of the spiritual life, and open our hearts to God’s guidance and grace that we need to grow in holiness, to become saints.

We encountered Christ on that summer’s evening. He used the words of the Scriptures to speak to the innermost pieces of our hearts and invite us deeper into a relationship with him. And we used Lectio Divina to respond to this divine invitation.

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