Lectio Divina for Lent?
Every year the Season of Lent provides us with the opportunity and the challenge to prioritise God in our lives. There are three pillars to making a good Lent: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving. Most of us give up something food-wise for Lent and we are perhaps quite good at giving alms to the poor; maybe putting a few coins into the Trocaire box. Perhaps this year, for Lent you might consider taking up a new prayer discipline. However, while it may be new to you, this is an ancient practice of prayer – Lectio Divina – praying with the Sacred Scriptures.
Lectio Divina (literally Divine Reading) is a way of praying that involves reading a short passage of Sacred Scripture meditatively and attentively.
“And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture,
so that God and man may talk together; for we speak to Him when we pray;
we hear Him when we read the Divine Scriptures.”
Experience Lectio Divina
This is the Divine Word of God and praying Lectio Divina with His Word aids us in our union with Christ. This is not scripture study, our objective is deeper prayer not great learning.
In Lectio Divina, the chosen biblical text is slowly read three to four times, giving an opportunity to think deeply about it and respond thoughtfully and prayerfully. When we practice Lectio Divina, we can imagine we’re actually involved in the events of scripture — for example, hearing Jesus’ teaching about the Beatitudes or experiencing some of his great miracles. It can be an intensely personal experience.
There are 4 classic stages to Lectio Divina, but nowadays a 5th stage is usual also - where we put into practice what we have received in prayer. The five steps are: Lectio (Reading), Meditatio (Meditation), Oratio (Prayer), Contemplatio (Contemplation), and Actio (Action).
Before you begin your time of Lectio Divina it is important to set aside things which will distract you, be on your own, and set aside a definite amount of time (20 – 30 minutes). Always begin your time of prayer by becoming aware of and acknowledging the presence of God and thanking him for his words which he will speak to you during your Lectio Divina. It is also important to simply ask the Holy Spirit to help you to pray fruitfully and attentively – he is, after all, the author of the Scriptures you are about to engage with.
“If this practice (lectio divina) is promoted with efficacy,
I am convinced that it will produce a new spiritual springtime in the Church.”
Pope Benedict XVI
Slowly read the passage for the first time. You can never be too slow. Pay attention to each word. Since you are on your own, reading the passage audibly might help. What words or phrases stand out? Pay attention – there is a reason why this word or phrase strikes you rather than the one before it or the one after it. Read the whole passage to the end. Then read it again slowly.
The word ‘meditation’ can conjure up many exalted notions for people. Here it simply means to reflect prayerfully. On your 3rd reading of the text, pause at those words and phrases that have struck a chord. Ponder their meaning, perhaps put yourself in the scene. Apply your mind to what you have read. What questions, challenges or consolations does the text present to you. Does this word resonate with any life experiences you have had? Read the text again – slowly. Pondering on the word of God, mulling it over will naturally lead you to the next stage in this time set aside for prayer.
Here you begin to converse with God, in the silence of your heart, about the things you were pondering in your time of meditation. Do not talk to yourself. Talk to God. Begin by thanking him for his words to you. Keep the conversation focused on what has come up in your meditation. It came up because it is what God wants to have a conversation with you about. And remember this is meant to be a dialogue, not a monologue. So speak to God, but allow time to quieten your heart – so that God can communicate to you in that silence. And here we move to the next stage in the Lectio process.
Here you simply spend time quietly resting in the loving presence of God. At this stage we are not trying to meditate, nor even to communicate something, we are simply trying to enjoy the fact that the Lord delights to be with us and that to be near God is a joy. In this quiet the Lord may well ‘speak’ in the inner depths of the soul. (This is not to be thought of as expecting to receive an apparition or interior locution, which are extremely rare, even in the lives of the great saints.) The Lord communicates in many ways to us. As a mother cradles her sleeping child in her arms and gazes with immense love upon that child – so God’s eyes are upon you. In this time, rest in that look of love and try also to return that interior gaze of love.
It is now time for you to bring your Lectio Divina to a close. At this stage it is once more important to give thanks to God. It is time now, also, to make a resolution. I have met with God, heard his word and spoken with him about it. Now what will I do? What would the Lord have me to do? How will I put into practice the Word in my daily life today? Be specific in your resolution(s) – even if it is only something seemingly small.
(It can be helpful to jot down in a notebook the line or word of Scripture which was the centre of your meditation and to jot down also your concrete ‘actio’ resolution. Come back to it later in the day and see how you have been doing in the living out of that word for the day which God has spoken to you.)
For some this may be an entirely new way of praying. However, while it may be new to you, this is an ancient practice of prayer known as Lectio Divina – which could be translated as Holy Reading, Divine Reading or Spiritual Reading. Each day of Lent you will use the Gospel that will be read at Mass that day (see Chart below) as the text of Scripture to be prayed with.
“It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.”
Pope St. John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 39