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What is Lectio Divina Prayer?

“For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

- Heb. 12:12

Reading the Bible is difficult. It gave rise to 43 000 Christian denominations all over the world, all claiming the truth. A good question then will be: “How do we get to the truth that we believe in?” A possible answer for this dilemma was already posed by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c 330-395) to read the Bible with our heart and not only with our head and to experience living, active power that is hidden in the text. St. Gregory knew that one of our big temptations is control, and that human nature tends to use the Bible for its own purposes. Instead of God handling the sword, we become sword masters. Instead of making God the object of our study, we should become the object. In other words we should read the Bible, in order that the Bible can read us. That can only happen through deep prayer.

He proposed a way of developing a closer relationship with God by reflecting prayerfully on His words. He called it Lectio Divina or godly reading. In Lectio Divina, the chosen text is read four times in total, giving an opportunity to think deeply about it and respond thoughtfully.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

(Ps 34:8)

When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart (Jeremiah 15:16).

Lectio (Read)

It is like looking at the meal that is placed before you, deciding which part you want to eat first, which looks the best, what you want to save for last, and taking that first bite.

Read slowly, the second time more slowly and then even more slowly.

Meditatio (Reflect)

It is like chewing on the food, tasting it, deciding whether you like it or not or if you want more of it or want to try another part of the dish. Meditatio means: “To roll around and about in your mind”. Fast-food is also in the order of the day in spiritual circles, and we don’t have time to digest the food that God gives. We need to take it slow and notice all the textures and flavours of the Scripture.

Oratio (Respond)

We share our meal with God, and conversation tends to flow naturally. It is not only about the food, but also about Jesus at the table. Oratio means speech, discourse, or dialogue. Spontaneous and vulnerable prayers are birth in a safe place of honesty.

Contemplatio (Rest)

After the food is tasted, the conversation, the laughter, the friendship, we “rest” in the company of the other. Now is the time to take it all in, savouring it, enjoying it, just “being” there with the God that you love.

Lastly, Fr. Keating describes the four stages of Lectio Divina as compass points around a circle, with the Holy Spirit moving seamlessly between them. It is helpful to follow the stages in order. Like learning an instrument, once the basics are learned, one can improvise!

- Dr Theo Geyser


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