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Lectio Divina: a guide to divine reading and prayer

Behold Prayer
Behold Prayer

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina is latin for “Divine Reading” and is an ancient form of Christian meditation and prayer that helps us cultivate a deeper relationship with Christ.  The aim of Lectio Divina is to encounter God through the scriptures. A chosen scripture is read four times in total, with each reading focusing on a different type of reflection.

Lectio Divina grew out of early Jewish traditions of praying with sacred scriptures, and continued with early Christians. Gregory the Great, a 6th century church leader, describes it as a way of “resting in God.” And The Rule of St. Benedict, a book of wisdom on living a balanced life, prescribes daily lectio divina as part of the daily work of monks: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.” RB, 48:1

How to pray Lectio Divina: the Steps of Lectio Divina

Traditionally the Lectio Divina steps involve four movements: lectio (reading), meditatio (reflecting), oratio (responding), and contemplatio (resting).
Each step is a general framework, and the specifics of how you pray can vary. Here is a simple method for praying lectio divina by yourself:

  • Prepare: choose a scripture passage (any scripture can be a Lectio Divina passage), and find a quiet place. Decide how long you want to take, how long to pause between each reading and how you’ll keep time. Then, find a quiet place and prepare to begin. Take a few moments to quiet your mind. You can try a few breathing exercises, or even reciting a hymn. The key is to get quiet and focused.
  • Lectio: Read the scripture for the first time. Focus on listening to identify what phrase, words or sentences jump out to you. Be gentle, and let God lead the way. Pause for a few minutes.
  • Meditatio: Read the scripture again. This time, reflect on what God is saying. You might come back to some of the phrases that stood out to you in the first reading. You don’t need to do a full study, just simply let the words permeate your mind.
  • Oratio: Read the scripture again. This time respond spontaneously as you are led. You may recite a moving phrase again, or respond with a prayer of thanksgiving or petition.
  • Contemplatio: Read the scripture again. After this reading, simply take time to rest quietly. This is not a time to speak or pray, but a time to let God work through you. Naturally, your mind may start to wander. If this happens, notice what is happening and gently repeat a word or phrase from reading to refocus and get back to silence.

Lectio Divina for groups

Lectio Divina is a great way to pray with a partner or a group. Whether it’s bible study, prayer time with your family, or even choir practice, it can be a great way to center your activity on God’s words. Plus, you can fit Lectio Divina into the time you have, whether it’s 5 minutes or an hour.

To pray Lectio Divina in a group:

  • Designate a group leader: the leader will choose the scripture passage, help to designate readers, and keep track of time. The leader should decide how long you want to be silent  after each reading (30 seconds to a few minutes), and monitor the time (e.g., with a stopwatch or phone timer, with a chime).
  • Designate reader(s): if there are at least four people in the group, you could pick a different person to read the passage each time. You can also have one reader for the entire session.

Script for leading Lectio Divina in a group

  • Leader: let’s begin by quieting ourselves. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 counts, then out for four counts. Let’s do this for a few moments. [Allow a few moments to pass]
  • Leader: The first step is lectio. As we read, pick a phrase or word that stands out to you. Let’s hear the scripture. [Reader should read the scripture, then pause]
  • Leader: the second step is meditatio or meditation. As you hear the passage, reflect on what God is saying to you, what part of this seems particularly relevant to you and your life today?  [Reader should read the scripture, then pause]
  • Leader: The third step is prayer. After you hear the passage, pray on the thing you’ve meditated upon or areas God is nudging you. [Reader should read the scripture, then pause]
  • Leader: The final step is contemplation. After you hear the passage one last time, simply rest and be with God. Hold on to any words or images that God might be pressing on your heart. [Reader should read the scripture, then pause]
  • Leader: we’ve come to the end of our prayer. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Lectio Divina resources
As you’ve seen above, Lectio Divina doesn’t have to be complicated and you can practice by setting aside time and choosing scripture passages. If you want more guidance, you can also use a lectio divina app like Behold. Behold features daily meditations based on Lectio Divina that provide space to hear scripture multiple times and pause between each reading.

We hope you’ll give this form of prayer a try.  Like other forms of Christian meditation, Lectio Divina has numerous spiritual and health benefits. It helps us to grow in the spiritual discipline of bible reading, and is a great way to internalize God’s word.