Lectio divina (‘divine reading’) is a Bible reading method that is more than a Bible reading method.
It has its origins in 6th century catholicism, but before you switch off, bear in mind that most historical Christian spiritual practices have their antecedents either in biblical times, the early church or catholicism since there were few alternatives until the reformation in the 16th century.
It was first practiced by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century and further developed bu Guigo II, a Carthusian monk in the 12th century.
Lectio divina comprises a number of elements which are practiced or entered into in turn. These elements are:
- Lectio (read). You read a portion of Scripture from a few words to a verse to a paragraph or passage.
- Meditatio (meditate). You meditate or chew over the text to extract the goodness.
- Oratio (pray). You dialogue with God over and through the ideas that have arisen during meditation.
- Contemplatio (contemplate). This involves sitting before God in His presence and in the light of what you have read, meditated on and prayed through. This indicates and highlights the purpose of lectio divina - being in the presence of God and enjoying the experience!
A little over 5 years ago I had the opportunity to be involved in a launch team when a Christian teacher and author, Gary Hansen was launching a book called Love Your Bible which was seeking to explain and make more accessible the teachings of Guigo II on lectio divina. Copies of the book (or booklet, as it is only small) are available from his website if you subscribe.
I have both the electronic and paperback versions of the book and recently reread it in electronic form. I have copious portions of the book ‘highlighted’.
In the books introduction Gary writes:
We need a way to encounter the Bible that does more for our hearts than academic study, and that does more for our minds than devotional reading.
In this way lectio divina (or at least Gary Hansen’s understanding, interpretation and promoted practice of it) relies upon both study and devotional/meditative reading of Scripture. Gary suggests using a concordance and Bible dictionary during the reading/study phase so we are fully across the meaning and biblical use of the words. This contributes to, rather than detracts from our reading because we have a fuller understanding and appreciaton of Scripture.
A little later in the introduction he observes:
In Scripture, God always aims to help us toward an abundant life of freedom in loving relationship with him.
And this is the crux of lectio divina. It is not reading/meditating/praying for its own sake but part of a process to absorb, understand and then dialogue with the Lord about Scripture and how it impacts on our day. And contemplation is moving into this freedom and relationship with God which is best done after a time of quiet reading/meditation
Gary also recommends (in chapter 1) journalling our questions and observations of the passage in the reading/study phase.
Of the contemplation phase Gary writes,
contemplation is not escaping anything. Contemplation is finding something: the presence of God. Better, though, to say that contemplation is when God finds us.
So this places contemplation on a more sensible plane than simply gazing into the ‘something". It is positioning ourselves where we can see/hear/sense God pursuing and finding us. It’s not meant to be something spooky, but being quiet before the Lord and allowing Him to make His presence felt.
Near the end of the book, Gary quotes some thought of Guigo II where he defends the relevance and use of all of the elements of lectio divina. They write:
“reading without meditation is sterile”
“meditation without reading is liable to error”
“prayer without meditation is lukewarm”
“meditation without prayer is unfruitful”
“prayer when it is fervent wins contemplation, but to obtain it without prayer would be rare, even miraculous”
Each aspect of lectio divina relies on and indeed provides support for the other components.