Faith Formation

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is an ancient form of praying the Scriptures in the Church.  The essential movement of the prayer is a conversation between you and God, mediated through His Word.  First, we listen to what God has to say in the Scriptures, then second, we respond to Him in prayer and with a resolution for the day (or longer).

Getting Started

Before diving into the Scriptures, two things must happen.  First, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance, because only the Holy Spirit knows how to pray as we ought (Romans 8:26).  Ask Him to lead you in this prayer, and to open up your heart to whatever He may say.  Ask Him for a complete openness to His will.

After asking for the Lord's guidance, choose a Scripture.  Maybe you've been working your way through a book of the Bible, or you prefer to choose your passages at random.  Whatever method you choose, trust that the Lord is guiding you.

Choose to pray on a section that isn't too long.  A story about 10 verses long or so will do well; many Bibles are already divided into sections, which makes this part pretty easy.

Step One: Lectio

The first part of praying the Scriptures is - you guessed it - reading the Scripture.  But make sure you don't read it quickly and without thought.  Read it deliberately, and it may help to read it softly aloud.  Think about what each word, phrase, and sentence means, and listen for a word or phrase that strikes you.  When it does, sit with it and reflect on it.

If a word or phrase doesn't strike you, don't be alarmed.  Sometimes it happens; the Lord works in mysterious ways.  You can choose a few other parts of the Scripture to focus on:

  • Imagine you're a character in the story.  Choose one you can relate to, and reflect on their role in the text.
  • Ask what the author is trying to say through the passage - both the human author and the divine Author, the Holy Spirit.  Every word is there for a reason, so why are they there?  What symbols are being used?  What spiritual truths are being conveyed?

Step Two: Meditatio

Meditatio means meditation.  This isn't meditation in the sense of clearing your mind, but rather an active use of your mind to peer deeper into spiritual truths.  This step is where you really reflect and mentally chew whatever struck you from step one, or whatever you chose to reflect on.

Start this step by reading the passage again.  This time, try to figure out why the Holy Spirit made this word or phrase strike you, or what He could be saying through your reflection.  How is it relevant to your life today?  What could God be asking of you?  As you reflect on the passage, your thoughts are being guided by the Holy Spirit, and you will come to know what He wants to say to you today.

Step Three: Oratio

Perhaps you've heard the Latin expression ora pro nobis.  It simply means, "pray for us."  That's what the word oratio means:  prayer.  This step is where you respond to whatever God spoke to you during your meditation, and make a resolution, because every experience of prayer is meant to change you.

Again, read the passage.  Based on your meditation, talk to God about what He said to you.  It's okay to address fears, ask questions, or express your willingness to do His will.  Any prayer will do, so long as it is a genuine and heartfelt response to what God spoke to you.  Make a resolution based on your meditation, and strive to live it out for whatever period you resolved to do so.  Don't view it as a burden, but as an opportunity for spiritual growth.  No pain, no gain isn't just true in the gym, it's also very true spiritually.

Step Four: Contemplatio

This step ends your prayer.  Normally, you'll read the passage again after your response to God, and that's it.  But sometimes, God gives us a special grace of contemplatio, or contemplation.

The spiritual life is essentially about God's search for us, rather than our search for God.  That means every time you pray, it's actually God who initiated the encounter, not you.  He inspired the desire, feeling, or impulse to pray.  Contemplation is a gift that God sometimes gives during prayer.  This gift is the ability to just simply be with God, in the depths of your heart, mind, soul, and will.  It's not just a profound sense of peace, but moreover a deep and abide sense of the presence of God.  If you receive this grace, stop your prayer, stay in this contemplation, and savor it.  It is God sharing His heart with you, deeper than any words could express.  Open your heart back to him, and simply remain in His embrace for as long as He shares it with you.

When the grace subsides, thank Him for it from the depths of your heart.  Savor the experience into the future, and keep your heart focused on Him.  If your time for prayer is up, move on with your day:  God gave you this experience in place of whatever you had planned.

What If I Don't Hear Anything?

Sometimes we don't hear anything from God.  Nothing sticks out to us, and it's hard to focus on a character in the story or the message the author is trying to convey.  That's okay.  God speaks to us in accord with His plan, and sometimes what will help us grow spiritually is silence.

This silence from God has mistakenly been interpreted as rejection or an inability to pray well.  This is absolutely not the case!  For the well-intentioned heart who doesn't hear God, it is an opportunity to grow in prayer, trust, and love.  It's hard to pray in silence, but keep at it:  it will help you become an even better pray-er.  Trust that God's silence is to draw you closer to His heart.  Sometimes God hides His presence to inspire us to long for Him even more, or to make the choice to follow Him truly our own (because it's easy to say yes to God when we can easily hear His voice).  Know also that God is enveloping you in His love.  Jesus also felt abandoned by the Father, so you're in good company.  Jesus' abandonment led to the ultimate reunion with God in the resurrection, and your episode of silence, when offered with Jesus' on the cross, will lead you to a beautiful reunion with God as well.