Lectio divina is Latin for spiritual reading. It is a method of reading and praying on Scripture and other classics of spirituality like Augustine’s Confessions and The Imitation of Christ. It has deep roots in the history of monasticism. There are four basic steps in lectio divina: reading (What does this text say?), meditation (What does this text say to me?), prayer (What do I want to say to God through this text?) and contemplation or action (What difference might this text make in my life?).
The text to be read can be long or short. And the full process of reading could take 15 minutes or be spread over 15 years. To illustrate the process, I will focus on Jesus’ invitation in Mt 11:28: Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Lectio divina is profoundly simple and eminently flexible. While rooted in monastic practice, it is also part of the larger heritage of Christian spirituality. It can help greatly in integrating biblical scholarship and the devotional life. It can be used with Ignatian contemplation (application of the senses and identification with the characters), especially in meditation.
For individuals and groups just beginning the practice of lectio divina, it may be wise to follow the four-step outline rather mechanically. But I must confess that I now seldom consciously work through the various steps all in one time period. In fact, the point of lectio divina is to foster an immersion in Scripture so that the various questions arise naturally in their own time. For one who has been privileged to study, teach and write about Scripture for many years, the framework has become so habitual that eventually all the steps get covered in one way or another. A wise teacher once told me, When you have mastered a method or skill, then you can throw away the instruction booklet.
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Daniel J. Harrington is a Jesuit priest and professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. Father Harrington is also the editor of the journal New Testament Abstracts and author of many scholarly articles and books.
With thanks to America Magazine and Fr Daniel J Harrington, where this article originally appeared.