Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading)

by Peter D. Spychalla, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

Christians from diverse traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—are showing renewed interest in the ancient art of lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh dih-vee-nuh). Count me among the novices learning this venerable spiritual practice! This Latin phrase means “sacred reading” or “divine reading.” Lectio divina is a slow, contemplative reading and praying of the Holy Scriptures in order to encounter God and be spiritually transformed. Praying Scripture in this way can be practiced individually or in groups.

A rich tradition of lectio divina is found in Benedictine spirituality (patterned after the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict) which is widely followed in the present day. In classical practice, there are four key aspects or movements in lectio divina. The first is lectio (reading). The Scripture is read out loud, slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully, and repeatedly. As we reverentially listen to the text, we seek lovingly to receive God’s Word in our heart. The second aspect is meditatio (meditation). We ruminate and chew on the text. We ponder it and reflect upon it, letting the words penetrate our heart and mind. We consider our life in all its dimensions in light of the text. We allow God’s Word to become His word to us, transforming and affecting us at deep levels.

The third aspect is oratio (prayer). We respond to God from the heart in light of His word to us. We consecrate ourselves to Him, we lovingly yield to Him that He may transform us and draw us into greater intimacy with Himself. The fourth aspect is contemplatio (contemplation). We rest in the presence of God, Our Loving Shepherd. We commune with Him, and lovingly abide with Him. We wait quietly before Him in a humble, yielded, receptive spirit. In the words of the psalmist, our soul seeks to “behold the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4) and to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). While these are the four core traditional aspects, some writers and teachers of lectio divina highlight additional dimensions. Operatio (performing) or incarnatio (incarnation) is a living out of the text in daily life. Collatio (bringing together) is a forming of community through Scripture.

An essential dimension of lectio divina that prepares us to hear God’s Word and permeates the whole is silencio (silence). Silencio refers not only to an outer absence of noise so that we can read and listen to God’s Word, but more importantly to an inner quieting of the mind and heart so that we are in a spiritual posture of receptivity. The silence we seek is an internal attitude open to encountering God and being shaped by Him. We detach from an inner compulsion to control our own life. We relinquish self-will and embrace God’s will. We let go of anxiety, protective patterns, defensive patterns, our own agenda, our own goals, and having life revolve around ourselves. Rather, in silence of soul we seek a joyful surrender of our whole life to God in absolute trust without demands, conditions, or reservations. We embrace a pliable responsiveness and yieldedness to God. We seek a deep sensitivity to God. We rest quietly in God.

The psalmist quieted his soul, trusting and resting in God: “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me” (Psalm 131:2).

If you would like to explore the ancient art of lectio divina, please join us at Urbana Theological Seminary this summer for the course “Reading and Praying Scripture for Spiritual Transformation (Lectio Divina).” Together, we will open ourselves to the Lord, crying, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).