Soul Food Talk # 17 – Divine Reading (Lectio Divina) and Prayer

SOUL FOOD Talk #17 – Divine Reading (Lectio Divina) & Prayer

1. Prayer, the lifeblood of anyone who follows Christ, is such an intimate, personal, unique Christian/Catholic experience for each of us. What works for one may feel totally alien to someone else. Yet through the last 2000 years, several basic practices have developed which truly work for many people, practices which have led ordinary people to become saints abiding in deep, daily union with the Blessed Trinity. Whether we know it or not, this wonderful union, realized on earth, is the goal and end of all prayer. Despite heresy and division throughout Christianity, we do enjoy one common love, the Word of God—the Bible, Old and New Testaments. Our approach to God’s Word may differ, but we all reverence and cherish the Bible.

2. Prayer based on the Bible is a given for all Christians and Catholics. For a basic understanding of the types of prayer and the stages of spirituality leading to Union, see Soul Food Talk #1. What we will do today is to contemplate from the perspective of Catholic teaching, the magisterium of the Church, and ancient traditions of monastic life, how the word of God in Sacred Scripture can enrich our prayer-life, leading us into contemplation and union with God.

Article 1: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops –
3. “When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel.
These words from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, P. 29) set before us a profound truth that we need to ponder and make our own. The words of Sacred Scripture are unlike any other texts we will ever hear, for they not only give us information, they are the vehicle God uses to reveal himself to us, the means by which we come to know the depth of God’s love for us, and the responsibilities entailed by being Christ’s followers, members of his Body. What is more, this Word of God proclaimed in the liturgy possesses a special sacramental power to bring about in us what it proclaims. The Word of God proclaimed at Mass is ‘efficacious’ that is, it not only tells us of God and God’s will for us, it also helps us to put that will of God into practice in our own lives. How, then, do we respond to this wonderful gift of God’s Word? We respond in word and song, in posture and gesture, in silent meditation and, most important of all, by listening attentively to that Word as it is proclaimed.

4.   St. Augustine of Hippo’s phrase “ever ancient, ever new” describes the renewed interest in praying with Scripture that has re-emerged in today’s Church. Around the country, parish Bible study groups, small Christian communities, and other faith sharers have rediscovered a simple, insightful way to hear and experience the Word of God with one another through an ancient prayer
form, lectio divina..

5. “The reading from the Word of God at each Hour [in Liturgy of the Hours]. . . and readings from the Fathers and spiritual masters at certain Hours, reveal more deeply the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, assist in understanding the psalms, and prepare for silent prayer. The lectio divina, where the Word of God is so read and meditated that it becomes prayer, is thus rooted in the liturgical celebration.”

6. “Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., nos. 1177, 2708 (Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000)

7. Lectio divina is a form of meditation rooted in liturgical celebration that dates back to early monastic communities. It was a method practiced by monks in their daily encounter with Scripture, both as they prepared for the Eucharist and as they prayed the Liturgy of the Hours. Its use continued in the Middle Ages in religious orders, such as the Benedictines and Carmelites, that not only practiced lectio divina daily but passed this treasure from the past on to the next generations. The practice of lectio divina is resurfacing today as a wonderful way to meditate on God’s Word.

What Does the Latin Name Mean?
8. The Latin phrase “lectio divina” may be translated as “divine reading.” Lectio divina is a method for praying with the Scriptures. As one reads and
invites the Word to become a transforming lens that brings the events of daily living into focus, one can come to live more deeply and find the presence of God more readily in the events of each day. The method of lectio divina follows four steps: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), contemplatio (contemplation), and oratio (prayer).

9. “Lectio,” or “reading,” is the first step in the prayer process. The early monks understood that the fruitfulness of a monk’s prayer depends upon the simplicity, reverence, and openness to the Spirit with which the “reader” approaches the Word of God. The goal of this reading is not to rush through several chapters of Scripture. The reader, rather than trying to take in large sections of Scripture, adopts a reflective stance towards a short Scripture passage, pausing on a single word or phrase that resonates with the mind and heart.

10. This “reading” leads to the second step, known as “meditatio”—Latin for “meditation”—which invites one to reflect upon what was read. Ancient monks explained this process as a deep, unhurried thinking about the Word one has read—a rumination, somewhat like the way a cow chews the cud. As the Word is read in this step, the process of ruminating gradually draws the meditator’s focus from concerns of the mind to concerns of the heart.

11. The Word moves a person more deeply with the third step, which the ancients called “contemplatio” or “contemplation.” Contemplation is characterized by an openness of the heart, by which the reader experiences God as the One who prays within, who allows the person in contemplation to know the Word wordlessly and without image. By God’s grace, contemplation gives one a unique ability to connect one’s newly discovered insights to daily life experiences, with the inspiration that comes from the Word of God and that has the gracious capacity to refresh the heart and mind.

12. The fourth and final step, “oratio,” meaning “oration” or “prayer,” invites one’s personal response to God. This response is dialogical and can be understood as “a conversation between friends,” as St. Teresa of Avila defined prayer. One takes the time to talk to God about what was read, heard, or experienced, or about the questions that have arisen in the depth of one’s being. This response can become transformative when one accepts the promptings of the Word
toward an embrace of all that life now holds. One can find God in the ups and downs of life, in times of joy and pain, as well as in ordinary, everyday moments.
Copyright © 2009, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.

       Article 2: BELIEFNET – How to Practice Lectio divina
13. Choose a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray. Many Christians use in their daily lectio divina one of the readings from the eucharistic liturgy for the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.

14. Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite. [The Jesus Prayer can be useful here.] Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.

15. Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In lectio divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.

16. Take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.

17. Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images–or all three–is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
18. Rest in God’s embrace. And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.

19. Sometimes in lectio divina, you may return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for lectio divina. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your lectio divina, as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.

Article 3: “Meditating Day and Night on the Law of the Lord and Keeping Vigil in Prayer” –Carmelite reflections on Lectio divina
Carlos Mesters, O.Carm.translated by Míceál O ’Neill, O.Carm.

20. Ten words of advice
When you begin a Lectio divina of the Bible you are not concerned with study; you are not going to read the Bible in order either to increase your knowledge or to prepare for some apostolate. You are not reading the Bible in order to have some extraordinary experience. You are going to read the Word of God in order to listen to what God has to say to you, to know his will and thus ‘to live more deeply in allegiance to Jesus Christ.’ (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 2). There must be poverty in you; you must also have the disposition which the old man Eli recommended to Samuel: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’ (1 Samuel 3:10).

21. Listening to God does not depend on you or on the effort you make. It depends entirely on God, on God’s freely-made decision to come into dialogue with you and to allow you to listen to the voice to God. Thus you need to prepare yourself by asking him to send his Spirit, since without the Spirit of God it is impossible to discover the meaning of the Word which God has prepared for us today (cf. John 14:26; 16:13; Lk 11:13).

22. It is important to create the right surroundings which will facilitate recollection and an attentive listening to the Word of God. For this, you must build your cell within you and around you and you must stay in it (Carmelite Rule: Chapters 6 & 10), all the time of your Lectio divina. Putting one’s body in the right position helps recollection in the mind.

23. When you open the Bible, you have to be conscious that you are opening a Book which is not yours. It belongs to the community . In your Lectio divina you are setting foot in the great Tradition of the Church which has come down through the centuries. Your prayerful reading is like the ship which carries down the winding river to the sea. The light shining from the sea has already enlightened the dark night of many generations. In having your own experience of Lectio divina you are alone. You are united to brothers and sisters who before you succeeded in ‘meditating day and night upon the Law of the Lord and keeping vigil in prayer’ (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 10).

24. An attentive and fruitful reading of the Bible involves three steps. It has to be marked from beginning to end, by three attitudes:
First Step/Attitude –Reading (Lectio): First of all, you have to ask,
What does the text say as text? This requires you to be silent. Everything in you must be silent so that nothing stands in the way of your gleaning what the texts say to you (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 21) and so that you do not make the text say what you would like to hear.

25. Second Step/Attitude–Meditation (Meditatio): You must ask, What does the text say to me or to us? In this second step we enter into dialogue with the text so that its meaning comes across with freshness and penetrates the life of the Carmelite today. Like Mary you will ponder what you have heard and ‘meditate on the Law of the Lord’ (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 10). In this way ‘the Word of God will dwell abundantly on your lips and in your heart (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 19).
Third Step/Attitude–Prayer (Oratio): Furthermore, you have to try to discover what does the text lead me to say to God? This is the moment of prayer, the moment of keeping watch in prayer’ (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 10).

26. The result, the fourth step, the destination of Lectio divina, is contemplation (contemplatio). Contemplation means having in one’s eyes something of the ‘wisdom which leads to salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15). We begin to see the world and life through the eyes of the poor, through the eyes of God. We assume our own poverty and eliminate from our way of thinking all that smacks of the powerful. We recognize all the many things which we thought were fidelity to God, to the Gospel, and to the Tradition; in reality they were nothing more than fidelity to ourselves and our own interests. We get a taste, even now, of the love of God which is above all things. We come to see that in our lives true love of God is revealed in love of our neighbour (Carmelite Rule: Chapters 15 & 19). It is like saying always ‘let it be done according to your Word’ (Luke 1:38). Thus ‘all you do will have the Lord’s word for accompaniment’ ( Carmelite Rule: Chapter 19).

27. `So that your Lectio divina does not end up being the conclusions of your own feelings, thoughts and caprices, but has the deepest roots, it is important to take account of three demands:
First Demand: Check the result of your reading with the community to which you belong (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 15), with the faith of the living Church. Otherwise it could happen that your effort might lead you nowhere (cf. Galatians 2:2).

28. Second Demand: Check what you read in the Bible with what is going on in life around you. It was in confronting their faith with the situation existing around them that the people of God created the traditions which up to today are visible in the Bible. The desire to embody the contemplative ideal of the Carmelite Order within the reality of ‘minores’ (the poor of each age) brought the first Carmelite hermits to become mendicants among the people. When the Lectio divina does not reach its goal in our life, the reason is not always our failure to pray, our lack of attention to the faith of the Church, or our lack of serious study of the text. Oftentimes it is simply our failure to pay attention to the crude and naked reality which surrounds us. The early Christian writer Cassian tells us that anyone who lives superficially –without seeking to go deeper–will not be able to reach the source where the Psalms were born.

29. Third Demand: Check the conclusions of your reading with the results of biblical studies which have shown the literal meaning of the words. Lectio divina, it has to be said, cannot remain chained to the letter. The Spirit’s meaning has to be sought (2Corinthians 3:6). However, any effort to identify the Spirit’s meaning without basing it in the written word would be like trying to build a castle on sand (St. Augustine). That would be a way of falling into the trap of fundamentalism. In this day and age, when so many ideas are flying about, common sense is a most important quality. Common sense will be nourished by critical study of the written word. So that we will not go astray on this point, the Carmelite
Rule tells us to follow the example of the Apostle Paul (Carmelite Rule: Chapter 24

30. The Apostle Paul gives various bits of advice on how to read the Bible. He himself was an excellent interpreter. Here are some of the norms and attitudes which he taught and followed: When you set yourself to read the Bible… (a) Look upon yourself as the one to whom the word is addressed, since everything was written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11; Roman 15:4). The Bible is OUR book. (b) Keep faith in Jesus Christ in your eyes, since it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that the veil is removed and the Scripture reveals its meaning and tells of that wisdom which leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 3:16;2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 15:4). (c) Remember how Paul spoke of ‘Jesus Christ Crucified’ (2 Corinthians 2:2), a ‘stumbling block for some and foolishness for others’. It was this Jesus who opened Paul’s eyes to see how, among the poor on the outskirts of Corinth, the foolishness and the stumbling block of the cross was confounding the wise, the strong, and those who believed themselves to be something in this world (1 Corinthians 1:21-31). (d) Unite ‘I’ and ‘We’: It is never a question of ‘I’ alone or ‘We’ alone. The Apostle Paul also united the two. He received his mission from the community of Antioch and spoke from that background (Acts 13:1-3). (e) Keep life’s problems in mind, that is, all that is happening in the Carmelite Family, in the communities, in the Church, and among the people to which you belong and whom you serve. Paul began from what was going on in the communities which he founded (1Corinthians 10:1-13).

31. When you read the Bible, be always aware that the text of the Bible is not only a fact. It is also a symbol (Hebrews 11:19). It is both a window through which you see what happened to others in the past and a mirror in which you can see what is happening to you today (1 Corinthians 10:6-10). A prayerful reading is like a gentle flood which, little by little, waters the earth and makes it fruitful (Isaiah 55:10-11). In beginning to dialogue with God in Lectio divina, you grow like a tree planted near streams of water (Psalm 1:3). You cannot see the growth but you can see its results in your encounter with yourself, with God, and with others. The song says: ‘Like a flood that washes clean, like a fire that devours, so is your Word, leaving its mark upon me each time it passes’.

32. One final point to be born in mind: When you do a Lectio divina, the principal object is not to interpret the Bible, nor to get to know its content, nor to increase your knowledge of the history of the people of God, nor to experience extraordinary things, but rather to discover, with the help of the written Word, the living Word which God speaks to you today, in your life, in our lives, in the life of the people, in the world in which we live (Psalm 97:5). The purpose is to grow in faith, like the prophet Elijah, and to experience more and more that ‘the Lord lives, and I stand in his presence’(1 Kings 17:1; 18:15).

33. Ancient and ever-new lectio divina will produce rich fruits for us if we take the time to practice it. What I have discovered to my delight, is that when the Holy Spirit “cracks open” a passage for me and the light pours out and into my heart, that passage remains forever special to me. I have accumulated so many little passages; and I find myself reading them so often that I have them memorized and can use them in spontaneous prayer. Those phrases which strike my heart with most intensity I will always cherish as a special word from God spoken especially to me! I keep a prayer journal in which I have recorded all these passages, the special words that He has ever given me, even recording the date! When I pray, I have this journal handy. And I continuously add to it even articles (such as parts of our Soul Food articles).

34. Not only does lectio divina enable me to enter into Holly Scripture, but I also use lectio divina to draw from spiritual books and other intense sources. For example, many sections of Conchita’s writings yield rich understanding and lead me to contemplative prayer. I read one part today, falling in love with the Word. Tomorrow I may very well return to the same passage, drawing water from that source till I have exhausted it. Then several days, weeks, or months later, I return and am refreshed yet again. Keep a record of these wonderful visitations of the Holy Spirit—He is never finished with you, pouring His grace over you each time you visit that passage.

35. I look everywhere for His words: the Liturgy of the Hours, all kinds of spiritual books, songs—all is fodder for lectio divina. St. Teresa of Avila once said that she never went to prayer without a book. She became easily distracted; she needed the book or scripture to ground her and keep her focused. If she needed it, how much more so do we!

36. What is so exciting about lectio divina is that a passage which you have read and seen a hundred times will suddenly burst into flame, piercing you to the quick—how? Why? The Holy Spirit. Sometimes you will feel as though you are merely plodding along, no lift, no inspiration. But persevere. God brings comfort and exhilaration where and when you need it for growth, and God always wants us to grow. We can never grow too much or fast enough to appreciate and adore His eternal Majesty. More important than anything else is to pray from the heart. With complete sincerity. Whether in silence, in our own simple words, or in scriptural words—if it pours from our heart, it is what God longs to hear from us.


Psalm 40, 8-10; Psalm 84; Psalm 39,8; Psalm 74, 25-26;
Psalm 119 NUN, 105-112;
Psalm 22 [the Passion of Christ,
“Why oh why have you abandoned me?]
Psalm 23 [Good Shepherd];
Psalm 27 [The Lord is my Light & My Salvation
Psalm 42 [ longing for the Lord]
Psalm 51 [ the Miserere or prayer of repentence]
Psalm 62 [Trust in God alone]
Psalm 63 [Ardent longing for God]
Psalm 84 [“How lovely your dwelling…”]
Psalm 131 [Like a little child…]
Psalm 139 [God is All-knowing and All-present]
Canticles 6,2-3; 5,16; 1,2-4
Book of Wisdom, ch 7: 22-30
Jeremiah 20: 7-9 [the power of God’s word]
Isaiah 9: 1-6 [Unto us a child is born, Christmas]
Isaiah 35: 1-10 [Israel’s deliverance]
Matthew 11: 25-30
1 John 4:7-16
Ephesians 1: 3-14; 6:10-17 [battle against evil, the armor of God]
Colossians 1: 15-20
Phillipians 2: 5-11; [though He was in the form of God, He emptied Himself]
3: 7-11 [I have accepted the loss of all things…]
Luke 1: 45-55 [Magnificat]
John – the entire Gospel! Especially John 6:27-69 [Bread of Life]
John 14: 1-31; John 17: 1-26 Letters of John: I & II
Romans 8: 9-39
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 [Hymn to Charity]
Galatians 2: 19-21 [I have been crucified with Christ…]; 4: 3-7 [adoption]
5: 22-26 [fruits of the Spirit]
1 Peter 3: 13-22 [Christian suffering]
Revelation 7: 1-17 [Triumph of the Elect]; Revelation Chapters 19-end.


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