An Introduction

Laurence Freeman OSB always lays emphasis on the close connection between Lectio Divina and Christian Meditation. He encourages us to do both, as meditation helps us to read scripture at a deeper level. Lectio Divina is an integral part of the Benedictine tradition, which is the one that encouraged this discipline and introduced it into Western Christianity.

The main concern of the early Church was to "pray without ceasing" and this is also the aim of both meditation in our tradition and Lectio Divina. It consists of choosing a short biblical passage; reading it slowly, reflectively and attentively, allowing God to speak to us through the words.

There is an excellent foundation for this discipline in Scripture. In Ezekiel we hear: "I opened my mouth; God gave me the scroll to eat and said, 'feed and be satisfied by the scroll I am giving you!' I ate it and it tasted sweet as honey." (Ezekiel 3:2-3). In Luke we hear: 'Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.' (Luke 2:19)

Mary's attitude is a beautiful example of lectio divina or spiritual reading; a reading with the 'eye of the heart', an intuitive reading. We engage deeply with the text in a gently attentive and reflective way; we establish a personal relationship with the text, as if it is a friend speaking to us. "There is the same gulf between attentive study and mere reading as there is between friendship and acquaintance with a passing guest." (William of St. Thierry)

We do not treat the text as a vehicle of information to be analysed but seek to engage with the text in a way that may change our awareness of ourselves and the world. Fr Laurence often says: "we let the text read us." It is a way in which the Spirit can speak to us.

Thomas Merton experienced the 'text reading' him. When he was considering joining the Trappists, he opened the bible at random and the first words his eyes saw were "Behold you shall be silent!"

St Augustine had a similar experience, when he was having trouble with celibacy. He opened the bible at random and the first passage he read was, "Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and misery, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts."

The start of St. Anthony's ascetic life was hearing in Church the words: "Go and sell all you have and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven and come follow me." St. Anthony received it as a personal message and did exactly that.

We may not always like what we hear or have to do. "So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, 'Take and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, although in your mouth it will taste sweet as honey." (Revelation 10:9-11) The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the word of God as "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

The author of the Cloud of Unknowing in the 14th century describes the words of Scripture as a mirror which our consciences require in order to see the stains on them.

John, however, reassures us:

"If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples. You will learn the truth and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31)

The practice:

  • Prepare sacred space.
  • Choose a short passage (5-10verses)
  • Say a prayer: e.g. "Lord, let your word endow me with perception." (Ps119)

Basil Pennington described the process as follows: "First the cow goes out and eats some grass (lectio) Then she sits down under a tree and chews her cud (meditatio) until she extracts from her food both milk (oratio) and cream (contemplatio)."

Reading

"First the cow goes out and eats some grass"

  • Read slowly, allowing the words to permeate your consciousness
  • Read out loud or silently with pauses. Above all, read it with the 'the eye of the heart'.
  • Read it several times.
  • You may want to linger over a certain word or phrase that stands out and resonates with you.
  • Relax, don't try too hard.
  • The passage may have nothing to say to you at all or something may become significant during the day

Reflection

"Then she sits down under a tree and chews her cud"

  • When you have finished reading, stay quiet for a while and see whether anything comes to mind immediately.
  • Allow meanings to sink in, associations to arise, images to surface.
  • Repeat the phrase that jumped out at you; write it down if necessary; carry it with you during the day, so that it feeds you.
  • Ask yourself what is this telling me?
  • It may well bring to mind significant events or people in your life or current concerns.
  • Take note of the emotions that have arisen.
  • We are not embarking on an analytical process but look at feelings, hopes, desires, intentions.

"A landscape within us has been called into being by this word, the spirit is brooding now we should allow the light to shine across the landscape and begin to explore it."(Mark Barratt - 'Crossings')

Prayer

"Until she extracts from her food both milk"

"When you read, God is speaking to you, when you pray, you are speaking to God." (St Augustine)

What we extract can be joyful as well as painful, but whichever way it is it will be an insight that needs to be noted, reflected upon and possibly acted upon.

Contemplation

"and cream"

'Resting in the Lord' is the final stage: "Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child in its mother's arms as content as a child that has been weaned." (Psalm 130)

Kim Nataraja 24 July 2005