Reading and Praying Scripture for Spiritual Transformation (Lectio Divina)

By Dr. Peter Spychalla

The religious poet, a worshipper of Israel’s God, YHWH, exclaimed, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97). Biblical authors commend, through command and example, sustained reflection on God, His character, His works, His ways, His plans, and His instruction as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and upon truth and wisdom discerned in human life and from the world around. This robust, full-orbed, biblical meditation results in “being transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), and is a vehicle for communing with, and adoring, the Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—revealed in Scripture. Followers of Christ throughout the centuries—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—developed diverse devotional practices involving biblical meditation. The shaping of each practice, and the terminology used, reflects the unique time, place, culture, situatedness, and spiritual emphases and sensitivities of the people of God in that specific setting.

The Spring 2019 course, “Reading and Praying Scripture for Spiritual Transformation (Lectio Divina),” at Urbana Theological Seminary, explores a range of devotional approaches for meditating on God’s word, referred to throughout church history as lectio divina (in ecclesiastical Latin pronounced LEX-ee-oh dih-VEE-nuh), meaning “sacred reading. ” Lectio divina refers to a reflective reading and praying of the Holy Scriptures, individually or in groups, in order to commune with God, experience relational encounter with God, and be transformed in character and heart by the work of the Holy Spirit.

A rich tradition of lectio divina is found in Benedictine spirituality (patterned after the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict). In classical practice, there are four key aspects. The first is lectio(reading). We read Scripture out loud (preferably), slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully, and repeatedly. As Scripture frequently enjoins (“Hear, O Israel!” Deuteronomy 6:4), we seek truly to listen to and to receive God’s Word in our heart, mind, and soul. The second aspect is meditatio(meditation). We ruminate and chew on the text. We ponder it and reflect upon it, letting Scripture penetrate our heart and mind. We consider relationships with God, others, and the world in all their dimensions in light of the text. We receive the living and active Word, illumined and applied to us by the Holy Spirit, 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. We “draw near to God” (James 4:8) and “abide” (John 15) in Christ. The fourth aspect is contemplatio (contemplation), which is an adoration of the Triune God in His manifold excellence and beauty as we rest in His presence. Contemplation of God, in vigorous, thoroughly-biblical, orthodox, Trinitarian perspective can be described metaphorically as “lovingly gazing upon” God. With the psalmist, having “calmed and quieted my soul” (Psalm 131:2), we seek to “behold the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4) and to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). We rest in and admire Christ, transfixed by His sweetness, savoring the Savior. As the psalmist writes, “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8).

This devotional practice of reading and praying Scripture for spiritual transformation is a fruitful complement to, and builds upon, a healthy spiritual diet of regularly listening to solid, sound preaching of the Word of God, and to engaging in academically-rigorous, theologically-faithful Bible study, privately and in groups. This meditation on Scripture helps us fulfill the command, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Consider joining us for The Spring 2019 course, “Reading and Praying Scripture for Spiritual Transformation (Lectio Divina).” We will join the Hebrew poet in loving God’s law and “meditating on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97).