Conscious that one of the hallmarks and mainstays of the monastic contemplative life is lectio divina, we invite you to take on this ancient spiritual practice of praying with the word of Sacred Scripture. Today we offer a short explanation about lectio divina. Next Monday we will begin the continuous reading of a book of Sacred Scripture which we hope will invite you into this prayer and encounter.
Literally divine or sacred reading, lectio divina was recognised by St Benedict as one of the pillars of the monastic day and his Rule accords a good deal of time to the practice. The monks are to be people who are engaged in listening to what the Word is telling them, and this listening is a task which is not simply the physical turning toward a word, but the deep acceptance of the word who is the Word spoken by the Father before time began. In other words, the desire which we express and seek to have satisfied when we do lectio divina is an encounter with the one who, as the Word, addresses himself to us, Christ, the Word who took flesh and who makes himself present in our hearts, with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. So, when we take on the practice of lectio divina there is the possibility of a sacramental event as we accept the word and allow it to transform us.
Traditionally, following the teaching of the 9th Prior of the Grand Chartreuse, Guigo II, lectio divina takes place over the course of four stages:
- Lectio: the reading of the text which we have chosen;
- Meditatio: the beginning of our interaction with the text as we ‘chew’ on it and allow it to speak to us;
- Oratio: the prayer which arises out of my response to the text;
- Contemplatio: ultimately, God’s gratuitous gift to us as we recognise and know him as God-present.
For lectio to be a practice which becomes prayer for us, we need to reclaim some aspects in our lives which perhaps have been lost or at least dimmed. The practice of silence and the capacity to be able to lay aside gently the thoughts which have been preoccupying us up to that moment is essential, to create the space in which God’s Word, spoken to us, can be heard and received. Some degree of drawing apart from our usual daily activity is necessary so that nothing else, or little else in the way of task can rob us of this meeting. A commitment to practice the taking up of the text is essential. And the time of day – St Benedict recommends that lectio be part of the early morning regime of the monastic horarium, a time before the business of the day intrudes – is central so that we can bring ourselves, in as full a way as possible, to this prayer.
Above all, lectio divina expresses my deep desire to search for God and encounter him.