- TRADITION: Christianity
- NEED: Spiritual Development
- LEVEL: Beginner, Intermediate
Lectio divina reveals the voice of God through the slow, contemplative reading of Biblical texts. In this practice, the Bible is seen as a living, breathing embodiment of the Holy Spirit. It places Christ at the center of all teachings, and uses Him as the key to the Scriptures.
What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
Lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”) is a Benedictine practice of directly experiencing the voice of God through the slow, contemplative reading of Biblical scriptures.
What’s the concept?
The practice of lectio divina emerged from ancient monasteries, and it offers a mystical approach to Christian spirituality. Instead of treating the Bible as a sacred text to study, lectio divina considers it the living, breathing embodiment of the Holy Spirit to be felt, not analyzed. It places Christ as center of all teachings, and uses him as the interpretive key to the Scriptures. There are four steps to lectio divina—lectio (“read”), meditatio (“meditate”), oratio (“pray”), and contemplatio (“contemplate”)—with a period of preparation at the beginning and an action step at the end. Theologian Richard Foster explains it like this: “We read the text … and experience everything as if we were truly there (lectio). Then, alone, we are quiet (meditatio). We rehearse all that has just transpired. Then Jesus sits beside us and asks, ‘What may I do for you?’ And we answer … with whatever is on our heart (oratio). We receive his healing and blessing (contemplatio). Then we are still again. We conclude by asking him, ‘Master, what may I do for you?’ (incarnatio) And we listen.”
How did this meditation practice originate?
“Praying the Scriptures” is as old as the Bible itself. The practice appears in the Old Testament, and the first Christian communities spoke Jesus’s teachings aloud to nourish their faith. In the third century, Origen, a scholar and early Christian theologian, introduced his view that Scripture is a living sacrament meant to be experienced through love; this school of thought formed the basis for lectio divina, which flourished in the monastic communities of later centuries. It has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years with the endorsement of popes, Protestants, and an eclectic array of spiritual leaders. It is also a popular practice in developing countries where physical copies of the Bible are scarce.
What’s unique about this meditation?
The process of meditative prayer is deeply personal. This is our lifeline to God, and to the spark of divinity within. Using the Scriptures as a foundation for meditation provides structure as well as the freedom to seek guidance and understanding in any area of life. If you want to build compassion and inner strength, need help with forgiveness, or struggle with difficult emotions, there are specific verses to consult.
What are its chief benefits?
Lectio divina builds a working relationship with the Divine that guides the rhythm of everyday life. “In conjunction with an increased sense of God’s presence, our practice begins to bear fruit in our work, our play, our family, and our relationships,” pastor and former psychologist Daniel Wolpert says. “We begin to move freely with the Spirit as we notice God moment to moment.”
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
In Matthew 21:21: Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.” Lectio divina works on each individual’s concepts of faith and devotion, so the results it produces can only be evaluated from an individual perspective.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Are there any controversies?
Some fundamentalist Christians believe lectio divina veers too far into the territory of New Age, mysticism, or the occult. They argue the Scriptures are supposed to be read literally, and that disconnecting them from their context or relating to them in a personal way distorts their true meaning. Some Protestants bristle at the fact that lectio divina has Catholic roots. Even so, Pope Francis is a big fan, and a new Vatican-published book sings its praises.
How can it be learned?
The essence of lectio divina is the individual connection to God, so it’s perfectly acceptable to explore the practice on our own. It’s even better to join a small group to share in the fellowship of spiritual practice. Some churches emphasize this point and discourage an individualistic approach—although the Word is addressed to each of us personally, it’s also designed to build community.
Are there any charges for learning?
During a church service, an offering plate is passed to collect tithes. Contribution is optional and can be any amount you wish.
How is this meditation practiced?
To practice this meditation, choose any passage of Scripture for slow, contemplative reading. After centering your mind, read the passage twice. The first reading is for understanding, noticing if any words pull at your heart. During the second reading, concentrate on the phrases you were drawn to and reflect on them in the silence that follows. When you feel ready, direct your attention outward and speak to God as if He were in the room with you asking, “What can I do for you?” Speak in whatever way feels natural, through words, images, or feelings. Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
Christians will feel most immediately comfortable with lectio divina, but it is designed to appeal to practitioners of all faiths. The Scriptures speak of Jesus Christ as the living embodiment of God and offer universally appealing lessons of truth. Newcomers to Christianity might find it helpful to read a scholarly take on the life of Jesus.
Who are the well-known practitioners?
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
Nothing is required if you practice lectio divina in a church or small group setting. If you choose to practice on your own, find a copy of your favorite Bible translation or explore the Scriptures according to topic on a website like biblestudytools.com.