On Spiritual Reading
Spiritual reading (lectio divina) is the ancient practice of savoring a text with patient playfulness. This way of reading is alert with expectation that a transforming word of life will make its way from the written narrative of the author to the lived narrative of the reader. Spiritual reading holds out the promise of fresh meaning, insight, or truth emerging between the writer and reader. This wisdom transcends time and space. Yet it also enables the reader to enter more reflectively and faithfully into his or her own time and space. In this respect, spiritual reading embodies the pattern of the Incarnation, where Word becomes flesh for the life of the world. Peter of Celle, the great twelfth-century Benedictine abbot, describes spiritual reading this way:
“Reading is the soul’s food, light, lamp, refuge, consolation, and the spice of every spiritual savor. It feeds the hungry, it illuminates the person sitting in darkness; to refugees from shipwreck or war it comes with bread. It comforts the contrite heart, it contains the passions of the body with the hope of reward. When temptations attack, it counters them with the teaching and example of the saints...In the bread box of sacred reading are breads baked in an oven, breads roasted on a grill, or cooked in a frying pan, breads made with first fruits and sprinkled with oil, and barley cakes. So, when this table is approached by people from any walk of life, age, sex, status or ability, they will all be filled with the refreshment that suits them.”
From back cover of “Weavings,” March/April 2007.
The Process of Lectio Divina
Gently read the Scriptures, slowly savoring and repeating the parts of the text that speak to the depths of your heart. Listen to the Word “with the ear of your heart”, and be willing to linger on portions of the text that seem to speak to you in a special way. Through repetition, gently allow the text to percolate in your memory. Be willing to set the printed text aside and to listen quietly to the Word which you have taken into your heart.
“The reading or listening which is the first step in lectio divina is very different from the speed reading which modern Christians apply to newspapers, books and even to the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally—not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God’s word for us this day.”
Meditation: Meditatio (rumination)
Lovingly and slowly repeat the text you have internalized. Allow this interior ‘mulling over’ to help the text ‘yield its savor’. Allow the text to interact with your memories, your hopes, your concerns. Don’t be afraid of ‘distractions’; simply acknowledge them and let go of them, always returning to the portion of the Scriptures you have taken into your heart.
“Once we have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures which speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and “ruminate” on it. The image of the ruminant animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the Christian pondering the Word of God.”
Let the text summon you to place before the Lord all of yourself. Make the Word you have taken into yourself be a real word of consecration—a Word of blessing and a means of offering to the Lord your deepest hopes and concerns. Let the gentle repetition of the Word lead you into a dialogue with the God Who originally inspired the text, and Who has now used the Scriptures as a way of drawing you into His presence.
“Just as a priest consecrates the elements of bread and wine at the Eucharist, God invites us in lectio divina to hold up our most difficult and pain-filled experiences to Him, and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase He has given us in our lectio and meditatio. In this oratio, this consecration-prayer, we allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the word of God.”
As you feel called to do so, simply rest silently in the presence of the Lord. Be willing to let go of the text which has led you into God’s presence. Enjoy the sweetness of silent communion with the God Who stands behind the Scriptures.
“Finally, we simply rest in the presence of the One who has used His word as a means of inviting us to accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in a loving relationship when words are unnecessary. It is the same in our relationship with God. Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One Who loves us has a name in the Christian tradition—contemplatio, contemplation. Once again we practice silence, letting go of our own words; this time simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God.”
“Recognize that these steps are not stages in an orderly process: they are a way of allowing the inner rhythms of our spiritual lives to become more and more charged with the presence of God. We are not to judge the quality of our Lectio by how much or how little time we spend in any of the above activities. The rhythm of Lectio Divina reflects the rhythm of our lives: we may move from one step to another without realizing it; and we may find several steps coexisting at the same time. Lectio Divina is simply a way of experiencing in our reading of the Scriptures what God intends our whole lives to become—a continuous experience of His presence, a continual and unending prayer."
Information adapted from Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.
Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
A very ancient art, practiced at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina—a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates. Together with the Liturgy and daily manual labor, 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.