I have included an outline below of how lectio divina usually works and an example of my insights.
1. Lectio: Read Aloud
Read or listen to a passage of Scripture and notice a word or phrase that stands out to you.
For example, the Old Testament reading at the Mass on Tuesday morning February 7, was Genesis 1:20-2:4a, the account of the fifth and sixth days of creation—and the seventh day when God rested. The sentence Evening came, and morning followed lit up. That’s because I was accustomed to the more literal, There was evening, and there was morning. Through this translation that was new to me, I saw the beauty of that line for the first time.
Please note: If a word or phrase doesn’t come to light immediately, stay with the passage. Noticing the Holy Spirit’s prompting is a skill often developed over time.
2. Meditatio: Meditate
Sit in silence with the word or phrase. Absorb its meaning and significance in light of the whole passage.
A day or so after hearing Genesis 1:20 and following (ff), I sat in silence with Evening came, and morning followed. I kept repeating the sentence as a mantra or a prayer phrase to see how the Lord would instruct me through that short sentence. The recurring rhythm of the statement, day after day for six days of creation, conveys the cadence of time moving along and the significance of each day.
It is important to consider the chosen word or phrase in context. For example, Genesis 1:20ff expresses the days when God created creatures that live in the water and in the air (day five) and on land (day six). Ultimately during day six, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him: male and female he created them.” And God said to all his creatures, “Be fertile and multiply.”
3. Oratio: Pray
Consider how this word or phrase prompts you to pray.
As the adage, Evening came, and morning followed, meandered in my memory, the verse Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart from Psalm 90 came to mind. In time, I recalled a paraphrase of that verse, Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. That’s a prayer! Since then my prayer has become, “Lord, help me realize the brevity of life that I may live wisely.” That desire has become even more relevant with the recent death of my parents.
4. Contemplatio: Contemplate
Allow the word or phrase to shape your life.
Sitting with a word or phrase in the context of the whole reading makes the passage memorable. The process of contemplation has begun. I invite God to shape my life through His Word in the days ahead.
Evening came, and morning followed reminds me that in the Jewish daily cycle, the new day begins at sundown. Thus, the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening. I enjoy attending the Mass near sundown on Saturday when our Sabbath begins. Receiving the Word and Sacrament as the sun sets enables me to settle into God’s presence so that I am prepared to be enriched and renewed by worship and relaxation on the day we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What shall we do with distracting thoughts and emotions?
Mark E. Thibodeaux, S.J., devotes a whole chapter to this in his book, Armchair Mystic, Easing Into Contemplative Prayer. The relevant chapter is appropriately titled, “When Things Go Haywire: Dealing with Distractions.” His suggestion is that we see random thoughts and feelings as clutter in the river of life. As we canoe our way along during contemplative prayer, notice the distractions, offer them up to God, and let them pass.
2. What are some of the benefits of practicing lectio divina?
It will enhance our understanding of the Scriptures and our practice of prayer. It will slow our minds down from the rapid pace stimulated by our culture. Practicing lectio divina as a community here on Saturday mornings will help us practice it on a daily basis, personally and with our families. It may be helpful to have a discussion at the end of this series about how this practice has contributed to the devotional life of group members.
3. What additional resources can help us pray the Scriptures?
The outline I included above was prompted by Lectio Divina: From God’s Word to Our Lives by Enzo Bianchi, pp. 103-107. The whole book is a first-rate, thoroughly readable resource for understanding the Roman Catholic teaching on the Scriptures and the practice of lectio divina. Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey also comes highly recommended.
© Stan BohallFebruary 20, 2017