Periodically over the years, I have been introduced to the concept of praying with Scripture. I seek to know Jesus better, to know God more fully. Scripture speaks of God’s heart, so I have decided to seriously start looking at the Divine Word of God as the door to knowing my Lord better. I mean, Jesus’ words are literally written on those very sacred pages. What greater incentive does one need to immediately race over and open up a chapter of the Bible?
A deepened relationship with the One whom created us, opens the heart and heals the heart. It adds a heightened experience of life to one’s own journey on this humble, yet magnificent earth. It creates an awareness of God in oneself and in one’s life. God is present; with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the awareness of God in our life becomes more sensitive, and His beauty is seen in the most subtle of things, of places, and in the characteristics of our dear friends and family, and in the beautiful people that cross into our lives.
Lectio Divina is the key to enter the life of scriptural prayer. In Latin, it means “divine reading”. This is an ancient practice. I am most definitely not the first to come to the realization of the beauty and importance of praying with Scripture. In exploring the history and purpose of Lectio Divina, I was charmed by the idea that it is meant to be practiced with the “ear of the heart”. As we are to be attune to God’s Word on an intellectual level, so too can we see and hear His message of love with the heart. It is a heart-to-heart conversation with the Lord! It creates a personal dialogue, a catalyst to a relationship with God on a personal, more intimate level.
Let’s briefly delve into the history of this cherished practice. Step back into the 6th and 12th century with me. Under the ragged hood of a Benedictine monk did this practice of prayer become an essential piece to contemplative, monastic prayer-life throughout the centuries. The Italian monk, St. Benedict of Nursia founded around fourteen monasteries. As he began his monastic order of the Benedictines, he wrote a set of guidelines and rules to help his brothers live a faithful life of prayer in the spirit of Christ, known as the “Rule of Saint Benedict”. In the “Rule of Saint Benedict” he emphasized the importance of praying Lectio Divina. He ordained Lectio Divina to be one of the fundamental elements of Benedictine life of prayer and work. It was simply to be a prayerful meditation on the Word of God. It was not until the 12th century that Lectio Divina developed into a series of steps leading into a deeper, further prayer of contemplation. These steps were established by a Carthusian monk named Guigo. The thoughtfully aligned steps are not fixed rules but are deemed to be a helpful and effective maneuver through the experience of Lectio Divina. As written by Guigo in Latin, the original steps are: 1) lectio 2) mediatio 3) oratio 4) contemplatio. Guided by the Holy Spirit, these steps practiced with an open heart, can lead to a sweet union and dialogue with our beautiful God.
I found a great explanation in a pdf document online, of the most helpful guide to praying Lectio Divina, accompanied by some beautiful and inspiring quotes (I have bolded some of the points I reckon as most important in this excerpt and I put the listed quotes in italics):
LECTIO (“reading”): Read the passage attentively, reverently, slowly. Lectio is a listening kind of reading that patiently waits in trust for the Word (Jesus) to reveal Himself. Prayer means to open yourself. In this, recognize that the divine mystery cannot be contained or controlled by us. Allow yourself to be taken in by the words and be drawn towards the Word, Jesus Christ. Depending on what happens you might read the passage several times or linger on one particular phrase or even one word. Whatever you do, don’t rush through it. Praying takes time, patience and perseverance. It takes effort and cooperation with the grace of the Lord.
“It’s true that the voice of God, having once fully penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder, but before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath which scarcely agitates the air. It shrinks from noise, and is silent amid agitation.”(St. Ignatius of Loyola)
MEDITATIO (“meditation”): This stage is our human response to God’s words. Here ponder and ruminate what was read. Quietly savor the Word, and meditate upon it in expectation. Think of Mary who“pondered these things in her heart.” Remember Jesus wants to reveal Himself, and pull you closer to Him. Consciously open yourself to the Lord, allowing Him to touch your heart. Seek Him whom you love. Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion and desire. In meditation, God can deepen your faith, prompt conversion of your heart, and strengthen your will to follow Christ. A question to ask yourself is “What does this Word mean for my life? What do I need to change?” Notice this isn’t “navel gazing”, but an honest accounting of our lives and always directed outward to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
ORATIO (“prayer”): This is the prayer of the heart. It’s unique, personal, honest and spontaneous, specific to the experience of encountering God in his Word. It can be abandonment to the will of God, like Mary:“Thy will be done.” It’s a response to the Word from the center of our hearts. It may be in words, or even just a sigh of love.
“You are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light, and causes me to know your truth.”(St. Catherine of Siena)
“O God, give me stillness of soul in you. Rule me O King of gentleness, King of peace.”(St. John of the Cross)
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me; to you, O Lord, now I return it; all is yours, dispose of me wholly according to your Will. Give me only your love and your grace, for this is enough for me.”(St. Ignatius of Loyola)
CONTEMPLATIO (“contemplation”): This stage is God’s response to us, so it’s totally beyond our control. We cannot create contemplation by ourselves. It is a divine gift that the Lord in His goodness gives us. In contemplation, one is totally passive, held by the mystery of God. Essentially it’s a gaze, God’s gaze into us, and our gaze of faith back at Him. Your whole self becomes focused on the Lord. It is nothing more than a close sharing between friends. It is deep, intimate, intense, sometimes tearful, and often too deep for words. It’s childlike. It’s a surrender to the loving will of the Father in an even deeper union with His beloved Son. His gaze purifies our hearts, illumines our eyes to see with the eyes of Jesus, and teaches us compassion for our neighbor. The aim is to allow the Holy Spirit shape us into the form of the Son. It is not weird, unusual or exceptional, but rather the normal fruit of devoted and faithful practice of lectio divina. Devotion to prayer leads anyone to personal union with God.
“Learn to abide with attention in loving waiting upon God in the state of quiet. Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.”(St. John of the Cross)
“Contemplative prayer is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”(St. Teresa of Avila)
“Prayer is sowing, contemplation the reaping of the harvest, when the reaper is filled with wonder at the ineffable sight of the beautiful ears of corn, which have sprung up before him from the little naked seeds that he sowed.”(St. Isaak of Syria)
“The grace of contemplation is granted only in response to a longing and insistent desire.”(St. Bernard of Clairvaux)
“I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of God.” (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque)