Lectio Divina isn’t a new Italian cuisine. It’s an old way for individuals to get closer to Jesus. It has been proven through the centuries and is sure to aid your spiritual life. You can also use this spiritual exercise in groups.
Lectio Divina is Latin for “holy reading.” It is a method for listening to God. In a time when we seem preoccupied with chattering away at the Lord, a method which helps us listen to him is a needed corrective.
It’s particularly valuable because it utilizes Scripture as the conduit for hearing God speak. As the early church leader Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” and this method of approaching the Lord allows us to know him fully.
A Brief History OF Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is not new. Jewish people always had two approaches to understanding the Torah, the legal interpretation (against which Jesus fought) and the more subjective haggadah method which relied on stories to convey spiritual meaning. The latter method is what is normally found in rabbinical commentaries.
The earliest Christians practiced a form of Lectio Divina. For example, in about 250 A.D. Cyprian of Carthage wrote a letter to a man named Donatus and suggested he be, “Constant in prayer as in reading; speak with God, then let him speak with you. Let him instruct you in his precepts, let him direct you.”
The Lectio Divina method has been advocated and practiced by a wide range of Christians over the centuries, including the Benedictine monks, Martin Luther and John Wesley.
The Four Steps
In individual devotions, four steps are traditionally followed. They are:
- Reading. You are reading for content at this point. You want to discover what the text says. You may want to read the passage several times. You may also wish to read from several different translations to get a wider scope of meaning. Most of us Bible-believing Christians read the Bible as if we were studying for an exam, but this is not the approach suggested here. Before you read, acknowledge the Lord’s presence and ask him to illuminate your understanding.
- Meditation. This is the step which takes you deeper in your communication with the the Lord. You ask the question, “How does this scripture touch my life?” and await an answer from the Lord. You will receive an impression about this as you are silent before the Lord. Certain situations and incidents will come to mind. You will see, hear or sense how the scripture passage touches you.
- Reflection. During this time you contemplate the question, “Lord, What would you have me do in response to this Bible passage and to my meditation?” No encounter with Jesus is complete unless you know what action he wants you to take in your life. It may be that he asks something general of you like making time to pray more, or it may be something very specific like going to someone and asking their forgiveness. It may be something personal, but it also may be something that affects another person or your church or community. Jesus will speak to you uniquely out of each scripture passage and you will want to respond with obedient action.
- Prayer. Only after reflection is complete do you go to the Lord in prayer. Sometimes the result of your meditation is awareness of some sin, and your prayer is one of confession. Sometimes the result of your meditation is joy or thanksgiving and your prayer is one of praise.
Lectio Divina for Groups
Lectio Divina should be practiced on an individual basis for a closer walk with the Lord. But it takes on a new dimension when practiced in groups.
Every time the group meets, remind people of these important principles:
- As a group they share confidentiality. Nothing shared in the group is to be shared outside it.
- When the time for disclosure comes (steps 4, 7 and 10), individuals may pass. There should never be any pressure to share publicly. People will share as their level of trust increases.
- This is not a discussion group or counseling session and should not become one. The purpose is to meet the Lord and hear him.
Here is a procedure to follow with groups:
- Before reading the selected Bible passage, allow a minute or so of silence as the leader reminds people to listen for the word or phrase that catches their attention.
- A person reads the Bible passage slowly.
- People are given several minutes to recall in silence the word or phrase that caught their attention.
- Each person shares the word or phrase with others in the group, each taking a turn in order.
- Another person reads the same Bible passage.
- People reflect quietly on the question, “How does this scripture touch my life?” for several minutes.
- Each person shares aloud with the group how the scripture touched their life, saying, ‘”I see, I hear, or I sense”… whatever the Lord gave them.
- Another person reads the same Scripture passage aloud.
- Participants reflect on this question in silence for a few minutes: “From what I have heard and shared what does God want me to do?” Or, “How does God invite me to change?”
- Each person shares aloud with other group members in turn what the thing is from Step 9.
- As a closing, each person prays out loud for the person on their left, naming what was shared in Step 10.
- The leader should pronounce a final prayer and all may go. Some people will want to leave quickly to reflect upon what the Lord has done though this experience, others will want to stay and chat.
Scriptures Passages to Use
Virtually any passage from the Bible may be used. Ideally it should be short enough to “get your head around.”
Here are some passages from the Gospels to get you started:
- Matthew 4:1-4
- Matthew 5:13-16
- Matthew 11:28-30
- Mark 1:35-37
- Mark 12:28-34
- Luke 3:10-15
- Luke 9:1-6
- Luke 21:33
- John 3:16-21
- John 15:15-16
The Most Important Thing
The most important thing to remember about Lectio Divina is that it is simply a method that enables us to experience the Living Christ. He is always in our midst, but we get so busy or get so much sensory overload that we feel estranged from him and do not hear his voice.
Lectio Divina allows us to find Jesus in his Word, in the silence and in our lives. When we reconnect with the Lord by listening to him, our lives take on new power.